All Commentary
Wednesday, May 1, 1991

The Locker Room Is Private Property

Mr. Smith is a writer living in Santa Maria, California. He has been a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.

In the past few months we have all read a lot of words on the subject of female reporters in men’s locker rooms. I am familiar with the contention of the reporters that they have a job to do and should have the same rights as men. I have also heard the complaints from players’ wives that they don’t like their husbands to disrobe in the presence of other females. There have been statements that a locker room is a man’s world and should remain so. Others claim that a reporter is a reporter and that gender shouldn’t matter.

There have also been suggestions to alleviate the problem: put a screen across the middle of the room; keep everybody out for 20 minutes; build a special interviewing room; or do all of the interviewing outside.

It seems to me that we have been wasting a lot of time and newspaper space on concerns that aren’t very important. We have—intentionally, perhaps-avoided the one overriding issue that should settle things for all time. I refer to the right of a business owner to admit anyone to the premises that he or she chooses. This is another way of saying property rights.

Remember that we live and work in a capitalistic, free enterprise system. Professional sports teams are certainly a part of this system. Even when a sports team uses a rented facility, the business part of the arrangement is still private—just as private as any other business that operates in a rented building.

The courts have already established that an owner has the right to move a franchise to another city. Certainly no one disputes the owner’s right to control parking and concessions; to release a player who isn’t doing the job; to trade the contract of one player for another, to keep fans off the playing field; even to change the team colors. Why then doesn’t the owner have the considerably lesser right to determine who will, and who will not, be allowed on the premises?

We are talking here about individuals and individual rights. It is my contention that the owner has the right to ban women, or anyone else, from the locker room for no other reason than simple ownership. This is the same right that a female reporter would invoke to keep any uninvited person out of her home, including a team owner. The team owner doesn’t owe an explanation to those who are kept out and most certainly not to any group of political reformers or protest marchers. It is quite clearly none of their business. The same owner has the right to admit only female reporters and to keep the men out, or to allow only reporters over 40, or those with last names beginning A through L. This is the owner’s prerogative, and it is not the business of government to determine who is to be allowed in a private facility.

In regard to the contention that reporters “have a job to do,” I submit that this situation is not exclusive to the newspaper business. Indeed it applies to every employed person, and we cannot expect doors to open just because somebody has to earn a paycheck. I have been flee-lance writing for 25 years, and I have yet to see a publisher accept something that he doesn’t want because “Don Smith has a job to do.” Nor have I seen affirmative action groups breathing fire bemuse one of my articles wasn’t accepted. This isn’t the way that the system works, and let’s hope that it never comes to this.

Rejection is a part of my business just as other obstacles are an inherent part of any job. Female reporters would do well to remember this the next time they are told that they aren’t allowed in a room where men are showering and changing their clothes.

  • Mr. Smith, a frequent contributor to The Freeman, lives in Santa Maria, California.