Of Michael Sam, Richie Incognito and locker rooms…

Last week the sports and social media were all aflutter with the news of Michael Sam’s pre-NFL draft announcement that he’s gay. A few outlets reported that his draft value would be diminished by this revelation, some citing teams wanting to avoid “the distraction” and others more bluntly worried about the impact of a gay player “in the locker room.”

Last year the same outlets were in an uproar over allegations that Richie Incognito, a white Miami Dolphin, mercilessly bullied black offensive lineman, Jonathan Martin, to the point where his locker room antics drove Martin to quit the team.

Both of these issues have been thoroughly aired by a multitude of perspectives and I have nothing to add, except that I am against bullying of any kind, having endured my share of it as a 70 pound weakling for much of my early years.

What I would like to ask is: Why, in this day and age of multimillionaire players and multi-billion dollar stadiums, do we still have LOCKER ROOMS at all?

I used to work in a crappy little tilt-up building on La Palma. For reasons unknown to me, my office (about 8×15) had a shower and bathroom attached. I can assure you I was not making Kobe money and our rent was about $2500 a month for two floors. If I wanted to take a shower, change my clothes, or just read the latest Sports Illustrated, all I had to do was walk across the room and close the door.

I didn’t have to undress in front of a room full of naked men. I didn’t have to get into a shower with a room full of naked men. I did not have to parade around in the altogether, being careful not to let my eye contact drift below the neck. Why don’t elite athletes have the same option?

Is there something about seeing your teammates without their clothes on that makes you a better unit? Is smelling the after game stench of your fellow linemen an important character building exercise? What purpose exactly, is served by forcing these gifted (and, for the most part, wealthy) men to change their clothes, pee and shower in a communal setting? Even most college dormitories have upgraded to private bathrooms.

I am sure that some will make the argument that this naked togetherness is essential for establishing team chemistry. If that were the case, why don’t businesses and political parties follow suit? Would Palin and McCain (or Ryan/Romney) have prevailed had they been smart enough to shower together? Perhaps if they sat around on hard wooden benches surrounded by rusty metal boxes, they would have done a better job getting the message out. Maybe Mitt could have invited all of his potential running mates to join him in the visitor’s so he could “size them up” on a level not before possible.

The reality is, this only seems to happen in the team sports world.

My personal experiences in locker rooms (7th through 9th grade) were awkward and dreaded. I was never comfortable disrobing, walking around naked in front of strangers and pretending like it was all just pretty normal stuff. Of course, everyone else was acting like it was pretty normal stuff, so I went along to get along, but it just seemed a little on the weird side. I went to Cornell in the 70’s. Supposedly we all had to take a swim test, naked(!), as a graduation requirement (I’m not making this up.) I don’t recall ever actually doing this, and I did graduate, so either it’s not really true, or, as with many uncomfortable things in life, I figured out a way around it.

I don’t doubt that for many people that hanging out naked in a spartan facility with other naked men is an experience they don’t think twice about. And I’m sure that there are those that actually enjoy it. I would hate to think that I am alone in thinking its only appeal is as a cost saving measure. I mean, they don’t have communal bathrooms in luxury hotels, cruise lines (well maybe they do, never been on one) or high end eateries. I generally don’t like hanging out with a bunch of dudes even when they are not sweaty and have their clothes on, never mind ones dripping buckets of perspiration, fresh off the basketball court.

Anyway, it’s a mystery to me why this tradition persists, and what’s more, no one seems to question it. All I can say is, that if I’m Kobe Bryant or Payton Manning or even Richie Incognito – I’m not not taking a dump in some cramped metal enclosure where I can see Tannehill’s jock strap around his ankles in the next stall and “experience” what Mike Wallace ate for lunch the previous day… as it lingers in the air around me. Give me a private sound-proofed room, with a nice bathroom, a bed and a TV where I can chill in solitude before and after games.

You know, like you can get at any Motel Six for $50 a night.

Shameless Begging: If you liked this and you have a Facebook account I’d love a “share” on your timeline!

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