Written by Guest Writer: Evan Schwartz
You can smell a hockey locker room before you even open the door.
It begins as the players rush off the ice and into the bowels of the stadium, hooting and hollering after a hard-fought victory. Then it starts to creep underneath the crack of the locker room door, wafting through the group of thirty or more journalists, cameramen and on-air talent who have assembled outside.
The doors fly open and the mad dash to the locker room begins, but the walk feels as though it is through a fog, a tangible cloud of stink pushing back against you as you rush down the hallway. The odor is damp and cold and penetrates into every orifice and fabric on your body. The locker room is filled with gloves, skates, helmets, thigh pads and sweaters all drenched with sweat. Locker room attendants turn on giant fans, whipping the cold air into a stinking storm of Russian, Swedish, Canadian and American sweat.
It is unpleasant, to say the least.
During the course of my internship for Comcast Sportsnet, I spent a great deal of time in the locker room for the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards, learning about the ins and outs of covering a local team. When it comes to television production, the game seems almost secondary to the insatiable need for quotes. Player sound is vital to producing any kind of on-air package, and the only time the players are available is while they are half-naked standing in front of their lockers. This makes for some uncomfortable small talk.
My job was to help the cameraman and sports reporters get all the sound and video they needed by lugging equipment, setting up stepladders and shoving microphones through the human wall of reporters that springs up around any player willing to talk. Reporters have the opposite routine of players: during the game we relax in the pressbox, and once the game ends we sprint around the building from the floor to the locker room to press room and back again.
Veteran journos at the Verizon Center have the routine down pat – post basketball, the coach does a press conference first, then the locker room is open for interviews. Post hockey, the locker room is open immediately and the coach does his presser about 30 minutes after the end of regulation.
This means that while the basketball players are showered and dressed and rushing out the door, the poor skaters are stuck talking into cameras while still covered in sweat, blood and who-knows-what-else. Imagine stepping off a treadmill after 60 minutes and finding 30 microphones stuck in your face – would you be willing to say much?
Each team had two or three players who received the most media attention. For the Capitals, superstar Alexander Ovechkin (pictured, left) is in the unenviable position of having his locker closest to the media hallway. Each postgame began with the Russian forward with a missing tooth standing in tight red lycra undergarments, pushing his wet hair back while a mass of cameras and recorders crushed him up against the wall. Ovechkin would mumble into the cameras for a few minutes: “In first period, we not score. In two period, we get opportunity and score.” Say it in your head like Boris Badenov from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
After a few minutes, the swarm of reporters would spontaneously move to another player, while a Russian reporter would stick behind and interview the suddenly gregarious Ovechkin in his native language. Next came Nicklas Backstrom or Alexander Semin or goalie Michal Neuvirth until the locker room cleared out and the only left was dirty laundry. The attendants got to wear plastic gloves as they walked around the locker room; one couldn’t help but feel jealous.
In comparison, a basketball locker room is a delight, but with its own unique problems. Interviewing the 7-foot JaVale McGee is no problem if he is sitting, but what if he stands up? The 7-foot-plus Yi Jianlian presents not only a mechanical issue but a language issue, and is almost unreachable thanks to the omnipresent group of Chinese reporters who would stake out his locker for exclusive interviews (Side note: Yi was the biggest human being I had ever seen in person – until I walked by 7’7” former Washington Bullet Gheorghe Mureşan before a Wizards-Hawks game).
Wizards rookie point guard John Wall (pictured, right)was the only player most reporters wanted to talk to, but everyone knew Wall only spoke once he was fully dressed – and he takes his sweet time buttoning his shirt, tying his tie and lacing up his shoes. Reporters were allowed about 10 questions before being hustled away by team handlers.
After the game came a post game package, where the cameraman and field producer would work to synthesize all of the footage and quotes into a narrative form. Time works against you in this situation – if a game starts at 7 and ends at 9:30, the hope is to get all of your information back to the studio during the 10:30 highlight show.
The final step in any post-game package is the standup interview. With minutes to spare, the on-air talent stands on a riser above the court or on the bench next to the ice, spitting words out furiously in a race against the clock. Everything is going perfectly – right up until the arena turns out the lights.
Evan Schwartz is a graduating senior at the George Washington University. He was born and raised in New York City and has worked for CBS News in NYC and DC, Comcast Sportsnet, CBS Sports and ESPN. Evan is also the Washington correspondent for Sirius/XM channel OutQ.
At GWU, Evan wrote an opinion column for The GW Hatchet, and acted and directed for student theatre. He is the recipient of the 2011 Roberts Prize, 2011 Essary Writing Prize, and 2010 Richard Eaton Scholarship.
Evan has been writing his entire life and hopes to become a feature writer. He is a Giants, Knicks and Mets fan, which leads to a lot of swearing at the TV.