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Times have changed, it's about time NFL policies do the same

A journalist or fans desire for access should never trump the privacy of a player or any member of an organization. Nowhere was that on display more than this weekend in the Bengals locker room.

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This past Sunday, shortly after celebrating the Bengals Week 6 victory, Bengals fans (and all of the world for that matter) got an unintended inside look at the AFC North leaders... a way too close look.

For those who aren't familiar with the situation, Albert Breer of the NFL Network filmed an interview with Adam Jones inside the Bengals' locker room in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The media enters teams' locker rooms for interview routinely each week. What wasn't so routine is the camera person had the camera pointed toward the open locker room and the entry to the shower. In doing so, they captured a number of Bengals players in varying states of undress. As a result of numerous errors by Breer, the camera person, the inept producers/editors at NFL Network, the push for immediate news and a ridiculous and archaic locker room policy, that footage aired live on NFL Network.

Typically, during media interviews, cameras are pointed at lockers and get a close up on players to avoid this type of thing from happening.

Not surprisingly, Whitworth and many other players (both those in view as well as those not in view), as well as their wives, were livid about this and have come out swinging at the league's locker room policy - a policy Whitworth and the players say they have been asking the league to change for years.

Also not surprising - and unfortunately so - is how little the media picked up this story - just as Whitworth himself predicted.

Whitworth went even further by stating the violation of a woman's privacy would be an outrage, but the violation of a man's privacy, well, get over it. "If I was a woman, this would be a completely different subject, and it would be a complete firestorm," Whitworth said via Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We can't always just serve women and everyone else. Men deserve a right, too. We have rights. We have privacy. We deserve all the things we want, as well. As a man, I think it's right the policy is changed."

The thing is, Whitworth is 1,000 percent correct on this issue, both on the policy itself, as well as how the reaction would be completely different had it occurred in a women's locker room.

If this had been a WNBA locker room, there would be outrage. It would be the lead story on every show (TV and radio) and would be picked up by sports networks and non-sports networks a like. I wouldn't be surprised if some folks on Capitol Hill wouldn't comment just for some political advantages. People would lose their collective minds (and rightfully so) over "how could this happen" and demand a change in locker room policies. Jobs would be lost on the spot - and very publicly - no questions asked. TV and league execs would be tripping over each other trying to offer apologies. Lawsuits would be discussed - and probably filed. America would shout from the mountaintops of how "we won't stand for this."

But, it wasn't women who had their privacy violated, it was men. And so, the story has, for the most part, been swept to the side. This is not to say it wasn't covered at all, but most news networks have essentially mentioned it in passing and then "on to the next story, nothing to see here." The NFL Network's apology was an embarrassment, but hardly surprising, given the track record of running the NFL money train. Essentially what the league owned network had to say was the equivalent of "sorry if anyone was offended, it was unfortunate, but get over it."  In fact, Whitworth, and others upset over the situation, have even received  backlash for having the audacity to be mad and ask for change - and others naive about the situation have used this as a way to spin the story into some sort of feminist argument which has absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand. Many fans, journalists and talking heads alike, have taken the approach of "get over it" because "journalists need that sound bite/quote from the locker room or it will destroy journalistic integrity," or "media deserves to be in the locker room," or "how else can the media (and therefore the fans) get access to the players," or "who cares if this is a double standard, women face plenty of double standards," or "wear a towel," or worse yet, "they make a lot of money, so they don't deserve privacy." Each of these arguments are 1) completely missing the point, and 2) are bogus and flawed at best. Let's take a look at each argument:

Journalists need this access for quotes/raw emotion, etc.

Really? When was the last time an article was great because of that amazing locker room quote? I can't remember one. Usually those awkward interviews just result in stupid questions and equally numb answers. If you don't believe me that locker room access is not needed, take a look at Cincy Jungle. Each month we have millions of eyeballs on our site devouring our content and we have zero writers/reporters in the Bengals' locker room. The reporters fighting for locker room access offer not much more than an ego trip. It makes them feel special and they don't want to give that up.

Access to the locker room is necessary in order to hit journalist deadlines.

What year is this? In the 1970's, that may have been true. Today, with the internet and social media, that argument is irrelevant. Not to mention, with every person having a camera on their phone, allowing anyone other than players, coaches and team personnel in the locker room just defies common sense.

Who cares if this is a double standard, women face plenty of double standards.

I don't disagree that women face plenty of double standards, but this is not a political issue - if you want to make it that, go somewhere else. Double standards exist for all races, genders, and professions. None are right and all should be fought against. However, the existence of one double standard does not make another double standard less wrong. Any such thinking is warped. Whitworth is right, this would have been a "firestorm" had it happened in a women's locker room and men deserve privacy just as much as women. Anyone that says otherwise is lacking in the common sense department.

Let them wear towels.

Really? That's your response. The locker room is the player's office space - the media is the guest/invader. This is the title to a famous book dealing with women's right of equal access to locker rooms, a movement that was relevant at the time, but not anymore. No media should be in the locker room, male or female. How about "let them wait," as in let the media - men and women - wait in another room. Once the players are dressed, they can come to the reporters and do any interviews. Apparently something similar is done with players in UEFA and that league seems to be doing just fine. Since when should a journalist's desire for access trump a player (or anyone's) desire for privacy? The only thing that is relevant here is the privacy portion of the argument. Everyone deserves privacy, female OR male, professional athlete or working Joe, public figure or not, and the fans desire for a behind the scenes look should not include an encroachment of player privacy.

They are professional athletes, paid a lot of money, this comes with the territory.

No, this does not "come with the territory." Everyone, regardless of their profession and income deserves privacy. There is absolutely no reason any media member needs to be in the locker room - male or female. The interview and quotes could be collected in a way that allows players to maintain their privacy. The difference of a "10-minute cooling off period" and waiting another 20 minutes is minimal at best. Any "raw emotion" the media is hoping to get is not going to dissipate in those additional 20 minutes.

As for the league, they come off as the money hungry hypocrites they have time and again proven themselves to be. If a player Tweets a locker room picture capturing nudity in the background, the player is fined. But the league owned network can air minutes worth of full nudity and in return offer a pathetic apology. The league promotes breast cancer awareness all October - while a great cause, there is a large monetary windfall to do so - they can sell the pink apparel. But, if a player like DeAngelo Williams wants to continue that support outside of October by wearing pink all year, the NFL says ‘no.' Cam Heyward, also of the Steelers, was recently fined five digits for honoring his father (who died of cancer) on his eye black. Though they have since come to an agreement, it is interesting to note that the NFL never fined Devon Still last year for the same thing... but the Still story was making them look good.  Leave it to the NFL to preach to players to "protect the shield," meanwhile the league and its owners can constantly be found hiding behind the very shield the players are required to protect.

As unfortunate as this incident has been for the players exposed, hopefully some good can come of it for all leagues and all locker rooms. Perhaps the NFL has tired of its public relations nightmare and has learned from their multitude of mistakes over the past two years. The NFL has a chance to finally make a good move and be the first league to adopt a locker room policy consistent with the times and centered on player privacy rights. However, anything less than a change in the policy will continue the narrative of the NFL being a joke when it comes to social issues and prove yet again that the NFL may just be the most successful poorly run business in the history of sports.