Coverage

byWonderstorm©

Melody May bristled with rage. She longed to reach over the desk and strangle the man across from her, to ring his neck until he relented. Everything – her entire future – was in his hands, and yet he was standing his ground, and standing in her way. But, despite the anger bubbling up inside of her, Melody remained cool and calm, professionally continuing her interview in a manner befitting an unbiased journalist.

"Ludtke and Time, Inc. vs. Kuhn in 1978," Melody began, reading the name of the court case from her notebook. "Have you heard of it? The court sided with the plaintiff, Melissa Ludtke, against Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, effectively saying that women reporters are allowed in the men's locker room after games. To deny entrance would be to deny access to 'fresh-off-the-field' interviews, and to discriminate against women."

"This isn't about discrimination," Art Hull growled, from behind his desk. "It's about common decency. It's about players' privacy. It about a preservation of traditional notions of propriety."

"But you can't allow one group of reporters access to the players that is denied to another," Melody stated flatly. She longed to get emotional, longed to shove her research down Hull's throat, longed to tell him what she really though of him and his new policies. Instead, she pressed on, imbuing each of her statements and questions with accusations and subtext. "What's next? White reporters are allowed in, but black reporters have to wait in the hall?"

Melody had found that the accusation of racism had the tendency to rile even the most well put-together of Southern gentlemen, and Art Hull was no different. He pounded his fist upon his desk, yelling, "God damn it! We've been through this seventeen times to Tuesday!"

He slammed his fist down again, causing Melody's slick-looking Dictaphone to bounce on the surface. He continued, "The men's locker room is for men. The women's locker room is for women. Period. End of discussion."

"Is that the end of the interview?" Melody asked sarcastically. Art Hull wasn't going to end this line of questioning that easily.

He shifted uneasily in his seat, collecting himself. After a few moments of awkward silence, he said, "I've looked at Ludtke and Kuhn."

Melody's eyebrows were raised. "And...?"

"It's an opinion. Not legally binding outside of New York state. And for that matter, not legally binding outside of Yankee Stadium."

"It's the precedent, though," the girl answered. "Bowie Kuhn tried to prevent women from coming into the locker room, even going so far as to encourage all of Major League Baseball's owners to do the same. Melissa Ludtke fought back, and the government sided with her – denying a woman access to her story was gender discrimination."

"And what about an individual's privacy?" Hull countered. "Reggie White, perhaps one of the greatest defensive ends of all time, pointed out that there's no legitimate reason for athletes to be forced to walk around naked with women who aren't their wives."

"On your entire roster, there are exactly zero players who are married. At the professional level, it might be a different story, but it's somewhat dishonest to claim that you're concerned for the spouses of a locker room full of twenty-one-year-old men."

"So what would you have me do?" Hull asked, leaning across the desk. "Male reporters aren't allowed in the women's locker room after a big field hockey game. How do you think that colleague of yours, Billy Bullock, would be greeted if he tried to force his way in? Isn't that gender discrimination?"

Melody tried to force the name of William Lee Bullock from her mind. If Hull's new policy of denying access to the locker room were enforced, it was the underclassman who would become the winner in all this, securing the beat that Melody had worked for over the years. This was the South – football was all that mattered in collegiate sports.

"That's not the same thing," the girl retorted, shaking her head. "It's not like there are female reporters in there, either, with access to emotions and quotes that male reporters can't get."

"But if you wanted to cover field hockey, or girl's soccer, or girl's basketball, you'd be allowed in, while Bullock would be forced to wait outside?"

Melody couldn't quite figure Art Hull's angle. He'd been the football coach of the Palmetto State Stallions for over thirteen years, and had been coaching at various schools in various positions within the Southeastern and Southern Champions Conferences for a lifetime longer than that. He wasn't a particularly modest man, or even much of a churchgoer. Before that fall, he had never seemed particularly concerned with the issue of gender rights, either for or against. And yet, all of sudden, he seemed inspired to make a point.

Being a football coach at a Division One school in the South awarded him a significant amount of power, even if Palmetto State University was not exactly one of the more traditional football factory schools. Luke Donovan, the athletic director, had bowed to Hull's new rule - as had the school's provost. Even the league commissioner had stopped short of stepping in, stating that the issue demanded "further study." Art Hull was a local deity, and his divine word was law.

