Case involving harassment of woman sportswriter causes steamy debate


October 04, 1990|By Jean Marbella

Oil and water. Fire and rain. Women in men's locker rooms?

Some things just don't mix.

The case of the New England Patriots players accused of exposing themselves to a female sportswriter in their locker room -- and team owner Victor Kiam defending them by saying they can "wiggle their waggles in front of her face as far as I'm concerned" -- has become as much a part of the current sports chatter as the down-to-the-wire American League eastern division race.

"The world is on the brink of war, and the talk show lines are burning up with women getting mad and men getting mad and . . . Victor Kiam worrying about selling Lady Remingtons," said Baltimore sports talk show host Tom Marr of WCBM radio.

Almost daily, there seems to be a new twist to debate.

First, Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson charged that a group of nude Patriots made lewd remarks and gestures to her on Sept. 17. Then, when the incident blew up publicly about a week later, team owner Kiam allegedly called her a "classic bitch." Then feminists followed by calling for a boycott of Kiam's other product, Remington shavers. And then on Monday, the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals barred another female reporter from his locker room . . .

The topic makes for such delicious jawing for several reasons: It's macho men vs. uppity women, celebrities vs. reporters and the clad vs. the unclad all rolled into one. But, mostly, the issue gets the juices going because of the belief that, there are just some places that should be off-limits to women.

And it's a commonly held belief, judging from what some players and fans alike said during random interviews at a recent Baltimore Orioles game at Memorial Stadium.

"What they allegedly did, it shouldn't be condoned," Laurel resident Fran Peckay said of the Patriots incident. "But the reason they did it was they were sick of being inconvenienced by women in the locker room. I'm for equal rights, but it doesn't make sense to have a woman in with 40, 45 guys getting dressed and undressed."

"I've been in a hockey locker room, and that's a wild place," said Alan Ferragamo, a Howard County engineer. "I wouldn't want my sister going in there."

"I don't feel it would be in my place to go in there," said baseball fan Shirley Dodge.

"It wouldn't bother me, but maybe that's because I'm single and she's married," joked her friend, Ila Lambdin. "Just show me the way to Rene Gonzales!"

In fact, many players believe that's how all women, professional sportswriters included, view athletes -- as sex symbols rather than the sports figures that they are.

As for women in the locker room, "It's just not a good place. It's not glamorous, especially for a female," said Orioles manager Frank Robinson.

"If they have credentials, they should be allowed to do the job. But they should not expect to be treated differently than anyone else. The players should not have to change their routine because of them."

Officially, female sports reporters have equal access to all athletes -- a federal judge ruled 12 years ago that the Yankees violated a female writer's constitutional rights by barring her from the clubhouse and allowing male reporters in. Seven years later, both the NFL and Major League Baseball ordered equal access for all reporters. But unofficially, the issue is far from settled.

"I don't think players particularly like it, but you accept the fact," said Orioles pitcher Jeff Ballard. "I don't care how far down the future you're talking about, there's just going to be an uncomfortable situation because you're a woman and I'm a man. That's just nature.

"You're dealing with a bunch of men, and men will be men," Ballard added. "If you walk into a bar, and there are a bunch of men there, the same stuff will happen."

The difference, though, is that some of this bunch of men are sometimes naked -- either they're changing from street attire to uniforms and then back again, or they're coming out of the shower and headed to their lockers wherein lie clothes.

And some say, despite protests from female reporters to the contrary, that women go to locker rooms to peek. But many players refused to be interviewed about the subject, and some cracked jokes instead.

Still, for all the attention that recent locker room incidents have drawn, many players say they've adapted to this fact of sports life.

"I could care less," said outfielder Steve Finley, expressing a commonly held feeling. "They're here doing a job and not bothering me."

"I guess it's just something you have to deal with. It's part of the game," said pitcher Dave Johnson. "It presents a difficult situation. But I'm sure boys will be boys, and I'm sure girls will be girls, too. If males were to go into Chris Evert's locker room, a couple of those women, wouldn't they whistle at a guy, too? But it'd be all in fun."

Most of what goes on in locker rooms is indeed of the jokey, us-jocks variety, and, as Johnson noted, male reporters get hassled as much if not more than their female counterparts. Indeed, some athletes are overly polite to women -- one Toronto Blue Jay player apologized, for example, for saying the f-word within earshot of a female reporter.

And the solution, at least for the nudity part, is easily fixed.

"Personally, if I saw a woman in the locker room," said Orioles outfielder Dave Gallagher, "I would just go out of my way to make sure I was dressed."

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