Woman In The Locker Room: I Wasn’t There to Sniff Jocks

One of America’s first female sports reporters reacts to ESPN’s Let Them Wear Towels.

My passion for sports reporting had nothing to do with swinging dicks.

Still, that was the popular assumption when a handful of women — including this one — broke into men’s locker rooms in the mid-’70s. We didn’t care about sports, they said. In their febrile minds, we were there to ogle jocks and cocks.

As if.

Having ended my career on the sports beat in 1982, at The Inquirer, I thought I was over my anger. But it all came flooding back last week as I watched Let Them Wear Towels, a new ESPN documentary about our country’s first generation of female sports journalists.

One by one, prominent sportswriters, most of them now retired from the game, recounted their horror stories. The majority of them had worked out of New York for big-name publications like the Times or Sports Illustrated. They all had covered pro teams.

Believe me, I felt their pain. During my years at The Buffalo Evening News, New Orleans States-Item (now Times-Picayune) and Inquirer, I endured open hostility from players, coaches and — most surprising — from my own colleagues.

In New Orleans, where I worked from 1975 to ’78, my editor, a good ’ol boy from Mississippi, maintained that women should not be allowed in men’s locker rooms. Then again, he wasn’t wild about Jews or lesbians, either. Not to mention Jewish lesbian sportswriters.

Once I made it to Philadelphia, a sophisticated Eastern metropolis, I assumed it would get easier. I assumed wrong.

When I walked into the Inky’s then-decrepit sports department, the first thing I noticed was the female pinups on the walls. A few days later, after everyone had left, I trashed the girlie pics. I thought about replacing them with Playgirl foldouts, but decided to take the high road. The boys got the message.

I was totally alone. Virtually none of the sports guys spoke to me, except columnists Bill Lyon and the late Frank Dolson, both gentleman of the old school. Because the sports department was a dank man cave that was physically isolated from the newsroom, I didn’t meet another female reporter or editor for a full six months.

Between the isolation and the anxiety, I was going mad.

College basketball was my favorite sport, but Big 5 locker rooms were a nightmare. As games wound down, I dreaded the confrontation I knew was coming. Inevitably, I would have to stand alone in the hallway, my deadline fast approaching, while my male competitors got all the juicy quotes in the locker room.

A sympathetic publicist would bring out a player or two, but only after the men had gotten their fill. Sometimes I was made to wait until after a player had showered and dressed to grab a feeble quote, then literally run to my typewriter and frantically file my story.

It was the worst part of the job, bar none. One season, legendary Villanova coach Rollie Massimino defiantly stood in front of the locker-room door, his arms folded across his squat body. That same season, I was informed that the parents of Temple’s team didn’t want me in the locker room.

It wasn’t until the Inky lawyer intervened that accommodations were made. The schools had two options — let me in, along with everyone else, and have the players wear a towel, if necessary; or keep everybody out and set up a neutral site for interviews. As I recall, most chose the latter.

My biggest test of will occurred during the 1982 Army-Navy game at the old Veterans Stadium. With Navy about to crush the Cadets, 24-7, the Navy publicist made his way through the 100-plus reporters in the press box — 99 of them men — to me.

Which players did I want to be brought out from the locker room?, he asked. I did not hesitate. “Either I go in,” I said, “or nobody goes in.”

Next thing I knew, there was an announcement over the p.a. system in the press box. Since it was against Navy rules to have women in the locker room, he said, and since there was a woman covering the game who insisted on doing so, no reporters would be allowed in.

Suddenly, 99 hateful stares lasered onto me. For many of these men, Army-Navy was the highlight of their year, and I was about to ruin it. Still, I had to stand my ground. If not for me, then for all the women who would follow. I swallowed hard and kept my head down as I boarded the press elevator for the bowels of the Vet.

Outside Navy’s locker room, it was pandemonium. Angry reporters packed the hallway, fighting to get within earshot of star players like running back Napoleon McCallum. I tried to avoid eye contact. It was a painful blur. I don’t remember how I wrote my game story, but I did.

It was a victory, but not one I would ever want to repeat. Soon afterwards, I transferred to features.

