As Kiam retreats, Wyche steps in on the wrong foot


October 05, 1990|By Mike LITTWIN

Bulletin: Victor Kiam has found religion (turns out, it was neatly tucked away inside a Lady Remington gift set lying around the house). The owner of the New England Patriots, the man who only recently said he had no problem if his players "wiggled their waggles" in the face of a woman reporter, is suddenly a champion of women's rights.

Already, Kiam is hard at work in support of his new-found cause. He took out full-page ads in several newspapers, apologizing for whatever he might have said, decrying male chauvinism and praising Lisa Olson, the reporter who apparently was sexually harassed in the Patriots locker room. In the ad, Kiam railed against "gross behavior of any kind." Then he tried to fire his

general manager, in what is traditionally known as scapegoating, a different type of gross behavior.

What brought about this battlefield conversion? Does the word boycott mean anything to you? It sure does to Kiam, who owns Remington. This is a man who learned long ago that principal supersedes principle every time. Therefore, the director of the National Organization for Women should expect an early Christmas gift from Kiam with this note attached: "Please accept this free razor, which you may use to shave your comely legs."

But even as Kiam attempted to retreat, the battle lines moved forward. This is a story that won't go away, and we can thank Sam Wyche for that. The Cincinnati Bengals coach is a man of rare vision. It was Wyche, you'll recall, who first understood that Cincinnati was not Cleveland. Now, he has made another important discovery.

The issue here, he said, when barring a woman reporter from the Bengals locker room Monday night, was neither equal access nor a player's right to privacy. The issue was wives.

"I'm not doing that to these guys," he explained. "I'm not doing it to their wives. I'll be out of this business before I do that."

Ah, wives. It's funny, but you almost never hear wives discussed in the locker room. Believe it or not, most players don't care one way or the other if women reporters invade their sanctuary, but they'd rather have knee surgery than allow their wives in the locker room. You see, wives, it is generally believed, tend not to understand certain kinds of behavior that are discussed in the locker room, and I don't mean Gatorade dumping.

This situation is not limited to athletes, of course. I'll give you an example of a sportswriter I once knew. He left a standing order that, if his wife ever called the office when he wasn't in, to tell her that he was at the offices of the basketball team it was his job to cover. One day, the wife called and was given the correct message. She was puzzled by it, however, and had to ask, "Wasn't the basketball season over a month ago?"

In general, the wives of athletes may have reason to worry about women and their husbands. But I haven't seen any sportswriters trying to pick up naked athletes in the locker room. Only Sam Wyche seemsto see this. And, by the way, didn't anyone ever hear of towels? The player who puts a towel around his waist while walking to and from the shower is no longer naked. That, Sam, is a discovery.

From what I can tell about Cincinnati, nobody wants to see anybody naked. This is the city in which they arrest the director of the local art museum as a pornographer. It figures, then, that the football coach would see women sportswriters as potential adulterers, or at least adulterers in their hearts.

What's amazing about this story is how the issues have shifted. Equal access for women sportswriters was determined 12 years ago in the courts, and every professional league willingly complies. Now, it is being argued again. And the wife issue is as phony baloney as they come. This is the same argument they make about women on ships, or in the Army, or in the firehouse. Sorry, folks,.If you want women in veils, enlist in the Army and ask for duty in the Gulf.

The commissioner fined Wyche, who, after threatening to quit, said he would allow everyone into the locker room for 20 minutes, after which everyone would leave while the players showered. Now, we can all rest easy.

Oh, except Lisa Olson. Once just a sportswriter, now she's the butt of jokes. Now, she has to live not only with the trauma of the locker-room scene, but also with the knowledge that her trauma is in the public domain. Some fans who spotted Olson on the field after Sunday's game actually taunted her. We know what the real issues are: what the players did to Olson and why they believed they could get away with it.

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