NEW YORK — "If a reporter is duly and properly credentialed, then it's the player's responsibility to talk to them. Period." MARTY SHOTTENHEIMERCleveland Browns coach
"I don't think you can sacrifice the boundaries of human decency for the sake of someone being a journalist. I've got no problem being nude from time to time, but I'd like to choose the people I'm nude with." SEAN FARRELL Tampa Bay Buccaneer guard
The new year brings old problems for the National Football League.
It matters not that it's 1986. In some corners of the league, change moves at the pace of a 300-pound lineman.
Especially when change concerns the issue of women in the locker room--a subject that has been around for a decade and should have been settled years ago.
It seems odd to begin with that a crowded steamy room reeking of liniment and sweat-soaked tape would be regarded by some as a source of sexual titillation.
But such notions die hard in the NFL. After all, the thinking goes, this is the locker room--a sacred male preserve, a cross between the wild frontier and an English men's club.
Consider the latest incident. The Washington Redskins had just beaten the Cincinnati Bengals 27-24 in a key game in mid-December. The Bengals had blown a 24-7 lead. Their chance to tie in the closing seconds was cut short with a sack and missed field goal.
Cincinnati Coach Sam Wyche is discussing the game with a group of reporters in an interview area at RFK Stadium. Other reporters bypass the coach and head into the locker room.
Two in particular--Mary Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and United Press International stringer Cammy Clark--are not welcome.
Clark says Bengals tight end M.L. Harris requested she not enter the room until the players had dressed. She eventually complied but was "physically barred" from the room a few minutes later.
She claims someone from the Bengals organization--not a player--called her "scum." Others said she had "no right" to be there.
"It was really humiliating," she says.
"If she had followed the guidelines and gone over to listen to Sam and walked in with the rest of the press there would have been nothing about it," Bengals business manager Bill Connelly says.
Clark contends she did listen to Wyche. But, more important, there is no league guideline requiring a reporter to first speak with the coach.
Connelly estimates the women were kept from the players a few minutes longer than their male colleagues. Clark says it was closer to 15 minutes and the locker room was "practically empty" by the time she arrived.
"All reporters should be allowed in or all reporters should be excluded so that it's fair for all," Cabot says. "I'm angry that Cammy Clark and I were not allowed to do our jobs."
Joe Browne, the NFL's director of communications, says league policy calls for equal access to locker rooms. He adds the league's lawyers are studying the incident involving Clark.
Browne says "disciplinary action" was taken against two unidentified clubs this season concerning locker room policy. He admits there is "room for improvement" but says the league this season has received "very positive" results in this regard.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions simply do not admit anyone--male or female--at home games. If a reporter wants to speak to someone after a game a team official will bring the player to an interview area.
This tactic does not go over well with many reporters who prefer the informality of locker room interviews, but it has defused potential problems.
Other strategies are clearly unworkable. For instance, having a player summoned from the locker room to speak to a woman reporter.
Says Cabot: "You can't ask (Bengals quarterback) Boomer Esiason to walk away from 12 television cameras, 10 radio microphones and 30 reporters to step outside and talk to one or two female writers."
Although the league does not keep official count, there are certainly no more than a few women in any given locker room following an NFL game.
"One lady comes in here and does her job and then leaves," Houston Oiler cornerback Patrick Allen says. "It doesn't seem to bother her, so why should it bother me? Another would prefer to wait in the hallway for us to come out. I respect her and also am happy to comply when she wants to speak with me."
Cleveland Brown Coach Marty Schottenheimer is emphatic about his club's policy.
"If a reporter is duly and properly credentialed, then it's the player's responsibility to talk to them. Period."
But what a player says is another matter. Taunts and abuse can be part of the locker-room ritual.
Clark says she makes a point to talk to those players who are dressed. She recalls talking to a Detroit Lions player following an October loss to the Redskins.
"From across the room--players I had my back to--were saying, 'Get her out of there,' " she says. "They were a bunch of linebackers who I didn't even want to speak with. But other players said, 'Don't worry.' They were very decent."