by Meredith O’Brien
Twenty years ago, a reporter for the Boston Herald walked into the New England Patriots’ locker room and was confronted by a naked player  asking her, according to media reports , “Is this what you want? Do you want to take a bite out of this?” A couple of other unclothed players “crowded around her making lewd gestures,” People Magazine reported while one shouted, “Give her what she wants!”
The then-Patriots’ owner Victor Kiam blamed the 26-year-old reporter, Lisa Olson, saying that the newspaper was “asking for trouble” by sending her into the locker room. Charmingly, the owner added, “I can’t disagree with the players’ actions” and publicly called Olson a “classic bitch.”  While Kiam eventually apologized, other players on the 1990 team, continued to pile on, calling Olson humorless  (“If she can’t take a joke, she ought not be down here.”), perverted (“What kind of a woman wants to be in a locker room?”) and asking for it (“You learn it’s part of the job.”). She had her home burglarized, was inundated with hate mail and obscene calls, and threatened with violence  (“leave Boston or die”), the American Journalism Review reported.
It’s part of the job, just put up with it, you humorless (*insert your favorite females-only slur*). Olson actually wasn’t on my mind when I watched a recent episode of Mad Men , circa 1965, where two women working at an ad agency – Joan Harris and Peggy Olson -- objected to being sexually objectified and demeaned only to be verbally assailed by their harassers when they objected to the harassment. They were told that putting up with this was part of their job, that women have no sense of humor (the refuge of ill-behaved heathens, blaming the woman for not “getting” the humor in her harassment.). Joan Harris was told by a male employee, who likened her to a whore, that her attire sent the message that she was “trying to get raped.”
Olson’s nightmare leapt to mind when I learned this week that in some quarters, not a hell of a lot has changed in the past 20 years, hell, the past 45 years.
A female sports reporter  was, according to media reports, subjected to catcalls and rude sexually oriented comments  when she was in the Jets’ locker room with the intent of doing an interview. Ines Sainz, of the Mexican TV network Azteca, told CBS that the story about what happened to her in the Jets’ locker room  came to light because she “thinks the media in the locker room was upset about the vocabulary  they [the players] used to refer to me.” CBS reported that she had tweeted in Spanish, “I’m so uncomfortable! I’m in the Jets locker room waiting for Mark Sanchez and trying not to look around me,” followed a short while later with this tweet, “I want to cover my ears.”
While the owner of the Jets, unlike Kiam, promptly apologized to Sainz and the NFL is “investigating”  the incident, another NFL football player is reenacting those post-Olson incident  days saying, “ . . . [Y]ou put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her. You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she’s gonna want somebody. I don’t know what kind of woman won’t, if you get to go and look at 53 men’s packages.”
But it’s not just the players who are taking aim at Sainz. There are others who are attacking Sainz  for her choice of attire, which is on the sexy side. This has caused some to suggest that Sainz’s choice of clothing is the equivalent of asking for it, asking to be harassed, like Joan’s form fitting dresses and skirts on Mad Men are invitations for men to rape her. The fact that Sainz once called herself the “hottest sports reporter in Mexico ” is further justification for being sexually harassed, in these critics’ minds.
Then there is New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser  who wrote:
“. . . [A]ll bets were off the minute Sainz declared herself ‘the hottest sports reporter in Mexico.’ This calls into question exactly what she’s selling – her sweat and hard work, or her body parts. Women have worked long and hard for equality on the playing field and in the locker room. We don’t need a publicity whore to muck it up.”
Yep. She used that word, just like on Mad Men. Peyser called Sainz a “whore,” while other web sites writers have “shamed” this female journalist who walked into a locker room to do her job, by using salacious wording  to make fun of her (using the verb “slinked” and adjectives like “plunging neckline”) for daring to combine her wardrobe with sports reporting. Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory wrote , “Some folks just have a really hard time with the concept that a woman who cashes in on her sex appeal can actually be harassed, violated and abused.”
Putting the criticism about Sainz’s clothing aside, when Jenni Carlson, sports columnist and chairwoman of the Association for Women in Sports Media, wrote a column for CNN’s web site about her positive experiences with doing locker room interviews , saying how grateful she is that male athletes have been gentlemanly in her presence, I took a gander at the comments section, then wished I hadn’t. It was as if I’d been transported back in 1965, where people called Carlson a lesbian, a “hag” and suggested she slept her way to her job. Women overall were also blamed by commenters for ruining sports at the high school and collegiate levels for selfishly wanting to funding for their teams. Gals were also labeled as uninformed about sports, while one commenter suggested the only women’s sports watching is “lengerie [sic] football.” A sampling:
“A woman wants to be in a locker room because it makes their ego inflated and it empowers the voyeurism inside of every one of them. They get off on seeing naked men but when one guy makes a comment, they run off like little school children running to the principle [sic] to complain.”
“Dress like a hoe, get treated like one.”
“They’re [female sports reporters] obviously in it to rub up against rich athletes hoping one of them will marry them or at the very least get them pregnant so they can get child support.”
A simple solution to the being-in-the-presence-of-a-naked-athlete problem (other than so-called “professional” athletes not behaving like boors): Don’t allow any reporters – not male, not female – in any athletes’ locker rooms. Period. But even if you removed male-female locker room issue from the table, what you’re still left with is people saying that women sports journalists ask for harassment, that they’re whores who don’t understand sports or they’re closeted lesbians.
As a writer who once covered a men’s college basketball game and had to have a male colleague fetch her quotes from players who were in the men’s locker room (putting her at a competitive disadvantage to her male peers), and as the mother of a sports-loving, athletic daughter, the fact that this mindset is still prevalent in the media and in the public is very disconcerting. It’s not 1965 for God’s sake.