TV reporter’s foray into Jets locker room touches off debate over issues well beyond sports

By Jocelyn Noveck, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

TV reporter’s locker room foray touches off debate

NEW YORK — The New York Jets have apologized for boorish behavior directed at a female TV reporter in their locker room. A training session for players is in the works. The reporter herself says it wasn’t really so offensive. So we can all move on, right?

Of course not.

Because in less than a week, Ines Sainz has become the focus of renewed debate over the thorniest of issues: Women’s access to men’s locker rooms; their choice of attire on the job; and even the highly charged question of whether the way a woman dresses can ever mean she’s “asking for” consequences.

First, the background: Sainz, a reporter from Mexico’s TV Azteca, entered the Jets locker room last weekend to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez. She was wearing tight jeans and a snug white blouse. She felt uncomfortable — the actual behavior by the players is in dispute — and tweeted that she was “dying of embarrassment.”

Sainz didn’t complain to the team, but others did. Jets owner Woody Johnson called to assure her it wouldn’t happen again.

And on Friday evening, the NFL announced it was implementing a training program for all 32 teams on proper conduct in the workplace. The league said an investigation had showed that while there was “unprofessional conduct” in the locker room, Johnson and his staff had acted promptly to correct the situation.

Whether the NFL action would quell the chatter on the airwaves and in the blogosphere was another story, however, because Sainz had people talking from the get-go.

She went on several TV shows to discuss the incident, wearing an undeniably revealing black blouse that seemed more risque than what she’d worn in the locker room. On Fox News, her interviewer, Jon Scott, ignored the top but said of her earlier attire: “Could they get any tighter, those jeans?”

“They are my size,” she responded.

The NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger laid the blame squarely on what he called Sainz’s “painted-on jeans.”

“If you come into the NFL dressed the way that she is dressed you are just asking,” he told a Philadelphia sports radio show. “I mean the boys are just having fun,” he said. “If she walked into any locker room in the league, the exact same thing would have happened.” He said he felt the Jets had no need to apologize.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, the NFL Network said: “We discussed with Brian his comments. He understands they were not appropriate.”

But similar thoughts were echoed by many on Twitter and Facebook.

“You dress provocatively, you’ll get provocative attention,” Stephen Peters, a 25-year-old sports reporter from Irving, Texas, wrote on Facebook.

“Testosterone is high in those locker rooms and she needs to realize the clothes/style she wears is solely to catch attention. Dress like a professional and you’ll receive professional attention.”

Of course, such opinions infuriated many, who felt a woman should be able to wear whatever she wants, to work or elsewhere — without inviting crude comments, or worse.

“The only question is whether it’s OK with her employer,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. (And clearly TV Azteca is OK with it, because its website features her in a series of racy getups.)

And blaming the attire, O’Neill said in an interview, is blaming the victim: “It’s the way we traditionally minimize sexual harassment.” What makes that line of thought more dangerous, she added, is that it’s also the way some people might justify sexual assault.

And while many were condemning the players’ behavior while still criticizing Sainz for her attire, O’Neill said you can’t have it both ways. “It’s still blaming the victim,” she said.

Kim Hachiya, also discussing the issue on the Web, agreed.

“Asking her to ‘tone down her wardrobe’ is the slippery slope that leads people to require women to wear burqas to keep them ’safe’ or from tempting men,” said Hachiya, 55, who works in public relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “No woman “asks for” or “deserves to be” harassed or sexually assaulted regardless of her clothing choices or behavior.”

But Veronica Richardson, a paralegal in Raleigh, N.C., thought Sainz needed to take responsibility for her clothing choices. “I would not want a male ‘reporter’ coming into the female locker room with his genitals half showing,” said Richardson, 38. “It was her job to dress professionally. If she wants to wear cleavage-shirts and tight jeans, then she can deal with it.”

That such thoughts were expressed by women shocked Nathan Wallner, a professional martial arts fighter from Kingsford, Mich. who wrote on Facebook and spoke in a follow-up interview.

“I can’t believe it,” said Wallner, 27. “It’s taking women back a few steps when they say she deserved this. So she wore tight pants. That’s the world we live in today.”

Some saw a cultural angle at play — a Latin style of dressing more freely and in some cases, more expressive of one’s sexuality. “Latina women are very proud of their bodies,” NOW’s O’Neill said. “That doesn’t mean sexual harassment is OK.”

Others accused Sainz of manufacturing the incident for attention. “Listen, the woman complains about men ogling her. … Then she shows up on TV with cleavage from here to Halloween,” David Suznavick, 55, wrote on Facebook. “Is it sweeps month yet?”

In its statement Friday evening, the NFL said Sainz told the league she had “not seen or heard any catcalls, sexually explicit or offensive comments or gestures directed at her, and did not believe she was subjected to any improper conduct.”

It also said that other reporters present described the atmosphere as “juvenile, immature and high school” — but “not over the top.”

Whatever did happen, though, the incident inevitably revived the debate over female sports reporters working in locker rooms — something they do as an essential part of their job. Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis went so far as to suggest that women entering the locker room would naturally suffer uncontrollable surges of lust.

“You put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her,” he said on a radio show this week, in comments that were roundly criticized. “You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she’s gonna want somebody.”

Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said simply that women shouldn’t be allowed in locker rooms, period.

“The locker room is the place where us guys, us football players, we dress, we shower, we’re naked, we’re walking around and we’re bombarded by media,” Briggs told “A lot of times I’m asking the media to wait until I’m dressed.”

In a column in The Washington Post, writer Sally Jenkins said locker-room encounters are often uncomfortable — for everyone. But, she said, they are an essential part of covering sports teams.

And usually, she added, they pass without incident.

“It’s uncomfortable at times, sure,” Jenkins wrote. “But it’s not that big a deal. All it takes is a little courtesy, a little humor, and some terry cloth.”

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