Ron MacLean: Dressing room is place for all media

Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean explains why our world is better off with equal access for sports reporters of all backgrounds, beliefs and gender.

World is better place with female reporters

It’s Don's story. But I was caught in it. As you may have sensed, I had no advance warning of the topics of Duncan Keith's angry interview last week or female reporters in the dressing room being raised this past Saturday. That's rare. And it's OK. Don and I generally go over the subject matter. But, of course, we freewheel a fair bit too.

Should an explanation of his "I don’t believe women should be in a male dressing room" be made during our Toronto at Boston telecast on Wednesday, just knowing how limited time is and it won't be possible to add my take on the incident, I felt I should share my views here for the record.

Much of what I'm about to say is informed by a legendary sportswriter, the late Leonard Koppett and his memoir, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box.

Koppett was primarily a baseball writer and he explains the history of reporters in the clubhouse for what it is: a publicity arrangement. It’s business.

The clubhouse, which in other sports is called the dressing or locker room, belongs to the club management. The rules of that room are dictated by the club, not the performers.

Coaches and players often view any outsider's entry into their private place as an intrusion. They think of it as their home. But for a brief window each day, it's not. It's their office. And it is the reporter's office as well. It's where the players and media transact in the same business: selling the game. The reporters get stories, generate publicity and the team sells tickets. Players resent but must accept this relationship.

High and moral posturing

Any high and moral posturing by a reporter as concerns journalism should always be tempered by that reality. But make no mistake: journalism does come from that room both through things said by team representatives and in some cases as the result of things seen by reporters (i.e. strange pills in a locker).

The climate, while beneficial to the club and the media outlet, is often hostile. That's why there is a 10-minute cooling off period before reporters are allowed in. Home team dressing rooms offer a myriad of escapes so that players can avoid the press, but visiting rooms are often crowded.

One team has always lost. The reporter is on deadline. TV lights, cameras, microphones. Add family and friends who are often allowed in and players feel besieged. There are so many factors in how quickly this symbiotic partnership can degenerate. Players, when cornered, can behave rudely and often abusively.

Don has experienced it. So have I. Often reporters ignore it because it's bad for business to raise the issue. Here again, the rules of engagement must be set by the club and the league.

Seeking players

You may ask, why let reporters in? Why not just bring the players to a press conference? It's two-fold. If reporters don't receive such access there's a risk they’ll seek out the player not brought to the press area. They'll seek him out in a restaurant, bar or even at the family house. The dressing room is convenient. It's quick. And the room availability frees the reporter to choose his or her subject and get the coveted 1-on-1 interview.

When this business arrangement began, the voice in the conversation was homogenous. You had newspapermen and publicity men driving the message.

As with all reporting, our world is better off now that females and reporters of all beliefs and backgrounds have joined the conversation. Broadened its scope.

All this said, it's only natural that as each of us brings our integrity, which in the end is the ultimate compass on ethics and responsibility, and our belief system to the story, there will be debate. Where else can wisdom be found?

I'll let Don speak to his intentions, but it is rather obvious it stems from the equally contentious topic of chivalry. There's not much calling for a knight these days and yet there are elements of such schooling which must inform the discussion if we are to achieve what Alan Dershowitz described as "Rights from Wrongs."

I was disappointed for Don because I knew his solution was wrong. But I wasn't disappointed in him. I admired his commitment to exploring a root cause.

As for the dressing room and the media, it’s business. A job for all.