Perhaps defeat had something to do with Sam Wyche's stand

October 03, 1990|By George Vecsey | George Vecsey,New York Times

SAM WYCHE has a dirty mind. He's also a bully. Plus, he's a bad loser. Other than that, he's a prince of a fellow.

But he may be nothing more than your basic football coach, acting out his antagonisms toward women who don't know their place.

The coach of the Cincinnati Bengals ran an experienced reporter, Denise Tom of USA Today, away from his locker room Monday night. Her offense was being female.

Speaking of himself in the third person, as people with out-of-control personalities often do, he said, "Sam Wyche was not letting a woman into a locker room with all his players naked."

Wyche added: "Our guys don't want a woman to walk into a situation like that. I am not doing that to these guys. I'm not doing it to their wives. I'll be out of this buiness before I do that."

Actually, it would be a good idea for Sam Wyche to be out of this business, at least temporarily.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called for a "stiff fine" if Wyche cannot explain the incident. A fine would not be enough.

If Wyche is not suspended next Sunday, it will prove that the National Football League cannot control its employees, and that football would prefer women to cavort in tight-fitting costumes on the sidelines, and leave the reporting to the men.

Before Wyche acted out his prejudices, football was already chin-deep in swinishness.

A week earlier, at a Monday night game in New Jersey, somebody tossed a full-sized inflatable female figure into a swarm of male fans, who proceeded to fondle and punch the figure with disturbing glee.

Then came the business in New England when Zeke Mowatt and some of his Patriots teammates apparently approached a Boston Herald reporter, Lisa Olson, and made an ugly display of their nakedness.

The Patriots' owner, Victor Kiam, was quoted by two reporters as calling Olson "a classic bitch," and seemed most worried about a boycott of his Remington shavers.

Kiam took advice from a public relations firm and performed the most human gesture he knew: He took out advertisements, saying he is not a bad fellow. Kiam also blamed the cover-up on the general manager, whom he is apparently trying to scuttle anyway.

Yesterday, Tagliabue appointed Philip Heymann, a Harvard Law School professor, to investigate.

While Tagliabue was in Seattle affirming the right of women to work as reporters, Wyche brought embarrassment to Tagliabue by refusing to allow a female reporter in his locker room on Monday night.

Say, you don't think it could have been the 31-16 loss?

Football is a game of intimidation. What did Wyche do when his team lost? He didn't beat up his players. He didn't blame himself. He picked on a female reporter. Tough guy.

He seems to know that when good men go wrong, when they lose a football game, it's really a woman to blame.

Wyche tried to get off the hook by sending his quarterback, Boomer Esiason, outside the locker to give an afterthought interview with the second-class reporters, namely Denise Tom.

Not good enough. There is a time-honored tradition of interviewing in locker rooms.

The reason sports fans know so much about famous athletes is that reporters have had access to the locker room.

Some athletes may not want us there, but it was a working condition before these athletes ever came along. And guess what? The people who run sports teams know it is good business, good publicity if you will, to let reporters interview athletes.

After a while, reporters stop noticing whether or not the athletes are dressed. The locker room is where the story is.

It may sound bizarre, interviewing somebody with no clothes on, but as an old news reporter, I felt grubbier interviewing about half the politicians I met, and they were always fully clothed.

For some athletes, like Dale Murphy and Bob Knepper of baseball, the advent of women in locker rooms was a violation of their religious views that women should not work in the marketplace.

Some athletes, and Mowatt is not alone, cannot see a woman without thinking they know why she's really there.

And athletes are not alone in their prejudice. Lisa Olson heard boos and taunts from fans on Sunday. Wyche is right about one thing: There are players' wives who are suspicious of female sportswriters. Guess these wives know their husbands well.

Things will get better because young athletes and journalists, who have grown up socializing together, will be more comfortable working together. The minds of the Victor Kiams and the Sam Wyches were formed in the past.

In the short run, the answer is a strong policy of equality from every sports league. There are, after all, public laws about discrimination.

Another solution is towels. And bathrobes. And a sabbatical for Sam Wyche to cleanse his dirty mind.

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