SNIDER: Media locker room ban is bad for fans, too

Rick Snider
March 10, 2020 - 10:19 am
Media locker room ban is bad for fans, too

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There are questions athletes won't touch with a six-foot pole. And now, that will become the norm.

Reporters have been barred from the locker rooms of the NHL, NBA, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball as part of safeguards against the coronavirus recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There will now be a designated area outside locker rooms where reporters can't come within six feet of athletes.

Preventing further spread of this growing pandemic is understandable. Washingtonians will enjoy the cherry blossoms to themselves as tourists are canceling spring visits to the nation's capital. The coronavirus is a worldwide crisis and anything to lessen its impact is needed. Why, NCAA Tournament games may be played without crowds. That's madness.

But the real fear among the media is sports leagues will use this safeguard as a permanent distancing. They'll claim everyone still gained their access without entering the locker room, so why resume it?

Fans will claim media whining, but here's the bottom line – less media access means less fan access. If you think tired clichés were boring before, wait until players are far enough from reporters to ignore them altogether.

I've interviewed athletes since 1978. Face time is critical to gaining information. The more time you spend with athletes the more they'll relax and speak openly. That's when you find out more details about your favorite players. That's when you feel their emotions rather than some sanitized zone.

Some days locker rooms are pointless. Players duck reporters by staying in treatment rooms or other areas off limits to media. It happens all the time, especially after losses when the 10-minute cooling off period lets players quickly dress and leave out a back door. Typically, less than half the Redskins are still around when the media enters the locker room post-game.

But some players are naturally gregarious and a locker room is their stage. Deion Sanders held court on Thursdays during his single season in Washington and was always hilarious. Clinton Portis needed to move his weekly Thursday costume interviews outside the locker room, because so many people flocked to it, but he could have done it inside if he wished.

These things don't happen in a sterile environment where a player can walk away from questions he doesn't like. And, they like fewer of them nowadays.

Teams now have their own websites and canned content. If that's what you want, go read them. You'll quickly learn how boring "Skintangibles" is. A free press is a key tenet of democracy and while the leagues aren't suppressing anyone's writing, they are restricting reporting. Here's hoping this is just a temporary measure and not the beginning of a new era of boring.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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