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  • scholarly

    I’m all for women being afforded the same opportunities as men, but this is ridiculous. Should male reporters be allowed in female locker rooms? either no reporters in the locker rooms or men allowed in female locker rooms. You can’t have one sided equality.

    • Sandra Dee Lee

      “Glad” to see the sexist bs that i was watching on ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and couldn’t believed happened not that long ago, is apparently alive and well today.

      How about ALL reporters (male, female and you’ll be surprised to know there are even more then just those two sides of the coin) allowed in the locker room? Locker rooms are smelly, disgusting places where all a reporter wants is the ability to get some quotes or a story and then get the hell out. Not oogle gals/guys in towels or their naked bodies.

      (PS: men are allowed in female locker rooms in the WNBA and SURPRISE can keep their hands to their selves!? sabes que ‘one sided equality’ — I think my head just exploded)

      • scholarly

        what was sexist about what I said? I am wrong about men in women’s locker rooms. However, just because you wouldn’t look at men in a locker room, doesn’t mean the same for all female reporters in male locker rooms and all male reporters in female locker rooms. Do you really think it is fair to have someone of the opposite sex watch you change. Even a stranger of the same sex fully clothed while you are naked. We live in a very modest society, so unless nudity becomes the norm, this is unacceptable to me. Do you think some rookie is gonna tell the manager that he is uncomfortable with reporters in the locker room? a locker room is a place to change in privacy, not be questioned, and filmed.

        • Sandra Dee Lee

          Think of it this way (and I will just stick to the ladies, but please note, you can take away “women/ladies” and throw in “men/guys” at any time for giggles):

          These are not female fans who are in the locker room. The reason they are called “professional” sportspeople is because either they have gone to school for 2-4 years for journalism or were super lucky and were able to get a job in the newspaper/internet/video industry. Women, both my heterosexual sisters and homosexual or asexual brethren, are not going to care and are not going to ruin their careers or their journalistic integrity to look at male athletes junk.

          Now to address your other point — so what if a rookie is uncomfortable? He’s going to be just as uncomfortable discussing (sports terms here of his sport) with other equally accredited journalists because he’s a rookie.

          And in less snark and anger, if you do have an hour — you really should watch the Let Them Wear Towels doc as it answers so many of your questions and should leave you asking a lot more questions.

          • scholarly

            if you read other articles, you would know that the reporters have seen their junk. and being uncomfortable discussing sports, and being uncomfortable being naked in front of clothed reporters are two different things. an athlete’s job is sports, so discussing sports is expected, they aren’t pornstars or models, they aren’t expected to be exposed.

          • Sandra Dee Lee

            If the players are that uncomfortable about being exposed (because don’t forget, this isn’t the 1970s, 80s, even late 90s anymore — most reporters use their phones with cameras and video recording equipment that could conceivably be taking photo/video of their nakednesses) then just put on a towel.

            I think the fact that certain people have historically made such a big deal about ‘nakkid v. towels in the locker room’ plays a bigger part in athletes minds then it should and then it makes them uncomfortable but what I’m saying is that 99% of the female reporters, just like 99% of the male reporters really don’t care. They have deadlines and they need to get quotes and really aren’t LOOKING or even CARING if they do see stuff.

          • scholarly

            then along that line of thinking, police barging into a female locker room is fine because they are professionals who don’t care what they see and just doing a job (without a warrant etc)? and it’s fine to send nurses into highschool locker rooms to inspect kids because they are professionals? it’s not just about what the reporters do, if someone doesn’t want a reporter in the locker room when they are changing, they shouldn’t be allowed. If reporters are there from before they start to change until they leave, how do they go about changing and drying off and dressing while wearing a towel. I’m sure they get used to it, but some don’t and they shouldn’t have too. We obviously have much different opinions, but you seem to think that because YOU don’t care that THEY are naked, it’s fine.

          • Sandra Dee Lee

            To continue with the “off-topic of sports” examples — it is like going to an old people’s home or a hospital. As a male you would be embarrassed or freaked out by a completely capable (or even uncapable but still working there) woman doctor, candy striper, nurse, care assistant, etc. etc. because they could see your naked behind or front?

