Unexpected job hazards

By Kristen Davis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 15, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat


I saw more ass in a mere 30 minutes then I've seen in my entire 19 years in one night.

I was given something I have dreamed about ever since the first time my father took me to the park to shoot some hoops: a press pass to cover a professional basketball game.

Of course, I jumped at the chance and frantically used my speed dial to call my dad and all of my sports pals to let them know that my time had come. I was actually going to sit along the press row at McKale Center to cover the Phoenix Suns game against the Los Angeles Lakers and enter a professional locker room to talk to any player I wanted about anything I wished to know.

I soon found out that covering a game and interviewing the players afterwards is not as easy and not nearly as glamorous as I expected it to be. I experienced a few uncomfortable and awkward times and I felt as if I was being treated unfairly because I had two things that are hard to come by in a professional locker room: a skirt and hooters.

Although female journalists have been allowed to go into locker rooms to conduct interviews since 1977, they are still heavily outnumbered by male colleagues and continue to encounter problems.

As I embarked on this journey through the egos of professional sports, I took a deep breath and smiled, thinking of all the great stories I would soon have to tell everyone. But nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. I turned left into the actual locker space where the players dress, or more accurately, parade around naked, and amid the few dressed players, all I could see was flesh. Raw and uncensored.

I took another deep breath and blinked my eyes a few times to be sure they were not deceiving me. When I realized this scene was for real and I was expected to get some quality quotes, I walked up to the first familiar face, Arizona alumnus Sean Rooks.

My interview with Rooks was going well and I was starting to forget that I was standing in a crowded and enclosed room with a lot of naked men, until Travis Knight, a rookie from Connecticut, appeared. He needed to get to his locker, which, of course, I happened to be standing in front of. Everyone moved over a few steps and Knight, who at the time was graciously wearing a towel, maneuvered through the dense crowd.

I tried to forget that Knight was literally inches from me but at the same time was careful not to drop my tape recorder or make any sudden movements to the left. During my interview with Rooks, Knight, a 7-0 center, dropped his towel and you can guess what was practically laying in my notebook. When I grabbed my pen to continue taking notes I almost grabbed him instead.

Mary Schmitt, a sports reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said a sports reporter has to deal with the circumstances in a locker room and accept them.

Schmitt, who chooses not to talk to players who are completely naked, was waiting to interview Chris Mullin after a game. Schmitt was waiting for Mullin to dress so she could interview him. Her deadline was approaching and when it was very obvious that he was not going to get dressed Schmitt walked over to talk to him.

"You have to suck it up and in your head say, 'All right, you win. I'll talk to you naked,'"Schmitt, who covers the Cleveland Cavaliers, said.

As Schmitt went over to talk to Mullin, one of the ballboys, who was also embarrassed, threw him a towel to try to alleviate the situation. Instead of covering himself with the towel, Schmitt said that Mullin used the towel to wipe off a can of soda.

"You are in their domain," Schmitt said. "It would make it easier for you if they put towels or pants on but because you're going in there I don't know that you have the right to expect them to do that."

Chucky Brown, a forward who was traded to the Phoenix Suns from Houston last summer, said walking around the locker room wearing a towel or less in the presence of women does not bother him at all.

"I'm sure it's nothing that they haven't seen before so I don't feel awkward at all," Brown said.

The situation with Knight was not the only time I felt uncomfortable, though. After interviewing Rooks I was looking at my notes and preparing some questions for Cedric Ceballos when I felt someone who was sitting in a chair in front of me staring. I waited a minute and, when the feeling persisted, I looked at him. I was appalled to see that the player, Derek Fisher, was leaning back in his chair with his legs widely spread apart and his towel around his neck. I of course was startled that Fisher, a rookie guard, would get my attention so that he could flash himself.

Fisher's actions were not uncommon, Michelle Kaufman, a sports reporter for the Miami Herald, said. Kaufman, who has been going into locker rooms for 12 years, added that most athletes would rather deal with male reporters.

