As the baseball season opened, and the basketball and hockey seasons closed, and the Olympics geared up and golf prepared to go north, a scene was played out in a hundred places around the country. Writers rushed into steamy locker rooms after games, with notebooks and/or tape recorders at the ready, to confront tired, naked athletes.
Among the odors of cologne, sweat, hair spray, baby powder and liniment, the nattily attired writers asked questions, the athletes answered as they dressed, and then everyone went home. But lately I have been having a strange vision whenever I walk into a locker room; in fact, it's become an obsession. What if the situation were reversed?
Suppose that after a hockey game, say, the writers scrambled to an ice-level room marked PRESS, hung up their clothes, showered and, sipping beers, stood naked, dripping on the carpet. And then in came the players, dressed in their three-piece suits, to make the rounds of the tired old writers, now sitting on metal folding chairs. And what if the players held the notebooks and recorders. There would be Phil Esposito asking Dave Anderson of The New York Times, "Was it a tough game to cover, Dave?" and Anderson answering, "Well, Phil, I had plenty of ball-points, but the coffee ran out midway through the second period. It was tough going after that."
Or maybe Bobby Hull asking Red Smith, "Red, you've seen a lot in your years on the beat, what made this game different in your eyes?" And there would be the great Red, wrapped in a towel, humble, praising his colleagues.
May 30, 1976
The possibilities of such a scene carry me away at times. A player squeezing the arm of a half-dressed writer, saying, "How's the writer's cramp, kid? You going to make it through the playoffs?"
"The word is around that you're out of condition, Mark," says Rod. "Canards from captious copyreaders," says Mark. "I've cut down on adjectives and my prose is sinewy."
These table-turning dreams come, perhaps, from spending too much time in locker rooms, the natural habitat of athletes, but places that writers invade with impunity.
Try standing naked in front of your mirror after a shower and explaining to an imaginary interlocutor what you did all day. Then you may have some idea what it's like after a game, and why I'd like to see the tables turned.