Members of the national media have railed against major professional sports restricting locker room access because of the coronavirus.
My peers have it all wrong. This is the correct decision.
Judging by social media, there are not many Americans who can spell. For the sake of the future of our country, we need to protect those who can.
So thank you to the sports world for recognizing that there is no way we can risk journalists’ lives by allowing them within spitting range of the population most likely to slather our country with pandemic like sandwich artists painting mayo on a bun.
Athletes and teams are the perfect pandemic carriers.
Think about the recommendations being made by the best health care experts in the United States: Keep your hands clean. Avoid other people. Avoid travel. Don’t shake hands.
Now think about the world of professional sports and its lifestyle and unwritten rules: Sweat a lot and handle one another’s equipment. Shower together. Throw your towels on the floor. Someone else will pick up after you. High-five. Low-five. Fist bump. Execute handshakes choreographed by Bob Fosse.
In baseball, spit on the floor of the dugout, then mix in snacks, fluid and dirt, creating a mud basin of germs, then walk into the clubhouse wearing the cleats you wore in the dugout.
In football and hockey, smash into one another, sometimes face to face.
In basketball, lean on and sweat on and hack at one another. (This does not apply to the Timberwolves, only to teams that play defense.)
Eat together. Drink together. Travel together. Bring in germs from home. Transmit your team’s germs to sold-out arenas and stadiums. Get approached by fans constantly.
The Wild twice in recent memory has contracted the mumps as a team. Staph infections used to be relatively common in the NFL. Last year, the Twins dealt with illnesses that swept through the clubhouse, yet they never restricted clubhouse access to keep the illness from spreading to journalists or the general population.
Professional sports teams are petri dishes with legs. They are infected cruise ships on dry land. There is no current worse idea in America than sports teams traveling around the country (other than failing to provide tests).
My peers do have one portion of their complaint right. Sports leagues are banning journalists from their locker rooms and asking them to stand at least six feet away during interviews as a way to distract from the fact that they are doing almost nothing else to prevent the illness from permeating their organizations.
Don’t take them seriously unless they cancel flights and games.
What they’re trying to do right now is set a precedent for limiting media access to locker rooms, following a long-established pattern.
When a sports league or team is growing, or needs to sell tickets, access is granted. When a sports league or team is flush with cash, access is restricted, and awarded mostly to rights holders, team employees and team shills.
I’ve been covering pro sports since 1989. The most endearing stories I’ve produced were the result of locker room access, or getting to know people outside of the realm of structured interviews.
These days, most interviews occur with a team official present, and with the team official cutting off questions after a certain time period or if the questions become uncomfortable for the athlete.
Restricting locker room access means fewer headaches for the team, fewer unsanctioned words to worry about. It also restricts storytelling and the kind of human interaction that might lead to the stories that have proved to be the most popular with fans and readers.
To restrict access to journalists while continuing to operate the most germ-intensive operations in America outside of brothels is a cynical and calculated move.
Not that I mind.
Please, big-money sports teams: Stay away from us. We don’t know where you’ve been.