The epicenter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room is
precisely 13 paces across from the entrance. In a cramped wooden
stall with a BIG DADDY sticker and FEAR THIS scribbled in marker,
defensive tackle Warren Sapp, the self-proclaimed quarterback
hunter, is in the geographic and figurative middle of everything.
His dreadlock-framed face is the first one the other Bucs see,
and his rumbling baritone is the first voice they hear when they
arrive for practice.
To Sapp's right is Simeon Rice, another pass rusher. To Sapp's
left is the entrance to the showers, but despite the heavy
traffic, Sapp's space is prime real estate. "That's our focal
point, where 99 sits," says All-Pro safety John Lynch, referring
to Sapp by his number. "That's the loudest voice in the room, the
place where the media always go for a quote. He's like the guy on
his front porch who has a comment for everybody who walks by."
Sapp may occupy a strategic position in the Bucs' locker room,
but don't ask him to analyze the geopolitics of the place. In
fact, a question about the layout of the room struck him as so
ludicrous, it might as well have been about crop circles in Iowa.
"A locker room should have lockers, a place for helmets and
shoulder pads and cleats," Sapp says, overstating the obvious.
"Where anybody sits, I could care less."
Sapp invades backfields, not the preserves of the interior
decorators of locker rooms, men like Bucs equipment manager Darin
Kerns. In its practice facility at One Buccaneer Place, Tampa Bay
offers what passes in the NFL for open seating--"Too many guys are
attached to their lockers for us to start moving them around,"
coach Tony Dungy says--but when the Bucs travel two miles to
Raymond James Stadium on game day or go on the road, Kerns
assigns Sapp the locker closest to the field. "I put him there,"
Kerns says, "because I have never seen a player who wants to get
out there so badly."
January 14, 2002
Kerns and the other men who manage clubhouses in baseball, locker
rooms in football and basketball and dressing rooms in hockey--the
differences in nomenclature are significant--are invisible hands
who, often in conjunction with the team's coach and general
manager, strive to create a space of Martha Stewart-like
perfection. The locker room is like a gated community, subject to
the zoning laws of sport. (The media are allowed in for an hour
or two, depending on the sport.) Sometimes a player will be
assigned to a locker because it happens to be available, but
little is random. Generally, the rooms are as scripted as Bill
Walsh's first 15 plays were, organized around a grab bag of
principles as diverse as seniority and stardom, pragmatism and
privilege, osmosis and personal choice, language and race,
tradition and superstition.
"The locker room is a place where, if you want to be honest, 50
or 60 men are linked by their fear of failure, whether that
means our next opponent, our next practice, our next play," says
Tennessee Titans guard Bruce Matthews, 40, an All-Pro at two
positions in his 19-year career. "That's the common feeling
among us in here. We don't want to show weakness even though
we're all weak, we're all scared to death."
"The clubhouse mirrors society--society inside a prison,"
Toronto Blue Jays catcher Darrin Fletcher says. "Like Alcatraz,
where guys wanted the better cells so they could hear noise from
across the bay in San Francisco, where they could sense a world
beyond the Rock. The clubhouse isn't for the faint of heart.
You've got a bunch of alpha males trying to establish a pecking
order. The young guys are like freshmen in high school who want
to be seniors. You do your time. You get your perks."
In the cloistered locker room rank does have its privilege,
which means the clubhouse mirrors society even outside the Big
House. From the two extrawide lockers in the Florida Marlins'
clubhouse that are reserved for a big fish like slugger Cliff
Floyd to the Velcro strip in Randy Myers's stall that made the
veteran reliever the guardian of the remote control in Toronto
in 1998, there is a star system based on service time and
status. Barry Bonds, who has done for camaraderie what strip
mining has done for the environment, invoked his privilege by
landscaping his three stalls in the northwest corner of the San
Francisco Giants' clubhouse with a leather recliner and a
27-inch television set--ostentatious and even offensive personal
touches given his teammates' apparent willingness to muddle
through with padded folding chairs and the six TVs that are
suspended throughout the clubhouse.
