The Naked Truth: How close is too close?
LeBron James of the Miami Heat is mobbed by journalists in the team's locker-room during the 2012 NBA Finals.
September 26th, 2013
01:47 PM ET

The Naked Truth: How close is too close?

It was the yellow rubber duckies that did it.

I suppose up until that point I’d been on auto-pilot, I was just waiting for an interview. But when one of the NBA’s biggest stars pulled on a pair of blue socks – festooned with bright yellow ducks – it struck me that this assignment was way more surreal than anything I was used to. Or, for that matter, comfortable with.

With a group of about 20 other men and women, I had just watched the Houston Rockets’ shooting guard James Harden emerge dripping wet from the shower, dry off and get dressed … all from a distance of about two and a half feet. This was my introduction to the world of sports reporting in the United States!

It doesn’t happen like that in Europe. Every professional team that I’d ever covered kept the media on a tight leash. Many a long hour was spent waiting in the players’ tunnel or kicking my feet in parking lot, hanging around until after the coach’s debrief, until all the showers and the massages were done and all the clothes were on.

And even then it was controlled; mixed zones mean that everyone has to walk past the media but there is no obligation to stop. It’s very easy for anyone who’s had a poor game to avoid the most pertinent questions.

In the U.S. however, it’s open season. The biggest cultural difference between reporting on sport in the UK and across the pond is that everyone here is allowed into the locker-room. The access is great, but it does create some very unusual situations.

Harden had just played the game of his life, scoring a career-high 45 points against the Atlanta Hawks. His reward? The opportunity to get dressed in about two square feet of real estate, the only space left available once a semi-circle of reporters and cameramen had formed around his locker.

We patiently waited as he reached for his underwear, which for the record was green, and as he struggled to maintain his balance while pulling on those socks - everyone trying really hard to give the impression that they weren’t watching someone getting dressed.

That’s pretty hard to do at point-blank range, but it seemed that I was the only one who thought this was all rather bizarre. In the U.S., this has become the norm for athletes and reporters.

I’ve discussed it with seasoned sports reporters who cannot imagine a world in which they wouldn’t have regular access to the players on their beat. A player you are chronicling needs to have a right of reply; the journalist reporting a missed tackle or a dropped catch needs to know why it happened. Otherwise, too much is assumed and the sports fans are cheated.

In the UK and most of Europe, there’s no way that professional teams would ever willingly open their dressing-room doors. But they’re coming under pressure. With more and more overseas interest in products like soccer's English Premier League, and with the value of each new television contract soaring ever upwards, broadcasters are demanding more for their money.

A request to bring cameras into an area long considered sacrosanct was rebuffed during the latest contract negotiations between the Premier League and BT Sport, one of its two British broadcasters, but it’s getting harder to say no. The very notion of such access creates panic among club chairmen and managers who worry that prying eyes will broadcast behavior which could bring their team, or the game as a whole, into disrepute.

Britain’s tabloid culture makes Premier League teams especially nervous; many journalists could exploit and make hay with such unfettered access. But in any case, most of the players have become so used to keeping a low profile that the pressure to constantly explain themselves would be overwhelming.

They’ve had a long time to get used to it in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean the players actually like it. According to one NFL veteran, the players would vote against it if they could. Whether they’re muddy and sweaty, half-dressed or totally undressed, none is a particularly good image with which to send out a message.

From their perspective, it’s like the running of the bulls in Pamplona when the door is opened and the press pack is allowed in. Some will reach for a towel before taking questions, but others – usually those who hold the media in contempt – make little or no effort to cover up.

In one instance a few years back, a football player took questions while he was sitting naked, "meat on seat" as the jocks would put it. He kept his legs wide open as he appraised his role in the game. If you think that might be odd for a male reporter, how do you think female journalists feel?

The push for equality in American sports reporting was an uncomfortable one for all concerned. The behavior was boorish, reporters were harassed, lawsuits were filed. It was an era recently profiled in the ESPN documentary "Let them wear towels" and although things have since calmed down, players’ wives are far from thrilled that their partners are in a state of undress with other ladies present.

I’m sure that in time I’ll get used to this new reporting culture and I’ll watch with interest the developments back home in Europe. Is there a happy medium? If so, I’m sure many would be keen to find it, but there’s another reason American reporters like it their way: the sooner the post-match interview, the better it is. In the locker-room, the haze of battle has yet to clear, the emotions are raw, observations less guarded. Wait a while and their views become more objective and much more filtered.

Given that it’s the fans we’re all doing this for, I suspect that in the U.S. they like it just the way it is. Just don’t mention the socks!

