I’ll never forget the first time I entered that forbidden place called the players’ locker room. It was like a club that I wasn’t invited to, and unless I whispered the secret code word correctly, I would never gain entrance. The “Boys Only” sign wasn’t on the door, but still, I could see it.
All of my male media brethren went cruising into this sacred place, and then, there was only me—the lone female reporter covering a USC football game—waiting outside.
I stood in the Coliseum’s tunnel and was hesitant. Me, the girl who has no fear, was nervous. Fear of the unknown tends to do that to you. The old “Never let them see you sweat” adage was thrown out the window and I was dripping angst from my brow. Cripes, maybe I should just wait til they all get dressed before talking to them?
As I stood outside the locker room, it hit me like a lightning bolt—wait a minute, Bill Plaschke was in there getting killer quotes and I wasn’t! As I steamed over this, I took a shot of courage (a cold Starbucks Café Latte) and pondered my circumstances.
In I went into the world of major testosterone, stinky athletic shoes, and wrinkled jerseys, and out I came a different person.
At first glance, it wasn’t bad. The players were roaming around in towels or standing by their lockers speaking into digital recorders—no one was smacking towels on butts, no one was making soap jokes. It was very business-like. Was I stared at? Nope, in fact, I was invisible. I was one of the guys. Perfect.
Alrighty then, time to search out the first player I wanted to talk to—USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez is a media-savvy guy, so I figured he would be a nice ice-breaker. He was standing in front of me ready to talk, I locked eyes on him, and asked my questions. He joked, he smiled, and he was a great “first” for me. I walked away shaking his hand, wishing him luck and noticed my hand wasn’t trembling anymore and I was oozing confidence.
The one thing that keeps you focused in a locker room is simple—these guys are not wearing clothes, and the only way you can identify who they are is by face recognition. Jerseys are on the floor, not on the players—no jerseys, no name tags, just toweled dudes walking around. It was an exercise in concentration trying to figure out who was who, and while I was concentrating, unfortunately, I managed to sashay into an area that should have had warning signs around it.
I was unknowingly standing next to the shower exit and of course, two linemen cruised by me with nothing on. After the initial averting of my eyes, I noticed a member of USC’s staff naked as well, and it then occurred to me; after you see one naked butt, they all start to look the same. It’s no big deal, and if you don't believe me, watch The Full Monty a couple of times—it gets old real fast and you don't even notice it anymore.
I had been officially baptized, and it was no big deal. After a while, you just get used to nakedness and it’s all business. The players don’t care, I don’t care, hey...nobody cares!
In fact, after 10 minutes in a locker room, you don’t notice anyone naked. It’s a mind-numbing thing to experience—getting complete wrapped up in a job and not noticing the other stuff around you. You’ve got limited time to talk to the players before they leave, so make hay or fail is my mantra.
I compared my scar (a plate and six screws from a broken ankle) to Mark Tyler’s scar from his broken leg, with Mark proclaiming mine “cooler.”
I checked out Rey Maualuga’s locker, which resembles something out of that voodoo-worshipping slugger from the movie Major League. He had leis, candles, and the whole altar thing going on in his locker. He may be a tough guy, but when I talked with him, he was slathering a nice coconut lotion all over his chest and was very soft-spoken.
Then there was Everson Griffen, an underclassman defensive end who will be a big name next year and eventually on Sundays. He was thrilled to get an interview, and was so polite and warm, I didn’t realize he was wearing practically nothing while I spoke with him. And yes, he gave me a pat on the shoulder afterwards. Like a son telling his mom, “Way to go, you made me proud.”
Should women be allowed in locker rooms? Absolutely.
The misconceptions about the atmosphere are overrated. It’s a professional setting, and if the reporter is professional, the whole experience is smooth as silk. There are plenty of women who have guy friends and have no ulterior motive in the friendship—contrary to popular belief, women and men can co-habitate in extreme conditions. Even when one is naked.
The only way a female reporter can do her job in a locker room is if the players don’t look at her as a chick. They will look at her as one of the guys if she doesn’t act like a chick. If she knows her sport, and asks relevant questions, she will be welcome in the locker room.
It's like having a male gynecologist—if he's fairly comfortable doing his thing, it makes the female patient fairly comfortable. If he's uneasy, it's time to get out of the stirrups. It's a symbiotic relationship—the relationship only works if both parties are comfortable with the other.
The key is to gain the players’ respect and trust. If you can do that, they will accept you with open arms, and, actually, be on their best manners when you talk to them. Prove to them you know your stuff, and you will have proven to them why you belong there. Acceptance will be given if you represent your profession in the highest degree.
I knew they had accepted me when at a press conference after the Washington Huskies game, Pete Carroll walked into the press conference, made eye contact with a few reporters he knew, then looked at me and gave me a wink and a smile. He remembered me. Or at least made me feel that way.
He remembered my chatting him up at lunch on Media Day, when I sat next to him and Brian Cushing and asked why the punt coverage was so porous with players not staying in their lanes, and how he was going to improve his turn over margin. We laughed and remembered when Desmond Reed finally scored a touchdown and he lit up telling me, “I couldn’t even enjoy it. I was so pissed over that (excessive celebration).”
Locker rooms are overrated. Girls in locker rooms are overrated. Heck, with 10 percent of the population homosexual, there's a good chance that some of the male reporters are homosexual as well. Should they be banned from locker rooms?
Getting the killer quote? Now that is underrated, and the goal of every reporter—it’s what keeps us focused. The rest is all overrated.