The great open locker room debate has only one side

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The four biggest American sports leagues currently in action are closing locker rooms in the name of safety because of fears of the coronavirus spreading.

If this is following advice from experts that will protect people, then it's probably wise. There are plenty of functioning offices in America that aren't shutting down basic elements of their operations right now, though I understand the travel and proximity of the co-workers isn't the same.

If the media practices must be changed, I would imagine the fans have to be cut out pretty soon too, as they are in close proximity of one another which is the primary concern, right? The league would never be concerned only with the safety of their players, but not also of their customers, would they?

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Virtually every sportswriter who will lose the traditional method of access in favor of more press-conference settings – no matter why it happens -- will think the same thing: We’ll never get it back. [Unlocked]

The infectious disease now gives teams and leagues control of something they love to control -- access. They largely think the more control they have the less at-risk they are of any “danger” – and I'm not taking about a virus here. What many teams view as danger is a story coming out that shows off more information about a player or a situation than they’d like, or a reporter-player relationship having a chance to form and solidify, increasing the chance for outside contact and sourcing.

In actuality, those relationships typically serve to benefit a team, helping the public get to know its players and at least a bit of the locker-room scene.

But not once since 1996 when I started covering the Houston Oilers has there been any level of scaled back access that has returned, nor has there been any trade-off.

When Mike Munchak closed practice, that was gone forever.

When Mike Vrabel closed the locker room and made us talk to guys outside during OTAs and training camp, that was the last we’d ever set foot in the locker room at those time of years. (It effectively created a mixed zone, where you can talk to a guy or two in-depth as you watch everyone else walk into the locker room not to be seen again until the next day.)

Sure, this is different than a coach's decision on how to control things.

And so, the sportswriting fear is, as coronavirus concerns gets reporters out of the dressing room or locker room, the fear in my profession is they may never get back in.

Then one of our brethren with a giant Twitter following who covers a sport that does not generally have open locker rooms undermines us. I’m a fan of Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, but he hurts the business with this take and seems unaware that as a big national guy, players are going to stop for him in a mixed-zone situation where they may not for a lot of us and could easily bypass a small-outlet person with a good question trying to make a mark in the business. 

Baseball writers were, understandably the harshest in reply but we all got involved.

apple icon 144x144 precomposedI know plenty of fans will say, "Yeah, leave the locker room entirely, stay out of our heroes’ sacred space" and then, at the same time" they will bemoan the downturn in the coverage they are reading. In the NFL it’s baked in that during the season the locker room is open for 45 minutes a day for three practice days and after a game and that isn't going away.

We’re fortunate that the Titans are present and accessible during that for us to get to know and talk to.

It’s my hope that after any health risks of more people in tight quarters is judged by experts to be over, closed locker rooms are over too.

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