Daily Herald
No real itch here to be in locker rooms
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 9/18/2010 9:08 PM | Updated: 9/18/2010 9:59 PM

What I'm about to write concerning sports locker rooms likely will get me banned.

Not from them but from societies of professional journalists.

I'll take my chances and go ahead and say that it would be OK with me if sports writers and sportscasters weren't allowed into locker rooms.

As a columnist I can afford to be selfish about this. Reporters need to talk to players, but columnists can get by without doing so.

As one of the all-time greatest said, "The best thing about being a columnist is you don't have to talk to anyone who doesn't want to talk to you."

Let's face it, most athletes don't want to talk to us and most of us down deep would rather not be in there talking to them on their turf.

Anyway, locker-room policy and etiquette are sensitive issues these days after New York Jets players were accused of harassing a female journalist.

Now everyone is debating the merits of the working media - men and women alike - interacting with athletes who are in some degree of nakedness.

Listen, as a journalist I say this is the way it has to be, but as a human being I say the day I'm banned from locker rooms is the day I throw myself a parade.

Is there a better way and place to conduct interviews?

Well, bringing pro athletes out of the room after they shower and dress is a possibility. However, they don't like that because it's simply a different form of inconvenience and we don't because of deadlines.

Another option is to not use quotes in stories. "You saw it, write it," used to be what athletes growled to writers, and writers pretty much did.

Every time I go in to listen to athletes I recall the day that I decided to interview a Cubs pitcher whose name I won't repeat today.

The player had spent time in alcohol rehab and agreed to discuss it. So we sat about three feet from each other near his locker having a really good conversation.

Oh, did I mention that instead of waiting to get dressed he plopped down completely naked?

That was no big deal, nor was that he spent the entire time scratching his private parts.

What became a big deal was that when we were finished and I was getting up to leave, he stuck his hand out to shake.

Uh-oh, snap decision time: Do I reject his gesture after he was so cooperative, or do I shake his freaking hand?

Not wanting to offend, I shook his hand with as weak a grip as possible and retreated to the press box to scrub down and nearly throw up.

Too graphic for you? Welcome to the glamorous world of locker-room journalism.

Think about that when you see ads for tours of Wrigley Field that include the Cubs' clubhouse.

Think about being in there while players are dressing, undressing or sitting buck naked scratching themselves and one offers you a handshake.

Often the setting is awkward and the process uncomfortable for both storytellers and story subjects.

There might not be a better way, but personally I wouldn't mind if we found a way to leave locker rooms to athletes.

Sorry for saying so, societies of professional journalists.

mimrem@dailyherald.com