The options weren't good for Melody. She had filed a grievance, both with the school's administration and with the NCAA. The only available route that Palmetto State could take at this point, unless Hull himself backed off, would be to deny access for all reporters to the Stallions' locker room after each game. Having done significant research on the subject for this piece, Melody knew that such an outcome would leave her extremely unpopular with the rest of the Press. Michele Himmelberg of the Fort Myers News-Press had learned this the hard way in 1979, first facing an angry crowd of male journalists with deadlines to meet, and then being greeted in Tampa Bay with a barrier in front of the locker room – the Buccaneers' "Himmelberg Wall" – partitioning the players off from the reporters. If Melody pushed too hard, it would be a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

"In that case, I guess Bullock would have a right to complain, as well," Melody finally answered. Knowing Bullock, it would be just like him use the same logic to greet the ladies of the tennis team in their changing area. But Bullock's intentions were skewed; Melody just wanted to be able to write a good story. "If privacy is such a big concern, why are male reporters still allowed in? For that matter, why are male photographers allowed in? And male cameramen?"

"It's a men's locker room," Hull reiterated. "These men aren't seeing anything they haven't seen before."

"This may shock you," Melody quipped, "but it's not like I'm going to see anything in there that I haven't seen before."

The coach rolled his eyes. "Look, I don't feel comfortable forcing my boys to give you interviews while they're wearing nothing but a jock strap and you're dressed head-to-toe in some pantsuit."

"So this is an 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' thing?" the girl asked.

"Call it whatever you want."

Melody saw her opening, if ever-so-slim and ever-so-desperate. At first, she simply saw a way to stick it to Art Hull, to portray him as a depraved old man who was playing at sexual harassment – women were only allowed in the men's locker room if they were willing to become his players' sexual playthings. But as the cogs worked inside her head, Melody began to realize that Hull might have left her a little wiggle room.

"Let me rephrase what I think I'm hearing," she began, doing her best to spell it out for him. "A woman would, in fact, be allowed in the men's locker room if she were as naked as the most naked man present?"

A smug smile came across the coach's face. He knew instantly what the girl was playing at, but simply smiled and replied, "If you'd like to shed your skivvies, Miss May, you're more than welcome in my locker room."

It wasn't a real offer. It wasn't intended that way, at least. No part of Art Hull believed that this girl, this twenty-one-year-old blonde with illusions of Michelle Tafoya, would take him seriously. Even if he had, he would have expressed doubt that she'd have the courage – that she'd have the balls – to actually follow through.

***

That first week, Art Hull had been right. Melody May, dressed in her khakis and blouse, had stood outside the Stallions' locker room, waiting with unease for the players to emerge.

It had been a difficult loss for the Palmetto State Stallions, a team eager to prove that it was bowl game material. Quarterback Dave Lebeau, in his senior year and destined for the NFL Draft, had thrown three interceptions. Sophomore running back Anthony "Battleship" Adams had been held to thirty-eight yards. In every way, shape, and form, Mississippi Tech had simply manhandled their conference rival. On the Stallions' home field, no less. In their opening game.

Obviously, emotions had been high as the players left the 6-26 rout behind them and returned to their changing room. According to Robert James Wheeler of the Columbia Free Times, Battleship had questioned the team's heart, kicker Percy Honeycutt's leg, and even Art Hull's coaching. Lebeau had confessed doubts about the Stallions' hopes the following week, against Southern Baptist, to correspondent Jack Jackson and a camera crew from WCIV, a local ABC affiliate. And Mack Elkins of the Charleston Post & Courier quoted cornerback D'Wayne Mitchell suggesting that the officials were calling the game in favor of the Trojans.

Melody's story, by contrast, had been flat. "Stallions Felled by Trojans" consisted mostly of second-hand quotes and boring interviews with less-than-important players. While Lebeau was all over ESPN, WCIV, and even the local Danbury Shopper, Melody's story centered around the opinions of a second-string safety who only hung out in the hallway after game because he was waiting for his brother to pick him up.

