Breaking the Locker-Room Barrier for Women (with the help of a long notebook!)

All week long at the Miami Herald, there had been a tremendous buildup to the big event. There had been meetings, phone calls, more meetings.

The occasion?

I was to go into my first men's locker room that Saturday night.

The Miami Dolphins were playing the Minnesota Vikings in a 1980 preseason football game at the Orange Bowl. I was a 22-year-old summer intern at the Herald, between my undergraduate and master's years at Northwestern, and sports editor Paul Anger assigned me to write a sidebar on the visiting team. That required going into the locker room to interview the players after the game. The NFL still had no policy about women reporters being allowed to go into men's locker rooms; some were open, some were not, based on the whim of the team. The Vikings' locker room was going to be open that night.

The significance of the night was twofold: it was not only going to be the first time I had ever been in a men's locker room, it also was to be the first time a woman had ever been in the Vikings' locker room.

Four years earlier, my moving into a coed dorm at Northwestern University had been a bit of an issue in our household. Now I was telling my parents in Toledo about this new development over the phone.

I asked my Dad for advice.

"Just keep eye contact at all times, honey."

My father always made me smile.

The game was Saturday night, August 23, 1980. I dressed conservatively in a simple skirt and blouse. I purposely wore the skirt. It was the closest I could come to a neon sign: Warning! Here comes a woman!

The Vikings beat the Dolphins, 17 - 10. As soon as the game ended, a group of reporters was allowed into a room adjacent to the Vikings' locker room to interview their venerable coach, Bud GrauL As he spoke, male reporters peeled away, one by one, to walk into the locker room. Soon, I was alone with Grant. I asked him a few questions about the game. From watching him on TV for years, I expected him to be gruff. I couldn't have been more wrong. When we were finished, I turned toward the locker room.

"Are you going in there?" Grant asked. He sounded sincere, and not at all menacing. "Yes."

"You really want to go in there?"

"Well, I don't want to go in, but I have to go in there to do my job."

"All right then," Grant said with a smile and a shrug. "Do whatever you have to do."

And with that, I turned around and walked into a room full of naked men.

It was worse than I thought. Not the naked men. Actually, there were very few naked bodies. The players were in various stages of undress, many still wearing their football pants.

No, I could never have anticipated the problem I was about to confront. It was a preseason Same, so there were many extra players on the roster, but no names above the lockers. And
en though I was carrying a flip card - the sheet given out in the press box containing all the players' names and numbers - most of the players had taken off their jerseys, so I couldn't tell who anyone was.

To further complicate matters, I also couldn't look around. If I did that, the players could accuse ue of being in the locker room for the wrong reason. And that was the one thing I had to avoid.

As it was, as soon as I walked into the steamy, overcrowded room, I heard whoops and hollers from distant corners, from players I could not see:

"We don't go in the women's bathroom!"

"Here for some cheap thrills?"

I took a few tentative steps into the room, then stopped, not knowing what to do. I was stuck. ft seemed like a lifetime standing there, but really was only twenty to thirty seconds when, out of the noise and confusion, a player in uniform walked up to me. It was Tom Hannon, the Vikings' fowth-year safety out of Michigan State.

"Who do you need?"

I smiled.

"Tommy Kramer," I said.

Hannon pointed to the quarterback, putting on his necktie.

I mentioned a few other players, and he pointed them out to me.

Then I interviewed Hannon because he had intercepted two Miami passes. I thanked him tor his help and beelined to Kramer and the others. Every one of them was dressed except for one lineman who obviously desperately wanted to be interviewed buck naked. He didn't even bother to reach for a towel. As I moved toward him, he walked the rest of the way to me with a smirk• on his face, enjoying the discomfort he brought with every step he took. 1 found this awkward, but not awkward enough not to do my job. I was determined to get the quotes, so I interviewed the naked guy. As luck would have it, the notebook I had brought was not the stenographer size, but an eightand-a-half-by-eleven. With my height, looking the lineman right in the eye, when I looked down as I was writing, I saw only the notebook.

Forevermore when going into locker rooms, I carried an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven notebook, perfectly positioned.

All this interviewing, which seemed like an eternity to me, took about ten minutes. When I burst out of the locker room, I had just thirty minutes until my deadline, so Iran across the field in the now empty Orange Bowl to catch the elevator back up to the press box. I pulled out my bulky Texas Instruments computer, with its scroll of paper coming out the top. I wrote as quickly as I ever had, sent my story, then sat back and looked at a colleague sitting next to me.

"Oh boy," I said, exhaling and forcing a big smile.

Finally, I could think about what I had just been through. "I just focused an the interviews and tried to ignore all the things that were being said," I told him.

I didn't even think to retell the story of the taunts and leers, or the naked guy. The end result was the important thing for me.

When I got home that night, I pulled out my diary.

"It was tough - not embarrassing though," I wrote. "Just did my job and got out of the locker room and wrote the story."

Christine Brennan is a sports columnist for USA Today, commentator for ABC News, ESPN and NPR, best-selling author and a nationally known speaker.