For a survivor like Matthews, the privileges are less showy if
no less rewarding: He gets to change the music in the weight
room and devise the locker room games played by the Tennessee
offensive linemen, who dress in the stalls nearest the entrance.
"Matthews has the ability to take two trash cans and a ball of
tape and turn it into an event," kicker Joe Nedney says of such
contrivances as Bucketmaster, a game involving a football and
two laundry hampers, and other raucous, Matthews-inspired
competitions that spice the room. The Denver Broncos have a
Pop-a-Shot in the middle of the locker room at their practice
facility, but it can't beat the Titans' posse of 300-pounders
swinging Wiffle bats in a confined space. "As the veteran, Bruce
is commissioner," says Nedney. "He always seems to win his own
games. I won't comment further other than to say it always seems
legitimate. Bruce is very good at reasoning."
Matthews's locker is the first stall by the door, an honorary
position in many dressing rooms, though Titans coach Jeff Fisher
insists he isn't paying homage to a superb career but saving an
old man a few steps. The other prized spots are generally corner
stalls or those with vacant lockers around them: the redoubt of
John Elway in the Broncos training facility; the recessed locker
in the front right corner of the clubhouse in the Bronx, which
has been handed down from Sparky Lyle to Ron Guidry to Dave
Righetti to Don Mattingly to Bernie Williams, the New York
Yankees centerfielder; the corner locker facing the clubhouse TV
in Fenway Park, which has been home to proper Boston Sox stars
Carl Yastrzemski, Dwight Evans, Roger Clemens and Bret
Saberhagen. Recently retired Baltimore Orioles icon Cal Ripken
changed in a corner stall near a back exit at Camden Yards. In
lockers as in real estate, it's location, location, location.
In spring training 2000 second baseman Jeff Kent asked for a
stall near some of the Giants' low minor leaguers, ostensibly so
that he could provide his wisdom as a mentor. In fact, he figured
they would be demoted to minor league camp early and leave him a
vast expanse of clubhouse. Athletes, like teenagers, need their
space. Former standout defensive tackle Dan Saleaumua always
commandeered three stalls in the Kansas City Chiefs' auxiliary
locker room. Saleaumua was not exactly a people person.
In the early 1980s gregarious Montreal Expos catcher Gary Carter
occupied the stall nearest to the clubhouse's high-traffic
entrance--roughly equivalent to a cozy table by the kitchen in a
fine French restaurant--and he never asked equipment manager John
Silverman to move him. "Easy access for the media," explains
outfielder Tim Raines Sr., a former teammate of Carter's. "A lot
more room for the cameras to pick up Gary's smiley face."
The current Montreal clubhouse, with its three TVs and two
leather couches, offers only one notable feature: the Latin
Quarter. In the northwest corner the Expos have lined up Javier
Vazquez, Fernando Tatis, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero and
Guillermo Mota, a veritable murmurers' row of Spanish speakers.
The issue of locker room groupings is a delicate one in a world
in which cliquishness, whether through race or nationality or
position, can be a problem. The New England Patriots, to defuse
any notion of favoritism, assign stalls strictly by numbers. The
Titans and the Broncos go by positions, segregating offense and
defense and all but quarantining the kickers. "Each group has its
own radio, its own little neighborhood," Titans linebacker Eddie
Robinson says. "This is pretty much where we stay. We don't go
and mess with the offensive line. It's like a guy in the Bronx.
He's not going to Queens unless he's going there for a reason."
The Detroit Red Wings also arrange their room by position,
sticking the defensemen along the back wall and putting the
goalies in the stalls closest to the entrance because, according
to hockey tradition, they usually lead their team onto the ice.
The Philadelphia Flyers go, at least in part, by temperament.
Last season equipment manager Turk Evers grouped his "class
clowns" (Chris Therien, Todd Fedoruk and the departed Daymond
Langkow and P.J. Stock) toward the back of the training facility
so their effervescence didn't overwhelm the room.
