Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don, it's not about nakedness

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Good grief. We're still talking about female reporters in sports locker-rooms.

I've been a sports reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press for the past 25 years, moving two months ago to news. Alongside my male colleagues, I've interviewed athletes in numerous locker-rooms including football, hockey, baseball, basketball and soccer.

About 20 years ago, it was a big deal, but there were only a couple of us doing the job.

We're everywhere now. And we can vote, too. CBC broadcaster Don Cherry, who can make viewers laugh and cringe, did it again Saturday during Coach's Corner when he brought up the old women-in-the-men's-locker-room thingy.

He was trying to support Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith, who earlier last week delivered a rude and sexist remark to Karen Thomson, a female radio reporter from Team 1040, during a post-game scrum. Cherry defended Keith by saying, "I don't believe women should be in the male dressing room." Huh?

Cherry went on to challenge Ron MacLean as to whether MacLean would want men in the dressing room when his wife plays hockey.

Cherry missed the point. The issue here is journalists' equal access to players in professional dressing rooms. That's it.

The whole naked thing, that's a choice made by the athletes. No one tells them to do this. No one wants that. It's weird and creepy to interview a naked athlete. Most professional athletes, in my experience, choose to wait the 10 or 20 minutes it takes for the reporters to ask their questions and clear out. We have deadlines to bring stories to our readers. The sex of the messenger is irrelevant.

Here's my favourite story of player access from the 1990s when GM Cal Murphy ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with an iron fist. Cal decided he didn't want female journalists in the Bombers locker-room. There were only two of us then, myself and the CBC's Robin Brown, but Cal had to give all the sports reporters the boot to appear fair.

He came up with the idea of a separate room where all the players were forced to go after the game, sitting sweaty and sour in full gear in unmarked stacking chairs, while reporters stumbled around searching for who's who.

It was an unmitigated disaster and completely unworkable on the road. I actually fell into fullback Warren Hudson's lap once in Edmonton. Cal's interview room on the road was an Eskimo equipment closet five minutes before we hapless scribes ambled in. Bored players were ripping off their spats so there was mountains of tape on the floor and nowhere to walk. My foot got stuck on some tape, down I went and the room roared with laughter. Hudson, to his everlasting credit, actually lifted me to my feet and politely asked me if I wanted to talk to him. That was the end of the idiocy of separate interview and locker-rooms.

Consider this neanderthal nugget that I hear all the time: If women can go in the men's locker-rooms, why can't men go in the women's locker-rooms? The men can, and they have been for years in such professional women's sports as basketball. In Minneapolis, home to the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA, male sports reporters conduct post-game interviews in the women's locker-room.

"The locker-room is open, at the latest, 10 minutes after every game, and open for at least 30 minutes and anyone (journalist) can come in," said Alex King, the public relations manager for the Minnesota Lynx, adding that access to players after games is a league policy. "It doesn't matter what locker-room it is, you're in, male or female, it doesn't matter. Everyone comes in."

Here's a shocker -- and I hope Cherry is sitting down if ever he reads this -- those male sports reporters are in those female dressing rooms interviewing the players about basketball. Just like we female sports reporters are in male dressing rooms reporting about sports.

Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail, a former Free Press reporter, wrote Sunday "Only Don Cherry could start a fire out of this much damp wood."

I'm going to say that wood stinks already. Can we please go back to work now?

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2013 A9

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