I pushed the door open as if I belonged and tried to ignore the sudden discomfort the first time I ever walked into a locker room as a professional sportswriter. I felt empowered and nervous. I certainly wasn't the first woman ever to go into the New Jersey Devils locker room. And to their credit, they didn't seem to notice or care that I was in there.
I still feel that discomfort every time I go into a locker room. But I'm forever grateful for the opportunity as one of the many reporters who benefited from the battles in the 1970s and '80s to allow female sportswriters access to locker rooms. That story was retold in "Let Them Wear Towels," this week's installment of ESPN's excellent "Nine for IX" series on women and sports. Watch a replay if you can.
Equality won all those years ago. And because of that, I've been fortunate to have a career as a sportswriter with very few locker-room incidents involving athletes or coaches. The overwhelming majority I've encountered over the years have been professional, and most of my issues have been about what I wrote, not who I am. Fair enough.
But what strikes me about the issue of
women in the locker room, a settled matter for decades now, is how unsettling it remains for some even today. Just this past April, 30 years after the fight was essentially won, hockey broadcaster Don Cherry declared that women didn't belong in the locker room. To which I replied, Cherry should be banned from the locker room if he can't be as professional as the rest of us.
After I wrote that, though, I once again was forced to defend my right to be treated no differently than male sportswriters. The comments and criticisms came via Twitter.
Among those agreeing with Cherry was @Waterloo_Habs, who tried to turn the argument around but made the mistake that many outsiders do in assuming men are not allowed in women's locker rooms as well. Of course, men are allowed. Equality, remember? The difference is women make sure to cover up when the locker room is open, which is why there are never any issues with reporters.
Still, that wasn't good enough for @Waterloo_Habs. In his mind, the problem could only be solved by banning women outright, even though that would essentially ban women from most sportswriting jobs. As if equality, so meaningful to women and so hard-fought, was somehow inconsequential.
I wrote back, "Yes, barring all women from being beat writers would do the trick. Because it's too much to ask guys to wear a towel..."
It's the same argument the first female sportswriters made 30 years ago. It's the same argument I've had to make countless times in my career. If we already won, why do we have to keep defending ourselves over and over again?