A snapshot of the San Francisco clubhouse last July is perhaps
the best example of the geopolitical evolution of a baseball
room, in which the languid rhythms of the game invite a greater
freedom than do those of other sports. Starting in the middle of
the west wall, swinging past Bonds's manor and heading south, the
Giants had 22 contiguous lockers that were occupied by three
African-Americans and 11 Latinos; no Caucasian players were in
the mix. This plush barrio has been the source of the occasional
clubhouse joke. "If someone came in here who hadn't been around
baseball or didn't understand what went on in a locker room, he
might think it was a race thing," says Nicaraguan-born
centerfielder Marvin Benard. "But it's not. It's a comfort thing.
Guys feel more comfortable in their own environment."
There is nothing more unusual, or sinister, in that arrangement
than there is in the inseparable Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio,
two B's in a pod, being locker buddies with the Houston Astros,
or in the Philadelphia Phillies' all-white Macho Row of Darren
Daulton, Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk having been along the back
clubhouse wall in the early and mid-1990s.
NHL teams are less obsessed with personal comfort or preference
in their dressing rooms, a more formal name that reflects the
heightened significance the sport attaches to the space. Hockey
has the only room to which teams troop back twice during a game.
Florida Panthers coach Mike Keenan, a master of details who has
coached six other NHL teams, ordered the home dressing areas
shrunk in the Savvis Center and G.M. Place when he was in St.
Louis and Vancouver, respectively, to heighten the intimacy and
subtly shift the emphasis from the individual to the team.
There is a feng shui to an NHL dressing room. The chairs all must
face outward from the stalls. ("I couldn't believe the first time
I was in a baseball clubhouse and saw players sitting facing
their stalls," Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan says. "That
would be impossible in hockey, where everything is keyed toward
the team.") The captain or the most important player--"The team's
voice in times of crisis," as Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock
puts it--dresses in everyone's line of sight. Baltimore Ravens
coach Brian Billick likes his starting quarterback in the first
locker by the door to subliminally reinforce his leadership role,
but in hockey, leaders like Detroit's Steve Yzerman and Mark
Messier of the New York Rangers run their dressing rooms from a
"Mess was certainly the centerpiece in our room when he was
here," says the Vancouver Canucks' Marc Crawford, who coached
Messier in 1999-2000. "The important thing was how you spread out
the room around him. I put Ed Jovanovski and Markus Naslund, our
future leaders, near him. You hope certain things can be absorbed
That principle is a thread connecting all the rooms. Crawford, a
former coach of the Colorado Avalanche, is convinced that Joe
Sakic, the NHL's MVP last season, would not have emerged as a
formidable leader if Crawford hadn't plopped Mike Keane next to
Sakic after Colorado acquired the sardonic left wing from the
Montreal Canadiens in December 1995. In '98 the Ravens paired
defensive back Rod Woodson with linebacker Ray Lewis in the hope
that Woodson could provide Lewis with his life wisdom, a move
that predated a dominant 2000 Super Bowl season.
As with any attempt at social engineering, however, there's no
guarantee it will work. Before the start of the 1995 NHL
playoffs, Rangers coach Colin Campbell, now an NHL executive vice
president, moved flighty forward Petr Nedved to a stall between
Messier and veteran Kevin Lowe in hopes that their solid work
habits and the accumulated gravity of a combined 12 Stanley Cups
would rub off on the expatriate Czech, who had played for Canada
in the 1994 Olympics. "I guess these guys wanted to know what it
was like to be next to an Olympic medal winner," Nedved joked at
the time. They didn't find him all that droll in New York. Nedved
scored three goals in 10 games, and the Rangers were eliminated
in the second round.
The trend in the NBA is toward circular locker rooms like the
ones HOK Sport, the Kansas City-based architectural firm,
designed for the Pepsi Center in Denver and consulted on in the
Air Canada Centre in Toronto. "It eliminates hierarchy," says
Rick Martin, HOK's senior architect for arena projects. "The
circle is a unifying element that directs focus to the center. A
huddle is basically a circle."
