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Marla Ridenour on Sports

No women allowed: Be careful what you wish for

By Marla Published: September 16, 2010

To those who believe a locker room is sacred ground where women should not tread, be careful what you wish for.

Judging from the comments on Wednesday's blog about Ines Sainz, some readers are willing to sacrifice knowledge of their favorite teams to keep women out.

The primary result of restricting access would do one thing -- restrict the already limited flow of information about professional teams, especially in the NFL. If interviews were conducted only outside the locker room, teams would have even greater control over who talks and when. Players prone to controversy would rarely if ever be seen, at least not in situations managed by the team.

Speaking only about the league I have covered since 1981, NFL access is already limited. Locker rooms may be open for 45 minutes, but that doesn't mean there will be players there. There are countless places for them to hide -- the training room, cafeteria, equipment room, shower/whirlpool/steam room. On Monday after Sunday's loss in Tampa, only three Browns were available, a situation the Browns promised wouldn't happen again. For two consecutive weeks, opposing players requested by  Browns beat writers for conference calls did not comply, first Tampa Bay's Kellen Winslow, then Kansas City's Eric Berry. The Chiefs instead put on linebacker Derrick Johnson, a choice that mystified everyone in the media room even though Johnson was a willing talker.

Years ago when covering a Pittsburgh Steelers playoff victory in Three Rivers Stadium, I was one of two female reporters who requested to speak to quarterback Terry Bradshaw outside the locker room because women were not allowed. Bradshaw was a no-show, the Steelers sending a barely revelant replacement.

This happened to me repeatedly in the past. When covering a Cincinnati Reds game, I asked to speak to pitcher Fred Norman, who had just won his 100th career game. Instead, third baseman Ray Knight appeared, forcing me to question him about Norman. During the Bengals 1981 run to the Super Bowl, women were not allowed in the Cincinnati locker room, so I was assigned to cover the opponent each time. I remember ducking through the San Diego Chargers door, unsure of whether I was allowed or not, to be met by the wary eye of running back Chuck Muncie. Apparently the few questions I asked Muncie proved I belonged and he made no scene. Fortunately, none of the Bengals' playoff foes that season barred women.

When I covered women's sports at my first job, the Lexington Herald, from 1977-81, I rarely (if ever) went into the locker room of the Kentucky women's basketball team. I didn't think it was fair that the other writers, all males, weren't allowed, so I joined them in the hallway. But we didn't miss anything because the team had to exit through the door we were staking out.

In recent years in Cleveland, the Browns have gone out of their way to limit contact between players and media.

Media have not been allowed to eat in the cafeteria at training camp since the Bill Belichick era, presumably to reduce chit-chat with players. When training camp was held at Lakeland Community College in the 1980s, reporters could eat inside, then wait outside for a player they were seeking and interview him on the way to his room. The same was the case when I covered the Cincinnati Bengals from 1996-98.

Speaking to a coach in the hallway at Browns headquarters used to be frowned upon, even if the encounter happened on a trip to the bathroom. In Berea, the media is led to and from the locker room and to the open 30 minutes of practice by employees with walkie-talkies. A large part of the facility is off-limits without a team-employed escort. Reporters staking out the parking lot have to wait on the sidewalk by the street.

Going to an interview room format in the NFL, or in any other league, adds to the control the team already has on the information readers receive. I've often envisioned being the scapegoat of angry fans, upset that they're not getting the scoop from the inside they're used to. Even with equal access, that's already the case.

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