Daily life requires us to shed our clothing, and in our civilized culture — excepting say Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve hot tubbing, and instances when the Capitals escape round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs — we carry off our shedding, becoming naked, most privately. Thus it should remain. In highly crude and insensitive fashion the Redskins’ Clinton Portis on Tuesday I think was intimating at just this.
It was with Portis’ unguarded reflections about the presence of women in contemporary professional sports locker rooms on 106.7 the Fan yesterday that an age-old if somewhat unsettled debate was renewed. Having been in my fair share of team locker rooms over the years, I side with the sentiment that they are nicely carpeted, expansive bathrooms (except of course for the hockey visitor’s locker room at Verizon Center) — but bathrooms nonetheless. In general, we pursue our naked activity in them in isolation.
(Purely as sidebar, it is I think somewhat established sociology that marriages tend to prosper when the partners have separate washrooms at their disposal.)
Locker rooms carry the additional aura of privileged locale by virtue of the competitive tensions and traumas they commonly house. Truly they are not public rooms. In hockey, the messaging and bonding in them is distinctly privileged, and relative to other other professional sports exceptionally shrouded in secrecy.
We have what I think is an enduring and unsettled tension here: the relatively new condition of going co-ed as media in pursuit of story coverage in professional locker rooms, a tension that exists only partly, I submit, because of the relative newness of women on the pro sports beat. The far greater source of tension, I allege, is fundamental, unalterable nature: it is simply unnatural to be naked in the company of the opposite sex in public or quasi public contexts.
As a culture, we have long acknowledged this. We have casual Fridays in our offices, but we do not have naked Fridays. (Even at Playboy.) We assign a movie a restricted rating often by virtue of the prevalence of nakedness in it — we do not much allow for nudity in film and admit all ages under the guise of ‘Well, it’s artistic nudity.’ Naked is naked, even with respect to many art forms, we have long decided.
Personally, I have my doubts about the faith statement that posits that a female’s professionalism in a locker room ipso facto renders her immutably immune to the otherwise-everywhere-else-in-society-oddity that is close encounters with the naked of the other sex kind. Not because of any gender bias but because of the novelty that is nakedness. I suppose I would re-route the reflection this way: if it is thus, why are not male reporters accorded an in-kind accommodation in the locker rooms for women’s athletics? I am not aware that male sports reporters await a few paces away with cameras and microphones for a showering Maria Sharapova, Danica Patrick, or Natalie Gulbis. Are males any less professional?
And so in this discussion I think we ought to be frank about the inherent contradiction in place: in point of fact we don’t with our locker room practices and protocols accord an equality of perceived professionalism by the media. Female reporters, we seem to be saying, are just somehow above any tinge of sexualized tension among undressed males — who just happen to be inordinately exotic physical specimens — while their male counterparts are, well . . . descendants of course of the frat brothers in ‘Animal House.’
Portis’ use of the phrase ‘cut my eye’ in his remarks Tuesday caught me eye; I didn’t know what the heck he was referring to. Readers of Dan Steinberg’s file on the matter seemed to suggest that it alluded to a quick or hastened glance but in a context of potential impropriety. That interpretation is interesting. I have been an audience to professional male athletes discussing their being on the other side of this awkward moment. By no means do they suggest that such moments are typical of their locker room experiences. And, truth be told, more than a few of them . . . enjoy it. Anyway, lest I wade into waters more troubled than I’m already immersed in: let us grant that such encounters are relatively rare. Do they really strike us as altogether implausible?
I wonder why more pro teams don’t simply adhere to the protocols the Capitals have in place: their athletes don’t interview naked. It’s that simple. In the case of football — and I haven’t covered that sport — it may well be the case that the physical pounding so many of those athletes endure requires immediate and elaborate physical therapy and therefore prolonged states of undress in the locker room. But in Washington the hockey players either shower and meet media in towels or robes or remain in at least undergarments if they haven’t showered after games and media is in the room. And so there’s no issue like that which apparently envelops the NFL at least intermittently.
It’s perhaps also worth mentioning: hockey just doesn’t have a teeming population of what might be termed sideline strumpets. Instead, we have Darren Pang.
I would rank among those who’d advocate the removal of all reporters from all locker rooms. For one thing, that setting is too immediate to a game’s aftermath, and upwards of 97 percent of the athletes’ reflection then is of too little consequence to qualify as stunning insight to the proceedings. Interestingly, during the NHL playoffs, hockey well resembles the athlete access practices of all the women’s sports: we meet the warriors a bit later, perhaps by 10 or 15 minutes, in some auxiliary room, and my experience is that there is greater candor and more meaningful reflection there as cooler heads orate. Also, everyone’s fully dressed.
And by the way, no one seems to miss a deadline by starting player interviews 15 or so minutes later. That’s probably because for most of the professional press upwards of 75 percent of their files for the night are composed by game’s end.
There will be some who read this file and believe me indulging in little more than frivolous, titillating prurience. To them I say, put a sock on it.