Basketball locker rooms can be designed that way because they are
the most sparsely populated of the four major sports. (An active
roster has only 12 players.) Unlike baseball players, who might
spend an hour in their dressing areas playing cards or loitering
on the settee, NBA players generally prefer to congregate in the
anterooms that compose the modern locker room complex. The actual
locker locations of the formerly feuding Shaquille O'Neal and
Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles--in opposite corners of the room--are
less important than where they hang out the rest of the time.
The most significant change to clubhouses and arena locker rooms
during the sports building explosion of the past 10 years is
their size. According to Joe Spear, HOK's senior baseball stadium
architect, the standard 3,000-square-foot visiting clubhouse and
the 6,000-to-8,000-square-foot home clubhouse of a generation ago
have ballooned to 6,000 square feet for the visitors and 15,000
to 20,000 square feet for the home team. The era of chicken-wire
stalls with an adjacent training room is as quaint as a 10-cent
cup of coffee. In addition to the dressing area, the new
clubhouses offer hydrotherapy pools, lounges, weight-training
rooms, lunch rooms, video rooms, meeting rooms, doctors' offices,
batting cages. "One team even discussed putting in a dentist's
chair," Spear says.
The modern clubhouse is one Tattoo short of a fantasy island. It
features oversized TVs, overstuffed couches, over-the-top
postgame spreads, over-the-rainbow-sized rooms. The Giants' main
dressing space is 2,788 square feet, spacious enough to give the
impression it demands a passport and inoculations to travel to
the other side. The stalls are made from cherry wood. A cook is
at the players' disposal for many games. Clubhouse manager Mike
Murphy's young assistants wash the players' cars and fetch their
dry cleaning, perks hardly unique to San Francisco. When Expos
manager Jeff Torborg broke in as a catcher with the Los Angeles
Dodgers in 1964, the only food in the clubhouse was crackers and
a wheel of cheese. Sodas were available, but the player was
expected to put a stroke next to his name on a board each time he
took one so that the Dodgers could deduct the cost from his
paycheck. Now Montreal, which eight years ago balked at providing
free vitamins to the players, employs an on-site chef who offers
Torborg's players the choice of three hot meals after every game.
"That's why I get upset when I hear people in baseball refer to
it as a locker room. It's not. It's a clubhouse," says new
Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, whose former
team, the Marlins, uses a nutritionist and offers players the
clubhouse services of a barber. "That includes all the amenities
a clubhouse implies. Players are getting here earlier and
earlier, which is good. For a seven o'clock game, many guys are
coming in around two. You want your players to be here thinking
about baseball, and you want to give them an enjoyable
"You want to make it like home," says Raines Sr. "For seven,
eight months a year, these guys are family."
The amazing thing is not the occasional clubhouse fight--after
all, what family, even one without a surfeit of alpha males in
various stages of dress, doesn't have its squabbles?--but that
they occur, on balance, so rarely. Indeed, the locker room might
be among the most successful social experiments in modern
society, a sanctuary of shared values and expectations in which
singularity of purpose almost always overrides a disparity in
nationalities, languages, race, positions. "The interaction is
exceptional," says Dungy, the Bucs' coach. "Walk in there any
day, and they'll be having conversations about everything from
presidential policy to whether the Devil Rays' manager should
have intentionally walked a guy in the 10th inning to whether
Allen Iverson should have shot the three-pointer instead of
driving to the basket."
"The whole thing is a matter of courtesy," says Tampa Bay's
Lynch. "Sure we pull pranks and tie up the rookies, but we follow
a locker room etiquette. My first year [veteran Bucs linebacker]
Hardy Nickerson lockered next to me. Real nice guy. But one day
he said to me, 'Rookie, we got to get one thing straight.' Then
he put down a piece of adhesive tape on the bench between our
stalls. He said, 'This is my space. You don't come in my space.'
