Sunday, April 28, 2013

Don Cherry should be banned from the locker room

I've had my share of battles with coaches and athletes over the years, from Scotty Bowman and Keith Primeau in Detroit to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. If you're a sports reporter long enough, and you ask tough questions or write stories that challenge the status quo, that's going to happen.

But as far as I know, the disagreements have never been about my mere presence in a locker room. Except once.

So when I heard the outrageous-just-to-be-outrageous hockey broadcaster Don Cherry had said on Saturday night that women don't belong in a locker room, I couldn't help but think of the only athlete in all the decades I've been in this business who made the locker room an ugly issue.

I was covering the Red Wings for the Detroit Free Press at the time and my main competition was another woman, Cynthia Lambert of the Detroit News. We had both covered hockey long enough to have learned how to avoid or work around those uncomfortable situations when players were dressing or undressing.

For us, the whole woman-in-the-locker-room thing was a non-issue. Or so we thought.

That was until Mike Vernon, the goaltender for the Wings, decided he had a problem with us. No, he never said anything. His way of expressing his displeasure was to openly display himself when we were in the locker room.

It was silly and childish, but mostly harmless. We ignored him and went about our jobs. Apparently, he didn't get the reaction he wanted, so his behavior quickly escalated. That's when it became obvious to me that Vernon was on a path to do something so stupid that he would eventually make news. And I had no interest in being the victim of another Zeke Mowatt.

So I sat down privately with general manager Ken Holland one day and told him what Vernon was doing. I said if he didn't want to read about it in the paper someday, he had better do something about it.

And that was the end of it. Vernon behaved professionally after that and no story ever was written. As far as I know, his behavior has never come to light until now.

That's about it -- the only locker room issue I've had in nearly 30 years in the business covering the N.H.L., N.F.L., N.B.A., Major League Baseball, college sports, tennis, golf and Nascar save for ex-Panther Reggie White, who wouldn't be interviewed by a woman in a locker room. In fact, I can count on maybe one hand the issues I've heard about over the years. And female reporters continue to go into locker rooms every day without incident.

You know why? Because being professional really isn't that hard.

But if Don Cherry doesn't believe women should be in there, then by all means, something should be done about it: He needs to be banned from the locker room immediately.

After all, if he can't be as professional as athletes and female reporters are every day, then he doesn't belong in there.

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