Well, our National Daft Old Uncle has gone and done it again. Just in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs, Don Cherry has his 'eh?' game ready.
One benefit of the lockout-shortened season has been that viewers of Hockey Night In Canada have been largely spared from Cherry's usual droolings and over-wrought, misty-eyed, desire for a simpler time when men were men, women were women and fur-enners couldn't play in the NHL. No more, apparently. Speaking on Coach's Corner on Saturday night, Cherry used a comment on Duncan Keith's put-down of a female reporter as a springboard back to the 19 th century to suggest that female reporters had no place in a male locker room. Re-visiting that particular debate is a little like arguing whether there's a future for the internet, but Twitter was aflame after his statement and the national wire service, Canadian Press, duly put out a wire story.
Cherry has long been a cartoon character for most Canadians – particularly those who don't watch hockey and can't understand why a coach best remembered for getting called for too many men on the ice has become an icon – but he is also an enduring, if not necessarily endearing national brand. Whether or not Cherry actually believes half the nonsense he spews is irrelevant; he does a good job convincing people he does. And he has a platform on the public broadcaster.
The reason women have access to locker rooms, dressing rooms or clubhouses is simple: it allows them the same freedom that male reporters enjoy and, as a result, allows female reporters who wish to earn a living as sportswriters to do so. I mean, that's it. Nothing more; nothing less. And as someone who, with all due respect to Don Cherry, spends much more time in locker rooms and the like than he does, I can put the old fool's mind to rest: unless it's one of the dumpier sports facilities out there – such as Fenway Park, for example – players usually shower and change in separate areas. Often, players are either in sweatsuits or street clothes when they are in areas where they do post-game interviews. If they have showered, they avail themselves of this new invention – it's called a towel, Don – and the skilled ones among them have mastered the art of slipping on skivvies underneath the towel so prying eyes don't get a sight of their unmentionables. It's just not that difficult to maintain a sense of decorum.
Cherry asked why it was that male reporters weren't allowed into female dressing rooms. That's a non-starter for several reasons: first, with all due respect to female athletes, there aren't a lot of team sports involving women that elicit a tremendous amount of media coverage. Those that do are usually held under the auspices of international sports organizations or the IOC, and in those instances it is usual for both men's and women's locker rooms to be closed to the media. Part of that is due to security and logistical concerns surrounding post-competition drug testing, but it also very much a part of the sporting culture everywhere but North America that athletes are brought out to so-called 'mixed zones' outside of dressing rooms to be interviewed. Reporters do not have access, for example, to dressing rooms of English Premier League clubs.
Now, if Cherry wants to have a discussion about allowing any media access to dressing rooms or clubhouses, well, that's a different topic. From a purely critical point of view, the clarity and stylishness of sports writing can often be enhanced without the fallback position provided by the throw-away quote. The truth is post-game interviews are less impactful than ever before because they are carefully monitored by media relations directors and – well, how to put this delicately? – most pro athletes are smart enough these days to dumb down their answers. There is an assembly-line aspect to post-game media interviews that never used to exist; a new wariness resulting from the multiplication of cameras and tape recorders and the blurring of lines between bloggers and reporters. That's not a pejorative comment; it's fact. The business now labours under the tyranny of the sound-bite and the smart athlete realizes that when he stares into a semi-circular scrum he really doesn't know where his comments will end up or who sees them. In this day and age of interview rooms, most real journalism isn't done post-game; it's done in one on one interviews after practices or, in the case of Major League Baseball, before batting practice when clubhouses are open for a set period of time.
It's odd hearing a puck-head talk the way Cherry talks, because the truth is the NHL and NBA were the two sports that were at the front of the pack in ensuring equal access, which is the way it should be. There may be a time when all reporters – male and female – stop accessing to dressing rooms, likely because the nature of sports writing and sports journalism evolves to the point where it is no longer necessary. But as long as male reporters are allowed in, so should women have the right of equal access. Only Don Cherry could start a fire out of this much damp wood.