In a blog entry on WBEZ.org, Chicago radio reporter Cheryl Raye-Stout shared a story from many years ago about the time Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh fought for her to get equal access to the Bears locker room during the week, something she hadn't been granted during a time when many women were battling for that right.
Raye-Stout writes that she started covering Bears games in 1985, and getting access to the locker room after games wasn't a big issue because the media crowds were huge and she could blend in. When the 1986 season came around and she tried going in the Bears' locker room during the week, she wrote, she could be easily singled out in a smaller crowd. Her first time going into the locker room she heard "angry, hurtful words and loud obnoxious screams" directed her way, and the Bears' PR representative told her she couldn't have access to the locker room and had to leave. Nobody stood up for her, Raye-Stout wrote, and she sat outside the locker room hoping for players to come out and stop and talk to her there for the rest of the season. That's far from ideal for any reporter and most of all, very unfair.
When Harbaugh arrived in 1987, the rookie quarterback was finally the one to see how unfair the situation was, and he stood up for her. Here's what Raye-Stout wrote, recalling a time she requested to interview Harbaugh outside the locker room:
The media person went into the locker room and brought the rookie out for me. Jim looked at me and then said to the media person, “Why can’t she go in the locker room like she does after games?”
He wasn't kidding. Jim had the firm look he shows now as San Francisco's coach. There was no answer that would be satisfactory to Harbaugh. There was more to the conversation, but for me, his first words were the most relevant.
Until that point, no one else had even challenged or really cared about my situation. Jim and I talked, and we walked into the locker room. There were no angry voices, there were no insults. (Now there was no red carpet or rose petals thrown either.) At times there were some other incidents, but this was a huge change at Halas Hall.
Even if you're not the biggest fan of Harbaugh and his demeanor, make sure that story is part of your image of the 49ers coach. That's a gesture that Raye-Stout said changed a very tough situation for her.
"Next Sunday I will take off my reporter’s hat and become a fan and root for the Niners," Raye-Stout wrote. "All female sports reporters should too."
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