            What I’m trying to say to you is that just because American society is occasionally based off of weird Puritanical ideas about nudity doesn’t mean we should still be acting as if it’s 1776. Or even 1976. And no, I personally wouldn’t care (my gyno is a male doctor for one TMI) who sees my fat-self naked but more importantly than my ideas of what is and is not cool — is my knowledge that people should grow up and understand that it’s not all about them and their naked parts for, again, professional women who just want to do their job.

            Your doctor doesn’t care about you, the funeral director when you die doesn’t care about you, the police officers in your example also don’t care about the nakedness (but would probably stay out of the locker room in a fear of lawsuit, ignoring of course that this implies the police would be male and not the tens of thousands of women police officers) and outside of “hey, kids, pee in this cup to make sure you aren’t on steroids” there would be no good example that would have a school nurse going into a school locker room while the student athletes are changing.

            And please note, that is mostly because those girls/boys are underage — most high school newspapers/reporters aren’t in the locker rooms (of both sexes) just because no one ever, ever wants a Sandusky to happen on their watch.

          • scholarly

            you are missing the point, you choose to go to your gyno (male or female) these athlete’s don’t choose to change in front of reporters. It’s no longer about female reporters, you’ve helped me change my mind. There should be no reporters in the locker room while they are changing. So because you are so enlightened about nudity, everyone else who was born and raised with modesty should be as well? why don’t reporters go in naked too then like Monty Ain did, if it’s not a big deal? Nothing is wrong with nudity, but if you don’t see the difference between clothed people interviewing naked people, and naked guys changing you are delusional. But you seem to be of a reporter’s mindset, so you probably don’t understand/or care about personal boundaries.

          • Sandra Dee Lee

            “O how we call each other names
            You call me schizophrenic
            I call you God
            But we do agree on one
            Deluded are we both.” — Sunil Vidvarth

            The problem with the generic “sports” term is that in some sports — they do wait until everyone is finished changing or they give the media 10 minutes and then they are kicked out so the players can get dressed. I am also a believer of “no reporters allowed in until everyone has their street clothes on or reporters get 10 minutes and then you need to wait/or go run because your deadline is due in 30 minutes! while Gretzky gets naked, showers and then puts on his clothes” — but the fact that you were/are so adamantly against women reporters who are only doing their jobs and have the proper credits and all that other stuff specifically being allowed in the locker room is what has caused me the greatest ‘but, c’mon!’

            It’s not the women reporters fault and in a perfect world setting, it shouldn’t be the male players fault either — we should all be able to blame antiqued ideas of nudity and crappy editors who know games end at 10:30 but the reporters need to have their quotes and story/narrative/etc written by 11:30. And yes, I am coming at it from the reporter’s mindset because these women reporters who still have to deal with crap from male players, owners, fans, etc. are also coming at it from that viewpoint.

          • Brando

            Ms. Lee – your posts repeat over and over that 99% don’t care..but ignore the public fact female reports have been caught sharing personal details of nude athlets in publications, interviews and socially in the public so often that your trade group has had to publically comment against this as a “UNPROFESSIONAL”. Your own female peer reporters negate your assumption. Women talk about EVERYTHING in their personal and professional life. They have no shame for passing ‘judgement’ based on intimate details they freely share.

      • scholarly

        “The WNBA does not have the same pen locker room policy as the NBA. With the WNBA reporters (male and female) are allowed in for 30 minutes after the end of the game and then ushered out so the female athletes can shower and change in total privacy. Because of the short time period the athletes do not begin changing until the reporters are out of the locker room. This policy is in place to ensure that no male reporters are present while female athletes are in any state of undress. THIS IS THE POLICY FOR ANY WOMENS SPORTS THAT PERMIT REPORTERS IN THE LOCKER ROOM. With the NBA or all mens professional and most college sports, female reportersare allowed into the locker room 10 minutes after the game ends and can stay until the last athlete leaves. Male athletes are forced to shower and change in front of female reporters. This situation represents a huge DOUBLE STANDARD where female athletes have their privacy rights protected and male athletes have their privacy rights totally violated. Again I encouage you to do the research!” just read this comment somewhere else, you seem well informed on this topic, you can tell me if it is accurate.