The editor for the Palmetto State Tribune had understood Melody's plight, but he was less than eager to give up an entire season's worth of football coverage because Melody had been assigned to the beat. She had begged John Stanton that first week, to at least give her a shot under the new regime, and had failed miserably. Thus, as the Stallions headed into their second game of the season, against Southern Baptist University, Stanton was ready to substitute one William Lee Bullock for Melody May.

Melody knew what she had to do to keep her job, and her job – at that point – was much more important to her than her dignity. Her father had been a football coach in her hometown of Linfield, South Carolina, and ever since she'd been a little girl, Melody had dreamt of covering football for a large paper. She didn't care if she was covering the Panthers, or the Titans, or the Hawks, or even the Saints – Melody would be in the big leagues.

And so, Melody pleaded with Stanton once again. She insisted that the previous week had been a fluke, and that she'd be able to land the Tribune a better story than anyone else. Stanton hedged, eventually allowing the girl one last opportunity, based almost entirely on how good her piece about Art Hull had been a week and a half earlier. But Melody wouldn't be alone - Bullock was sent to cover the game, as well, and possibly get the quotes that Melody was denied because of her gender.

With the roar of the crowds beginning to die away after the Stallions upset victory over the Missionaries, Melody found herself standing outside the men's locker room. She was sanctioned off from the doorway with a handful of other female reporters and throngs of groupies and autograph-seekers, a thin strip of yellow "caution" tape and a security guard away from her story.

D'Wayne Mitchell had pulled down two interceptions, both of which had decidedly swung the game. Linebacker Justin Cox had sacked the Missionaries' quarterback Trevor Welch four times. Dave Lebeau had tossed three touchdowns and put up significant yards. And Battleship had rumbled to 171 yards over the school he had transferred out of that spring. It was an unexpected outcome, the Stallions being fourteen-point underdogs after their humiliating loss the week before.

Bullock was already inside, as were Melody's male counterparts from dozens of other media outlets. ESPN and Sports Illustrated were both present that night, as were USA Today and Fox Sports Net. There was the usual collection of Charleston, Columbia, and Danbury papers, as well as all the local television news teams. All of whom were inside the locker room, basking in the victorious mirth of the Palmetto State Stallions.

And Melody was about to join them.

Standing five-foot-ten, Melody had a skinny, almost beanpole look to her. Her breasts were smallish, her ass nonexistent, and her hips narrow. Still, with her long, blonde hair and big, blue eyes, the girl was attractive enough to elicit attention from men and boys alike. After growing up a tomboy, Melody was still getting used to being hit on again and again every time she and friends went out for a drink.

As she slipped under the tape barrier, the security guard stepped up to stop her, and Melody recognized him instantly. Surrounded by a handful of other geeks, this guy had hit on her just two weeks earlier at the Equine Tavern. Melody had turned him down then, and it was just her luck that he'd turn up here, waiting to deny her, in turn.

"I'm sorry, miss," the guard apologized, grabbing her by the arm, "but I can't let you in there."

"I've got a press pass," she tried, waving her credentials in his face.

The guard shrugged. "Coach's orders."

So this was how it was going to be. Melody dug through the large purse dangling on her forearm, emerging with her trusty waterproof yellow Dictaphone. The device had been a gift, partly in jest, from Stanton himself, after Melody had fallen into the school's pool while covering the girls' swim team as a sophomore. She had carried it with her since then, bringing it with her on every interview and every story.

"A woman would, in fact, be allowed in the men's locker room if she were as naked as the most naked man present?" the Dictaphone played. Her own voice was recognizable to the guard, but not nearly as much so as the second. "If you'd like to shed your skivvies, Miss May," Art Hull growled on the recording, "you're more than welcome in my locker room."

The guard shook his head. "I don't think so."

"I've got Hull's voice here, loud and clear," Melody replied, with the utmost confidence. "You can go get him, if you'd like, to probe him on the veracity of the quote."

The guard had begun to doubt his own judgment. After all, it certainly did sound like Art Hull - his voice as familiar to the guard as it was to any college football fan within hundreds of miles of Palmetto State. And Art Hull's word was law.

