On Sept. 17, 1990, a woman named Lisa Olson was sexually harassed in the Patriots locker room, where she was working as a beat writer for the Boston Herald.
I’ll spare you the details, though the offenses arguably rose to a level of criminal conduct. It’s enough to cite a former Watergate prosecutor who conducted the NFL’s investigation, concluding that the events of that day left Olson “degraded and humiliated.”
Then the real harassment started. There were death threats and slashed tires. The then-owner of the Patriots called her a “bitch.” It got so bad she left the country, an exile that lasted until 1998 when, I’m obliged to mention, we became colleagues at the New York Daily News.
Now, almost 20 years later to the day, there’s a new poster woman for sexual harassment in the locker room. Her name is Ines Sainz, a reporter for Azteca TV who calls herself “the hottest sports reporter in Mexico.” But unlike Olson, who went into exile, Sainz went on CNN and Joy Behar.
In other words, whatever happened didn’t hurt her career. Actually, within hours of this posting, I fully expect Sainz to announce her appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Is she a victim of harassment? I don’t know. Just the same, I wonder if her cause diminishes that of women in the locker room, and all the legitimate grievances and real prejudice they face every day.
No, I’m not arguing that Sainz had it coming. What’s more, plenty of kudos are in order here — to the Jets and the NFL, for investigating this case with vigilance and no delay, and to the Association for Women in Sports Media, which demanded that Sainz be protected as one of its own. But Sainz — and the packaging of her unmistakably carnal goodies — seems part of a larger phenomenon. I don’t know how to characterize it in a politically correct fashion, so let me just ask if sports media are under a kind of siege. Call it Attack of the Bimbo Journalists.
I’ve covered enough fights, where Azteca correspondents are abundant, to marvel at my own self-restraint. How did I not beg any of them to please, please ruin my life? Then again, I think Azteca represents the future of the business. Without question, the network understands the male demographic, across all age groupings. Remember, this is the same outfit that dispatched a buxom reporter in wedding whites to “propose” to Tom Brady at the 2008 Super Bowl. The NFL had no problem credentialing her. Nor did it have any problem credentialing Sainz, who claims to have been modestly attired in jeans and a white blouse.
By now, you’ve seen the photographs. It’s safe to say that not all denim and white ensembles are created equal. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t harassed. But here are the facts, most of them from Sainz herself:
On Saturday, she went to Jets camp to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez. Apparently, players and coaches used a passing drill as an excuse to get close to her, or perhaps, to flirt. Later, in the locker room, Mexico’s hottest sports reporter found herself the object of catcalls.
“I am in the locker room of the Jets waiting for Mark Sanchez while trying not to look anywhere,” she tweeted, noting that she was “dying of embarrassment,” and had to “cover my ears.”
A reporter then tried to come to her aid, which, anyone who hasn’t been in a locker room should know, is an especially ballsy act. The Association for Women in Sports Media was contacted, presumably by the same reporter. Board member Joanne Gerstner immediately took the complaint to the NFL and the Jets, who have been, as she puts it, “extremely responsive.”
But for what?
By late Sunday, Sainz sounded considerably less imperiled than she claimed to be the day before. In her own piece for DeporTV, she said the whole incident was taken out of context. “I never felt attacked, nor that they reacted grossly toward me,” she said. “I arrived in the locker room and there were comments and games …”
Games? You serious?
“I thought (the players) were joking around,” she said.
Well, if the alleged victim thought it was jokes and games, then where was the harassment? If a woman who’s marketed in a sexual context was noticed in a sexual context, then what’s the big problem? Yes, what was alleged on Saturday sounds like a horrible ordeal. But it’s not that difficult a question: Was she harassed or not? Sainz seems to have two different answers.
“I’ve seen the pictures,” said Gerstner, referring to Sainz’s provocative online gallery. “I know where you’re coming from. But that’s something between her and her employers. We represent other women who are not the ‘sexiest’ journalists …
“There are four other women who work on the Jets beat.”
Now does someone like Sainz do them a disservice?
“I think that’s a great question for all of us to debate.”
Good point, as the debate is just beginning. The notion of “sports content” is an impossibly broad one, veering from journalism to titillation. Yes, I know you don’t read this site just for the great columnists. I also know you’re more apt to click on something, or someone, who looks like Ines Sainz or, say, Jenn Sterger.
You remember Jenn Sterger? She became suddenly famous when an ABC camera captured her ample charms during a Florida State-Miami game. “Fifteen hundred red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State,” noted Brent Musberger.
Sterger, one of FSU’s famously underdressed Cowgirls, went on to pose for Maxim and Playboy. She even got a gig with Sports Illustrated — not as a swimsuit model, as a columnist. In 2008, she was working as a reporter/host type for the Jets.
That’s when, according to a piece posted last month on Deadspin, she received repeated and unwanted advances from Brett Favre. Among them, allegedly, were texted photographs of his privates.
The Deadspin piece was pretty convincing stuff. But it went nowhere. Even in an age as salacious as this, it just evaporated.
Gerstner, for her part, says no one complained to the Association for Women in Sports Media.
An NFL spokesman says, “We looked into it and found no evidence.”
But Sterger would beg to differ. “I don’t have any comment on my situation,” she said Monday. “But I can tell you there was no investigation. I was not contacted by the NFL.”
It’s worth noting that Sterger had her breast implants removed since leaving the Jets. “My implants got my foot in the door, but I truly don’t believe that they are the reason I am still around.”
And now it’s my turn to represent. I don’t know for whom I’m more offended: for Lisa Olson, or all those middle-aged copy editors whose mere knowledge of sports and fluency in English could not save them from extinction, in this, the new age of sports media.