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Filed under:  Football • U.S. Sport
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. a few thoughts

    A few thoughts:
    Europeans often criticize Americans for being too prudish and adolescent with regard to our squeamishness about nudity.
    Maybe this reporter just got a little too excited in the locker room.
    Why did this make national news? (I read almost to the end so I recognize that I'm not superior or anything.)
    Whenever the American public becomes comfortable with nudity and human sexuality, the pornography industry will collapse and all the porno stars will have to find day jobs.

    September 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • Sppmd

      Whenever the American public becomes comfortable with nudity and human sexuality, the pornography industry will collapse and all the porno stars will have to find day jobs- YOU ARE SURELY DREAMING

      September 27, 2013 at 12:46 am | Reply
    • Marcia

      What you just said makes no sense. Sure, states like Utah are the ones with most porn consumers, but Europe also loves porn. It's not going to end.

      September 27, 2013 at 4:56 am | Reply
      • marc

        I thought this article was going to show some pics of skin in the locker room ?

        September 27, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Brian

      Interesting theory, but if that is the case, how do you explain the French/German/Italian/Spanish porn industry?

      September 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      When European football accepts the concept of gay and black players then you can criticize US attitudes.

      September 27, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • Brandon

      I feel like this was less a story about prudishness and more a story about respecting athletes public space. Our press shouldn't have this sort of access to the lockerrrom

      September 28, 2013 at 4:04 am | Reply
      • Chris

        My sentiments exactly, you said it better than I could though.

        September 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  2. Joe Williams

    Rambling... and pointless..

    September 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  3. jimmy

    "Just don’t mention the socks! Or the _ocks!"

    September 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  4. Brad76

    There is NO reason reporters need to be in the room with players while they're changing. They can't wait a few minutes for them to put clothing on?

    September 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • FRE

      I agree. Although I have nothing against nudity under certain circumstances, surely players are entitled to their privacy and reporters could wait until the players are dressed.

      That said, if I were a player, I would make no attempt to hide my body, but I would insist on enough room to dry off and dress without being inconvenienced. The fault is with the reporters and managers, so there is no reason for the players to feel uncomfortable.

      September 27, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply
    • D987654321

      There's absolutely no reason (whatsoever) that a reporter MUST get to a player before they've had time to shower and get dressed. It's ridiculous, personal space invasion. RUDE.

      September 28, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  5. Jeff Quiere

    A very strange and useless homophobic approach to a meaningless subject. Is Riddell afraid the socks would rub off? Or is it raw emotions that make him cringe?

    September 26, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Reply
    • teddy

      I don't understand why you think this is homophobic (gay guy here.) He's commenting on the absurdity of the state of sports reporting. I don't get any sense that he is saying it is disgusting for grown men to be naked around each other....his point is that this is professional life overstepping personal boundaries as a norm. He is not criticize the player as a man for wearing duckie socks as some masculine powerplay either, he again was merely making the point that he, as a professional news reported shouldn't even know what socks, or color of underwear, he is wearing.

      September 28, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
  6. amitb1a

    Well – This article is not pointless. There should be basic decency for everyone: players and the reporters. Unless you are on declared nudist beach, some basic clothes should be mandatory. This is a good article, that like similar many other issues, will not be able to make a difference because of the moneys involved. Have some honor and poise America.

    September 27, 2013 at 2:25 am | Reply
  7. Dan Gregory

    Whiner

    September 27, 2013 at 2:56 am | Reply
  8. Sarah

    Question – are male reporters given the same access to professional women's sports?

    September 27, 2013 at 3:01 am | Reply
    • CNNTom

      No, that would require equality.

      September 27, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      I agree completely. Take sexism out of athletics. What is good for one gender is good for both.

      September 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Reply
      • D987654321

        I agree. Reporters OUT of the locker room.

        September 28, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  9. Ruminating Idly

    So what happens in women sports... do female athletes stutter around in nude in front of the male journalists???
    I mean we are talking about gender equality out here... why stop mid-way when you can go full (monty)

    September 27, 2013 at 7:36 am | Reply
  10. Tracy

    Very interesting read; a unique view on cross-cultural clashing in the sporting realm within the English-speaking World.

    September 27, 2013 at 7:53 am | Reply
  11. Rob35L

    I hope this never comes to Europe. In Europe we are much more relaxed with nudity but we do appreciate privacy of our sports men.

    September 27, 2013 at 10:13 am | Reply
  12. ngo2biz

    I did not know this.
    Is it equal in all situations?
    Are the journalists allowed into the Ladies locker-rooms as well, after Women sport matches?

    September 27, 2013 at 11:23 am | Reply
  13. Don Martinson

    Must be a slow news day. Let's just make it into a reality show with Full Frontal Nudity.

