Wick Communications

Cleaning up the locker room

In sports on 17 Jun 2011 at 8:47 am

Journalist Craig Wolff asked an intriguing question in the Wall Street Journal last week: Is it time to get sportswriters out of the nation’s locker rooms?

Sportswriters have inhabited locker rooms since Roman times, when Gaius Appuleius Diocles won 1,437 chariot races. (The Internet is a dangerous thing.) Actually, I doubt that is true, but, if it were true, the conversation with sportswriters would have gone something like this:

Claudius Augustin, of the Aegyptus Times-Gazette: “Gaius, it looked like you had your way out there. What was your secret today?”

Diocles, after winning race No. 1,420: “Well, the chariot got a little loose in the turns, but the fellas in the pits were able to hold it together.”

Plebius Maximus, of Empire Today, stepping in front of Augustin and elbowing the reporter from the Dalmitia Weekly in the process: “What about your tires, er, I mean wheels? I noticed you didn’t come in to change them when everyone else did?”

Diocles: “That was the whole deal right there. Good call from the pits. Oh, and I’d like to thank my sponsors …”

In other words, something tells me the conversation would be just about as banal as it is today. Way too many reporters jostle for mundane quotes from athletes who are often barely able to contain their disdain for the whole affair.

I spent much of five years in professional locker rooms and clubhouses, and I can only remember a handful of times in which that extraordinary access led to extraordinary stories. Mostly, as Wolff says, it was semiorganized loitering in front of seminaked people.

Here’s the danger: If we lose that access (and I expect it to be granted much more selectively in the near future), we’ll be left with the sanitized version that teams and leagues see fit to release. Observation will become sheer marketing. That can’t be good.

I realize very few of you have much occasion to waste time in sports locker rooms, but I thought the topic interesting enough to mention here. What do you think?

Clay

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  1. Mundane questions are asked by mundane reporters, no matter where the question is asked.
    We should take advantage of any and all locations. In a locker room, for example, look into a players locker. He could have a picture of someone special that he might not otherwise think to talk about if you don’t ask him. He may have dedicated the game or season to them.
    You might see a stuffed animal given to a rough and tumble football player by his child or younger sister that might tie into an aspect of the game, season or his life that you might not have gotten if you didn’t see and ask about it.
    I’ve always been told, Xs and Os are good, but sports is as much, if not more so, about the human element than any other reporting … so, the more environments that we can see of the people that we are reporting about the better.
    Your thoughts?

  2. Thanks, William. You make some very good points. I definitely agree that the best sports stories are always about people — in fact, the games are usually tangential to the story. And you’re right: If you can’t get those teddy-bear-in-the-locker-room stories, well, in the locker room, how are you supposed to get them?

    One idea might be to open the locker rooms of all sports for an hour before the game, as baseball does. Then just bring the star and coach perhaps to an interview room after the game. That would end the silly crush you see, primarily due to TV guys trying to get a stand-up for the 11 p.m. newscast.

    I wish there was more good reporting coming out of locker rooms… I just don’t see it. And my colleagues and I certainly didn’t do much of it when I was a sportswriter.

    Good comments.

  3. Recently, after a local prep team here in Nogales won the state semifinals basketball game, the opposing team’s coach was vehement about reporters not coming into their locker room and only talking to him and assistant coaches after the game.
    While no one could past his defenses, I took it ion stride, but my lead was not about Nogales winning. It was about the opposing team coming out of their locker room literally weeping and sobbing after the loss.
    This set the stage for the emotions of the game.Those emotions, though, weren’t as deep on the opposing team after the game on the court, but was let out as soon as they got to the locker room and onto the team bus.
    I’m sure if they would have had a mandatory interview room or session, those players would have gotten themselves together before appearing and that raw emotion would never have been seen. And, I’m sure that would be even more true for college or pro athletes.

  4. I’ve spent many years in locker rooms and to be denied access to them would be detrimental to the professions. As it is more and more athletes are utilizing social media platforms to express their thoughts, thereby setting the dangerous precedent of bypassing sportswriters.
    The locker room is an important place to be after a game. Granted, you may receive the mundane quotes from some players but you should also be paying attention to the interaction between players. It’s often not what they say but what they don’t say. Often their body language toward another player who did not play well or choked at a crucial time speaks volumes and thereby can turn into the main story. Once picking up on that interaction, the reporter now has the foundation to ask the probing questions, other than what was the play call on third-and-10? Additionally, once that tape recorder is turned off, some players may go off the record or say something that they believe is innocent but may open the door to a greater story. To close the locker room would not only hamper the job of sportswriters it would also come at the expense of the readers.

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