Melody knew that she had put him in a difficult position. If he let her in, he'd face the probable wrath of the Coach who had made significant headlines over the last few weeks because of his flap with female reporters. But if he didn't let her in, there was a very good possibility that he'd face the wrath of the Coach who had given this particular female reporter permission to enter, albeit under a strict set of guidelines.

It wasn't much of as much of a quandary to the guard, however, as Melody might have hoped. At least, not so long as she was dressed.

"Coach says right there on that tape that you're not allowed in, so long as you're all dressed up," the guard observed.

"Yeah, but only so long as I'm as naked as the most naked man in the locker room," Melody countered. "We could poke our heads in there, and see much I actually have to take off."

He shook his head again. Shamelessly, he suggested, "There's a lot of men in there a lot of naked."

"Fine," the girl huffed. She had hoped that she might actually make it into the locker room without taking her clothes off. "Just let me through the door, and I'll do as Hull says."

But the guard was having no part of it. "Coach says right there on that tape that you're not allowed in, so long as you're still in your skivvies."

Melody glanced behind her at the gathered crowd. There were two other female sports reporters, as well as another two dozen people or so. What bothered Melody, though, was the handful of ten- or twelve-year-old little boys, waiting around for autographs from Lebeau, Battleship, or Art Hull himself. Could she really go through with this?

"You're not going to make me strip out here, are you?" she asked him, in disbelief. "I'll just take a step inside – I'll even hand the clothes back out to you."

"Coach says right there on that tape –"

"Fine, fine!" Melody yelped. "Fine."

She dropped her purse to the cement floor, eager to get the first round of today's humiliation out of the way. With a look behind her, Melody kicked off the high-heeled sandals she had been wearing. The floor was cold against her bare feet, but she doubted that it was the reason she had begun to shiver.

Melody was wearing a simple white blouse, with sleeves rolled up to her elbow, and the top few buttons undone to reveal a fair amount of bare chest. Her small- to average-size tits weren't quite big enough to merit cleavage, at least called-as-such, but Melody had been showing off quite a bit of skin. As her hands traced down the front of the blouse, button by button, she continued to reveal that skin to the guard.

Her back was turned to the people behind her, but Melody knew she'd only be able to get so far before all eyes were upon her. She braced herself, knowing that this particular embarrassment would pass – once she'd undressed, she could enter the locker room, and face an all new embarrassment.

The guard's eyes opened wide as Melody pulled her shirt apart. She was wearing a simple yellow cotton bra, which plunged downwards, revealing a fair amount of skin between the cups. It wasn't overly seductive, but the guard simply couldn't believe that Melody was actually going through with this. For Melody's part, she couldn't believe that she was, either.

She readied herself before shrugging her blouse off. Knowing that there would be hoots and hollers, she did her best to steel herself against them. If she were to back out, and let Bullock file this story on his own, this would be her last opportunity to do so. If anything, the thought of Bullock's name in her byline urged her onward.

"What the fuck?" someone shouted from behind her.

"That girl's stripping!" came another.

"What is she doing?" a woman asked.

Melody let the shirt slide off her shoulders, down her arms, and back around her body. As she did so, she did her best to stare the guard in the face, making sure that he knew she was doing this to get past him. It was hard to make eye contact, however, given that the guard's gaze was locked squarely on Melody's chest.

The reporter balled her shirt up and shoved it sloppily into her large purse. And, taking a deep breath, she reached for the button atop her fly.

"Take it off!" one of the autograph-seekers yelled.

"Slut!" yelled one of the groupies.

Melody did her best to tune them out, but it was difficult. The crowd behind her had little else to focus on, all of whom were just waiting around for the players to emerge. She could hear them making comments about her body, about what a whore she was being, about the gall she was demonstrating by stripping in front of children.

Still, she carried on. Her pants were gray, with thin, barely visible, white stripes running from low-riding waist to the flared ankles. They were tight fitting at the top, made from some ungodly combination of polyester, spandex, and rayon, and snug around Melody's ass and her upper thighs. As her fly descended, Melody knew that she was in all the way – there was no chickening out now.

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