    September 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  14. Better Sport Experience

    With such great opportunity at hand, this reporters that clearly have no concept of the word privacy, should start taking and posting more revealing photos of this players physics, muscles and any other meat that gets in their lenses. Revealing photos of women has been well accepted by the sports culture for years. It is time for men to get the same treatment and see how they react. It should be a nice addition to the centerfold of Sports Illustrated.

    September 27, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  15. RescueParty

    Hmm, I wonder when clothes will be optional in any place at any time. Some examples of why this might be an issue:

    Food handlers – do you want Harry Joe flipping your burgers?
    Courtrooms (and maybe the Senate) – What makes a good lawyer – someone who can keep the judge and jury's attention?
    Walking down the street – we restrict magazines and movies from the eyes of impressionable children – shall we expose them to that in daily life?

    I think this is ridiculous. Athletes have a right to privacy – from physical to personal. There is no reason that they MUST interview. There is definitely no reason that they MUST interview before having time to unwind.
    BTW, if you are involved in any legal incident, the worst thing you can do is to talk while the adrenaline is still flowing. I would think this would apply in these cases as well. Then again, the goal may be to get more stupid comments from the interviewee.

    September 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  16. marc

    The Naked Truth is that the photo mis-leading into this article makes you think you're going to see a bunch of NAKED or HALF NAKED guys once you click into the story!

    September 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
    • Sergio

      you sound disappointed...

      September 29, 2013 at 1:01 am | Reply
  17. Billy

    The article has good point that FULL Frontal Nudity in front of Public should be prohibited. But please do not tell me it happens in US and not in Europe. I have been on many Business Trips to Europe and when I am in the Gym, threre IS FULL FRONTAL NUDITY all over... right in your face... And nude sunbathing is more common in Europe than US. Bottomline, let us not bring the topic of Europe vs. USA regarding Nudity, rather let us set the norms of what kind of Nudity is acceptable. Personally, Full Frontal Nudity should not be allowed. Other than that I am fine.

    September 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  18. RW0rld

    Contrary to the author's affirmation, it definitely not a practice done for the fans benefit. Truth is like all other journalists, first to get the story on the line. I know no fan that couldn't really wait 20-30 minutes to hear nothing more than another non objective opinion. As far as opinions go, I'd rather hear them from the experienced, retired pros giving the play by play as opposed to the rookie who is still learning.

    September 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  19. MickeyOregon

    Reporters honestly believe that everything everywhere (except their own lives) belongs to them to do with as they will. It isn't as if they are there or anywhere to record and present objectively. They are there to be intrusive, to take, to manipulate and to present for their own greed. No reporter really needs to be in a locker room. It is funny regarding those in the media – they HATE having their lives displayed and exploited in the media. (As an aside: I am surprised anyone is even bothering to shower anymore. Nowadays, so many young guys are bizarrely modest in locker rooms. At the gym their antics at keeping covered is amusing. Men in their late thirties on grew up without male nakedness as being anything to worry about. It hadn't yet been sexualized. Look at NBA players now and back in the 80s. Now they look like they are wearing culottes.)

    September 27, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  20. Maja

    Sports have always been an odd mix of warfare culture and homoerotica. From group hugs to swats on the behind to "killling" your enemy on the field, I am just glad all these testosterone-laden men can entertain themselves and others instead of pillaging some tribal village in some far off land.

    Really brave men would play sports naked.

    September 28, 2013 at 1:52 am | Reply
  21. Greg

    America is so fun, only here can there be an almost pathological fear of nudity, yet it's o.k. when it done in a locker room after 'the big game.' Kinda makes me wonder if there aren't some closet doors that need to be opened.

    September 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  22. crunchyfrugalista

    This is a very interesting perspective. I find it really funny that everyone is so up in arms because he's making a comment on the culture of sports reporting in America. That doesn't mean that he's saying it's bad, he's just sharing that it's different from other cultures. Everyone's getting all defensive. Isn't that what we as American applaud ourselves on is being different or unique? Sports reporting frankly bores me, and I found this article to be well written and interesting. Kudos to you!

    September 28, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  23. Ricky H

    Lol great story. Thank you for writing this!

    September 28, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  24. incontrovertibletruth

    You just have to leave the booty alone. It's poison. And like meth or crack cocaine, highly addictive.

    September 29, 2013 at 4:02 am | Reply
  25. Fantomai

    The picture used to link to this article is of the NZ All Blacks. Didnt you have any other photos?. If you could at least mention them in the article.

    September 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Reply
  26. nielrosenshine

    Many people forget that Liberace got his start as a locker room reporter for the fledgling L.A.Rams football team.

    September 30, 2013 at 1:13 am | Reply

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