NFL's (and other U.S. sports') locker-room policies stun Europe

Viewed from Europe, the story making news in American football this week -- of the New York Jets players who directed "Whooo-weee!" catcalls at a television reporter working in their locker room -- is bizarre and alien.

For Europeans, Ines Sainz's embarrassment is easy to understand and empathize with, and there's general disagreement with the thought that she perhaps invited trouble by dressing too sexy.

But reporters in the dressing room? What folly is that?

To those who work in sports outside the United States and who jealously guard the privacy of locker rooms, the liberal access for reporters covering American leagues is unthinkable and, depending on point of view, a recipe for problems or the way of the future.

In the English Premier League, at soccer's World Cup, in international cricket or at the Olympics, Sainz -- or any reporter -- would never have access to the locker room. Nor will that change any time soon. Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson will have retired long before a reporter ever gets to see him unleash one of his famous "hairdryer" locker-room rants at a player who has angered him.

"Our managers would say that the dressing room is sacrosanct," Premier League publicity manager Philip Dorward said. "It will be a long time before that one comes to these shores. There's no call for it."

Ditto for the Olympics.

"I can't imagine it," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said. "One can never say never, but it is extremely unlikely to be considered."

Same for the World Cup.

"How can you open access to hundreds of journalists?" FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot asked. "It would be absolutely impossible for you to work in there.

"There's also, of course, the necessity of the privacy of the team," he said. Post-match occurrences in the locker room -- celebrations, sadness, tactical post-mortems, etc. -- "are privileged moments which should be reserved for the teams."

One argument cited in Europe is that reporters don't need to enter locker rooms because they can speak to coaches and players in press conferences and in "mixed zones" -- with barriers separating reporters from players and team staff -- that the athletes walk through before or after they shower and change. Such zones exist in team sports in the United States only for international soccer and rugby -- and whenever a foreign team is involved.

NFL and baseball locker rooms open to journalists of both sexes and to cameras starting 10 minutes after a game. Major League Soccer's locker rooms open 15 minutes after games, and foreign players -- the league has many -- must adjust to the presence of reporters behind doors that have always been closed everywhere else they've toiled. Even the WNBA, the women's pro basketball league, has an open-locker room policy.

Another reason cited outside the United States is that locker rooms are often too small to accommodate reporters. For example, they hold "at a squeeze, 25-30 people, absolute max" at Lords, the London home of cricket, said James Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the sport's governing body, the ICC.

Cricket also wants to prevent any contacts between match-fixers and players or any leaks of information from within teams, such as when a player might bat, that could be valuable to gambling syndicates. Allegations that Pakistani players might have worked with fixers are a current concern. Under ICC rules, only players, team staff and a handful of others are allowed into dressing rooms.

Former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said that in soccer, players would want locker rooms kept shut because they don't trust the reporters who cover them. British tabloids are especially ruthless in exposing the unsavory sides of players' lives, such as the recent claims that Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney paid prostitutes for sex.

Footballers, as they're called in England, "would want the journalists kept as far away as possible," Nevin said. Locker-room access for reporters in the Premier League would be "laughable" and "so far beyond what is imaginable," he said.

But there is the beginning of change in Italy's top soccer league. For the first time this season, broadcaster Sky is showing short footage, although still no interviews, from inside dressing rooms before matches. When newly promoted Cesena opened against AS Roma, in its first Serie A match in 20 seasons, Sky showed players looking extremely nervous and taut in their locker room.

"It was incredible, one minute of pure fear," Sky publicity manager Flavio Natalia said. "It's strange for Italy, because up until now, the locker rooms were like temples. We did not know what happened inside."

Even so, that is still a long way from U.S. reporters going en masse inside locker rooms after games and, in baseball, even before -- regardless that players might still be changing or even naked. In 1998, for example, Associated Press reporter Steve Wilstein spotted a brown bottle of testosterone-producing pills on the top shelf of Mark McGwire's locker, next to a can of Popeye spinach and packs of sugarless gum. With the exception of rugby, where locker-room access sometimes is granted, reporters in Europe rarely come that close.

But perhaps they should. Gianni Merlo, president of the International Sports Press Association, a group of sports journalists' associations founded during the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, argues that it might perhaps have been harder for officials in the former East Germany to have hidden their doping of athletes had reporters been given greater access.

"To close the door sometimes is also to hide something," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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