One positive facet shines out in the episodes, one of them really ugly, involving women sports reporters in the locker room these past couple of weeks. It is that women can and do cover sports, and not just powder puff spots, competently even when they have to endure occasional harassment.

An important point is that about 500 women are now covering sports in America. That number in and of itself won't thrill feminists or women seeking careers, inasmuch as there are 10,000 sportswriters out there. The New York Times indulged in overstatement when it said journalism was "awash" with women sportswriters. But the fact that the number of women has doubled in just two years should be encouraging.I've heard not a single unkind word about women reporters from any of the Utah sports editors and publicists I've talked to in the past week. They have accepted women writers fully. As a consequence, the teams, with the exception of a few Neanderthal characters on them, have accepted them as well.

Half a dozen writers from the nation's major metropolitan papers regularly report on the Jazz from Salt Lake City when their teams play here, and three information directors for NBA teams are women. But not many women have yet been sports staffers on Utah papers.

The Deseret News has a find in Linda Hamilton, who has been on the sports beat for 23 years as a writer and editor, 13 years at the News. Before Utah she worked on Chicago and Washington state newspapers. Hamilton covered the Golden Eagles for 11 years and currently reports Utah State football.

The Provo Herald has Dorothy Knoll, who does general sports reporting. As one of a half a dozen sportswriters at the Ogden Standard Examiner, Angie Tipton reported on Weber State football and basketball and other sports topics for three years until she left recently when her husband enrolled in law school in Florida.

The Tribune has no women sports writers, though a Phi Beta Kappa, Lori Halvorson, worked briefly on the sports staff there in the 1970s before going off to Yale Law School. In the 1960s Lois Barr covered skiing. Recently Patti Auer wrote minor and women's sports part-time before becoming a publicist for the U.S. Gymnastics Federation. And at the University of Utah sports information office, the assistant director for the past seven years has been Liz Abel.

Why haven't more women been hired? Sports editors say it's because not many apply.

Clearly women have to be encouraged to do so. They are beginning to get such encouragement. A refreshing letter from the Association for Women in Sports Media landed on my desk last week. It was an announcement of the association's second annual internship/scholarship award aimed at helping women college students interested in sports journalism make it a career. The group picks an intern to work in a major sports department, last year at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The AWSM is 31/2 years old, already has 300 members and a board comprised of such luminaries as basketball's Julius Erving. It publishes newsletters, holds an annual national convention, and provides members with networking and support on such issues as access.

- THE LOCKER ROOM ISSUE: The importance of locker room access is heavily symbolic.

When virtually no women were covering men's sports, not so long ago, a specious reason tossed off by men sports editors was that women could not go into the locker room, as if that were all the job was.

Then 12 years ago a federal court judge ruled in a case against baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn that the women reporters must have equal access to the locker room.

The Utah Jazz have a separate interview area in the locker room and provide all the players with robes. The team says it has never had an untoward incident involving women writers.

Utah college athletic teams follow the rule that the locker room be open to the press after games unless women are among the reporters (or in the case of women's sports, such as the popular gymnastics competitions, men reporters). Then no reporters are admitted. Rather, post-game interviews take place in a separate interview room near or adjacent to the locker room. This even has the advantage of being less noisy and less crowded.

This sensible compromise prevents reporters of either gender from getting a competitive advantage over the other.

Post-game interviews have become more important in this age of sports analysis and interpretation, but they don't have to take place in a locker room at all. It is said the locker room is where the reporter finds the "moment of passion" on which to peg his story. Nowadays, however, virtually all leagues and teams impose a 10-minute cooling-off period before admitting any reporters. This allows players and coaches to collect themselves and passions to subside.

One editor recalls that a popular women columnist for a Denver paper was miffed when refused admittance to the locker room at BYU after the Y.-Air Force football game. But no editor could recall an instance in which this policy resulted in grousing by Utah reporters, much less hardship to any.

Hamilton simply refuses to take sides on the locker room issue but says she herself has never found it necessary to go into a men's locker room except after the four Golden Eagles championship victories. Then it was by prior arrangement. And of course at the celebration all the athletes were clothed.