Every once in a while, male athletes feel the need to show female sports reporters just who is boss. It seems to have happened again.
The New York Jets started their quest toward what coach Rex Ryan promised would be a Super Bowl season with a whimper. But their championship aspirations have been overshadowed by reports that members of the coaching staff and players are being investigated for harassing female reporter Ines Sainz.
Things have gotten much better for women sports reporters in the last decade or two. In the 1970s and 1980s, female journalists were subjected to all types of hideous and humiliating behavior at the hands of male athletes. But the incident widely acknowledged as being the most degrading, abusive encounter was the harassment Lisa Olson experienced in the New England Patriots locker room on September 17, 1990, with the young reporter subjected to what she described as a “mind rape.” (Read this enlightening story about the struggles of female sports reporters in the American Journalism Review). Olson encountered numerous death threats from crazy football “fans” and being publicly called a bitch by the team’s owner.
It’s because of brave pioneers like Olson and other female reporters that Kim Jones can now be such a prominent reporter with the YES Network and Erin Andrews can report from the sidelines of every major sport for ESPN. But the behavior of the Jets shows that there is still a long way to go before female sports reporters can do their jobs without being harassed.
The National Football League and Jets ownership have pledged to thoroughly investigate complaints about the behavior Sainz encountered while doing her job as a reporter. I can see why the NFL is eager to avoid any perception that the league has returned to the days when the treatment of Olson at the hands of Patriot players was widely accepted. But the league will need to take concrete action to send the message that despicable conduct won't be tolerated. Start by suspending the players who engaged in the crude taunts and the coach who encouraged them by intentionally throwing the football toward Sainz, allowing the players to harass her up close and personally. I would hope that if one of Joe Girardi's coaches or players embarrassed the New York Yankees with that type of behavior, he would be immediately suspended or fired by Hal Steinbrenner & Co.
I really hope the NFL comes down hard on the Jets. It would send a signal once and for all that this caveman routine is completely unacceptable and women reporters should be allowed to do their jobs without fear.