"There we (female journalists) are, kind of spoiling the party," Kaufman said.

Brown, who is in his eighth season in the National Basketball Association, disagreed.

"It feels kind of good to have a woman talking to you after a game," Brown said. "Sometimes it seems like the women ask questions a little better. They seem to be a little more sensitive and more sympathetic, especially if they know that you're upset about something."

Most of the I talked to said incidents of verbal abuse and harassment in locker rooms are isolated and unreported. However, there have been a few serious cases that have been publicized, most notably the incident between Lisa Olson, then a sports reporter for the Boston Herald , and three New England Patriots players.

Olson, who has since moved to Australia, claimed that after a game in 1990, Zeke Mowatt, Michael Timpson and Robert Perryman verbally and physically abused her. She said Mowatt deliberately exposed himself to her while Timpson and Perryman taunted her. The three players and the Patriots were fined in an attempt by the National Football League to say that female reporters do belong in the locker rooms and behavior as such will not be tolerated.

Sam Wyche, the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals at the time of the Olson incident, barred a female reporter from the locker room a few days after the fines were issued to the Patriots because he was concerned about the athlete's modesty and, as a result, was fined by the NFL.

Wyche, a strong opponent of female reporters in locker rooms, was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when one of his players was fined by the NFL for inappropriate behavior towards Kaufman in 1993.

The incident happened while Kaufman was working for the Detroit Free Press. She was assigned to write a sidebar on the Buccaneers, who were playing the Detroit Lions.

"I was the only woman in the locker room at that particular game and I was with a group of reporters interviewing one player. All of the sudden I felt a big, giant hand in my back and someone shoved me and I fell down," Kaufman said. "I turned around and a large football player said, 'Get out of the way,' and, 'You shouldn't even be in here bitch.'"

Jimmy Williams, the linebacker who shoved Kaufman, continued to yell at her while the other players just sat and watched.

Wyche defended Williams and said that there would be no disciplinary action. The league looked into it, and Williams was fined and ordered to apologize to Kaufman.

Although nobody said anything to my face, nor was there any physical abuse in the Lakers' locker room, there were a few times when I felt as though the players were treating me different because I am a female.

I wanted to ask Ceballos a few questions about the game but he was sitting down, looking at the statistics from the game. I waited for him to finish and when he was through I approached him. I introduced myself but Ceballos did not shake my hand, let alone look up to acknowledge me. While he answered my questions he continued to look at the floor and seemed very unenthusiastic.

However, when a male reporter from Phoenix entered the locker room, Ceballos' demeanor changed. Ceballos interrupted my question and began to joke around with the male reporter. Sure, Ceballos knew the guy from his days in a Suns jersey, and it had probably been a while since they had seen each other. However, I thought it was extremely rude for Ceballos to not even excuse himself in the middle of an interview. It was obvious that Ceballos had forgotten all about the interview when they continued talking and joking around so I shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

I thought about what had happened with Ceballos and tried to figure out why he would act so unprofessionally. Some of the female reporters I spoke to said it may have been because of my age or my gender. One jornalist said that certain athletes are jerks and that they treat almost everyone the same. However, quite a few said that it was probably because I was an unfamiliar face to Ceballos and he was not comfortable with me.

"Until you are known to them and until they are very comfortable with you then you are in their territory and they're going to wait and see what you do," Tracy Dodds, the sports editor for the Austin American-Statesman, said. "Once you've been on a beat for a while it's different. Then you have athletes you can chat with and feel comfortable with."

Most of the women reporters I talked to said they do not only encounter bad and undesirable situations.

Although female journalists are uncomfortable and do not enjoy going into professional locker rooms they continue to enter them while more and more are excelling in professional beats and are attaining editors' positions.

"Going into the locker rooms is very little of the job," Kaufman said. "The majority of the job I love. Which is all of the different opportunities you get to go places and meet people."