    • Nicole

      Men are indeed allowed in female pro locker rooms.

  • critical mass

    Fascinating story, Gail. Chronicles of the gender struggles in our lifetime. We truly have come a long way, thanks to people like you who stood up when it was genuinely tough and painful to do so. .–V.

  • PPABootsquadVinnie

    Let’s be clear, equality means Equality for All. Then again, this is America, the land of repressed sexuality, where breastfeeding is a big deal and parents shield childrens’s eyes from a topless or nude beach. The land where you can show all the graphic violence and profanity you want in the various arts, but don’t dare show tender lovemaking where someone/Anyone may be ‘offended’.
    As a reporter, it’s a required all-access pass, so you can do your job as a Professional…But let’s not kid ourselves. No matter the gender, People LOOK at other people, in bathrooms, public pools, high school/country club/professional locker rooms, especially at wonderfully built Greek godlike athletes of any sex.. This doesn’t lessen or cheapen the professional coverage, but for goodness sake, people, admit it, we Look! Just like the nude statues at the Art Museum, we can admire them for their ‘beauty’, yet not allow that to cloud our vision of the accomplishments and / or actions of the athlete behind the magnificent physique.

  • Survivor3306

    Scholarly counters Sandra Dee Lee’s arguments well. The objection to women reporters in the locker room boils down to only one issue – forced nudity of the players. Often there is not time to undress, shower and dress before reporters arrive. No one should be forced to sacrifice his bodily privacy and dignity so the woman can get a story. No woman athlete has to endure this – why should men have to?

    Female sportswriters proclaimed indifference to the player’s nudity is immaterial. Whether true or not, the issue is not about what the woman feels, though women sportswriters have been amazingly successful in making the issue only about what they feel. In reality, it is about what the man feels. Why? Because he is the one undressed. If he is embarrassed, he is the victim of sexual harassment by the women reporters who refuse to leave.

  • Survivor3306

    Scholarly counters Sandra Dee Lee’s arguments well. The objection to women reporters in the locker room boils down to only one issue – forced nudity of the players. Often there is not time to undress, shower and dress before reporters arrive. No one should be forced to sacrifice his bodily privacy and dignity so the woman can get a story. No woman athlete has to endure this – why should men have to?

    Female sportswriters proclaimed indifference to the player’s nudity is immaterial. Whether true or not, the issue is not about what the woman feels, though women sportswriters have been amazingly successful in making the issue only about what they feel. In reality, it is about what the man feels. Why? Because he is the one undressed. If he is embarrassed, he is the victim of sexual harassment by the women reporters who refuse to leave.

  • Survivor3306

    I think it is telling that the women don’t push for a separate interview room. They should because most of the animosity directed at them is due to their callous indifference to player concerns when they enter the locker room. But they do not because they hugely value this right. it gives them both status and personal thrills. They will never admit that as a group, though over the years, reporters not so well trained have admitted to their thrill at seeing superstar male athletes undressed. Then the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) attacks them for their unprofessionalism and they shut right up and pitch the company line.

  • vigorousatheist

    I cannot believe women actually try to say that intruding into a room full of nude men is somehow their right.
    This is coming from the same gender that can’t even have sex without a shirt on. And they have the GALL to act like it’s no big deal for them to casually walk into a locker room full of nude men?
    That’s gender equality?
    No, that’s the very definition of sexism. Sexism against men. The fact that this isn’t even blatantly obvious to anyone with more than a few hundred brain cells makes me sick.
    I’m not lying, i actually, physically feel sick to my stomach from learning about this whole idea that women think they have the RIGHT to walk into a room full of naked men, and that if we don’t allow them, that it’s sexist towards THEM…

  • Equal Parenting -Fathers Initi

    something tells me; the writer of this article is a real “shyster”

  • dropstep

    Female and male reporters should not be allowed in the athlete’s locker room. There is such a thing called privacy! I’m surprised the coaches and players don’t bitch about it more. I see the MSG reporter, Tina Cervasio and several other females interviewing the NY Knicks while their in underwear! WTH???

    The NBA should stop all traffic to the locker rooms. Interview players as the leave the room. Give them respect REPORTERS!!!