ON LADIES IN THE LOCKER ROOMS

I changed planes in Boston last weekend on the way home from my vacation in Ireland. While waiting to catch the plane for Phoenix, I bought both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. I n reading through the two papers, I was astonished at the number of stories discussing the Lisa Olson incident in the New England Patriots' dressing room. There were stories not only in the sports section but on the front page s of the news sections and the editorial pages, too. On Sunday, there was even a full-page advertisement taken out in the national edition of the New York Times by Victor Kiam, the Patriots' owner. To date, the controvers y hasn't died down. One day last week I even saw Sam Wyche, the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, on the Donahue television show. Wyche, who has been fined approximately $30,000 for keeping a woman reporter out of his locker ro om, was defending his action. This past Sunday, the New York Times, which knows how to bore you to death with saturation coverage, devoted an entire page in its sports section to discussion of the merits of allowing women spor ts writers into the dressing rooms after games. Ira Berkow, a Times columnist, wrote that Lisa Olson's situation was not unlike that of black players who had been barred from playing in the National Football League until the c olor barrier had been broken in 1946 by Woody Strode and Kenny Washington. Berkow was addressing these remarks to Zeke Mowat, a black player, who is the apparent ring leader in the Olson incident. He made oblique referenc es to Victor Kiam, the owner of the Patriots. You remember Kiam, I'm sure. He made himself famous with his Remington electric shaver commercials. "I liked the company so much that I bought it." After the Olson incident he, bef ore even talking to her, referred to her as a "classic bitch." Fine man, that Kiam. Neither the Patriots nor the Cincinnati Bengals have distinguished themselves in this matter. In another article in the Times, Robert Lip syte, a former Times columnist, chalked up the attitude of the players to the "jock mentality." Lipsyte made the point that jocks have been made to feel special all through high school and college. The favoritism they have bee n shown has made them believe that no rules of ordinary behavior need apply to them. Lipsyte is right. I've been through hundreds of these locker-room scenes. They used to provide you with the color you needed to make a dull g ame seem interesting. That was when no more than a half dozen reporters were present. Now, for big events, there are literally hundreds of writers climbing over each other to stick their tape recorders into people's faces. It' s a nonproductive mob scene. And further, it's the rare coach or athlete who comes up with a quote that makes the trip downstairs from the press box worth the trouble. The real problem with sportswriting today is that so few writers have the wit or imagination to write a story that's worth plowing through. Newspaper editors should think about this when they complain that readership is falling off and that too many people are getting their news from television. Why shouldn't they? Television does it better most of the time. Let's see what sportswriters actually gather when they go to the locker room. Here is Ben Walker of the Associated Press in this past Monday's Arizona Republic on the second straight victory of the Oakland Athletics over the Boston Red Sox in the American League pennant playoffs. Here is the quote that begins Walker's third paragraph: "`I'm not very goo d with numbers, but obviously that's something we wanted when we came here,' Oakland Manager Tony La Russa understated." One supposes that Walker thought his unusual use of the word "understated" was clever. Clearly, Walker mu st have decided the La Russa quote was terribly relevant. Several paragraphs later, Walker quotes the A's starting pitcher, Bob Welch, on his victory: "It wasn't perfect, but I'll take it when it comes out like that." Two paragraphs farther down and we get from Walker, Boston manager Joe Morgan's feelings about his team's second defeat in a row: "We stayed in the game until the end," Morgan said. "I don't have to tell my players anything now. They can read what the score is." Well, the readers can tell what the score is, too. They watched the game the night before and there was absolutely no reason to read the newspaper story because it added nothing to what t hey already knew. And now for the big question. Why then do writers spend nearly an hour in the locker room in order to come up with quotes as silly and opaque as those cited above? The answer, of course, is that eve ry writer feels he must have every quote that every other writer has. In the end, they all have the same quotes. And they are quotes that only tend to make their stories rambling and nonsensical. No wonder people have stopped reading newspapers. It makes you wonder. Why doesn't every writer--not just the women sportswriters--quit going to the locker rooms entirely? None of what they hear and report down there is worth the bother. It's the rare coach or athlete who comes up with a quote that makes the trip downstairs from the press box worth the trouble. The favoritism jocks have been shown has made them believe that no rules of ordinary behavior need apply to them.

 
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