Why Are Reporters in the Locker Room, Anyway?
Locker-room interviews are an old sports tradition, but in an age of 24/7 sports media coverage, are they really needed?
Some NFL players want to end them after NFL Network broadcast an interview from the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room that inadvertently caught some players with their pants down. As Albert Breer interviewed cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones on camera, some of his teammates dropped their towels and walked by, unaware they were visible in the frame. The segment wasn't shown live, but the network still chose to air it on tape.
Bengals offensive tackle Eric Winston, who also serves as the president of the NFL Players Association, says that players have been complaining about the practice for years and that the union and the media should find some "common ground" that would still allow reporters to do their jobs while respecting athletes' privacy.
This sets up an interesting conflict between the union and the press, but also the league, which owns NFL Network. The media is largely split between those who support moving interviews to a more professional time and space and those who contend that with newspaper deadlines and live local postgame shows, the immediacy of such interviews is paramount.
The NFL could adopt the NHL's policy of opening locker rooms earlier, five minutes after the conclusion of the game, so that these interviews are conducted while players are still in uniform, before they've showered. Some players would probably still choose to change with reporters present, either because they're not particularly shy or to leave work sooner.
"This is my office space, I shouldn't have to change in it," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Every single day I have to change clothes and be naked, or not, in front of the media. It's just not right."
He's right: Athletes deserve a level of privacy while they're on the job. But I'd hope Whitworth and his fellow players would agree that the same conditions should extend to reporters, especially women, who are also put in an awkward situation when they're just trying to do their jobs. Following the Bengals incident, Fox Sports Radio's Kristine Leahy explained the multitude of ways players objectify female reporters in the locker room.
"It's extremely uncomfortable," Leahy told her co-host, Colin Cowherd. "There are players who will drop their towel -- they do it on purpose because they want to see if you'll look."
Make no mistake -- this is workplace sexual harassment. The locker room is her office, too. And no, the solution is not to restrict locker room access to men only.
What this really all comes down to is -- men or women, players or media -- we're all essentially coworkers, working together to keep the sports juggernaut chugging along. It's a mutually beneficial relationship built on, we journalists hope, mutual respect for our respective roles and the access required to fulfill them. (A reminder that access doesn't necessarily mean material; players have to talk to us, but they don't have to say anything.)
What happened with NFL Network is a rare mistake. But if players are uncomfortable being naked around strangers, and won't accept the bathrobes the NFL is happy to supply them, and if female reporters are being harassed solely for being present, it's time to rethink the way locker-room interviews are conducted. We could all stand to make our workplace a little more professional.
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