I said, 'Yes, sir.' That's how it works."
The most common point of contention is music. In May 1997
outfielders Chad Curtis and Kevin Mitchell tussled over
Mitchell's choice of rap music in the Cleveland Indians'
clubhouse, a fight that left Curtis with a bruised thumb and got
Mitchell released four days after the incident. The next summer
lefty Randy Johnson tussled with first baseman David Segui about
the volume of the music in the Seattle Mariners' clubhouse,
leaving Segui with a sprained right wrist.
There are other ways to settle disputes about music. Last March
the Expos called a meeting in spring training because some
players thought Latin music was dominating the clubhouse.
(Fourteen members of the Expos major league roster were Latino.)
For the Buccaneers the music in the weight room is chosen
according to an NFL seniority list that is posted there and in
the dressing area. (The first tiebreaker is the order in which
players were drafted.)
Although many baseball teams still permit pregame music in the
clubhouse at the discretion of the starter--"Darren Dreifort's was
my favorite day of the week," closer Jeff Shaw says of the
Dodgers' pitcher. "Country!"--some have adopted the
headphones-only policy championed by Atlanta Braves manager Bobby
Cox. "You're together so much that the last thing you need is
dissension," says reliever Mike Stanton, the former Brave now
with the Yankees, another headphones-only team.
There are eight million stories in the naked clubhouse but one
inviolable principle: Everyone should be as comfortable as
possible. This is one reason that Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex
Rodriguez, frequent media subjects in Seattle but never close
friends, had lockers on opposite sides of the Safeco Field
clubhouse, separated by two pillars; why Buffalo Sabres equipment
manager Rip Simonick tunes one dressing-room TV to Jerry Springer
and the other to CNBC to preempt bickering between those sadists
who can't resist watching the decline of western civilization and
those who like Springer; why, on the road, Indiana Pacers
equipment manager Joe Qatato tries to isolate Reggie Miller's
stall so that the inevitable media crowd doesn't interfere with
the other players or impede locker room traffic.
"A lot goes on in a locker room," says the Titans' Matthews. "For
six months a year you get to be 13. You can joke and make fun of
guys. In the off-season I don't make fun of people. Then I come
in here and say, 'All right, I'm 40. I don't do that stuff
anymore.' Then immediately I do that stuff."
Even if the Earth is a cosmic accident, the geography inside the
locker room isn't. The rooms are testaments to clout, human
nature and the axiom that 70% of the world is covered by water
and the other 30% is covered by Barry Bonds's locker.
No Need for a Concierge
Here are some of the top amenities found in clubhouses and
locker rooms in pro sports.
--Ten choices of entrees, such as paella, filet mignon and
salmon, are typically served postgame in the New York Yankees'
--Soft-serve ice-cream machines in the visiting clubhouses
of the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees.
--Fifty-inch television with surround-sound stereo and a
first-run DVD library in the Texas Rangers' visiting clubhouse.
Players lounge on plush sofas and eat popcorn from the nearby
--Slushee machine with ice in two flavors in the Cincinnati
Reds' home and visiting clubhouses.
--Pool table in the Dallas Mavericks' player lounge next to the
--A hairstylist and shoe-shine service in the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays' visiting clubhouse.
--An indoor putting green in the so-called Golf Room in the
Atlanta Braves' clubhouse.
--Sound system stocked with a library of MP3s in the Toronto
Blue Jays' clubhouse.
--A mini-amphitheater with two rows of seats for meetings in the
Dallas Stars' dressing room.
--An ATM located outside the Tennessee Titans' practice-facility
--Computer terminals with high-speed Internet connections in a
lounge in the Green Bay Packers' locker room.
"The clubhouse mirrors society--society inside a prison," says
Fletcher. "It's not for the faint of heart. You do your time,
you get your perks."
The modern clubhouse is one Tattoo short of "Fantasy Island." It
features oversized TVs, overstuffed couches and over-the-top