Of Female Reporters and Professional Sports — Is this the '50s??

In a 2007 New York Times article, Chuck Klosterman wrote one of the simplest, most dead-on (and one of my favorite) descriptions of professional sports locker rooms.

“It’s an uncomfortable situation; people are tired, people are naked and people are tall,” Klosterman explained.

The last part may be appropriate only in NBA locker rooms (Klosterman was, in fact, writing on Glibert Arenas) or those of NHL teams that employ 6’9” Slovak defensemen, but the sentiment is the same in locker rooms everywhere.

Am I the only one who actually finds her kind of...creepy?

While most people see sports reporting as a pretty sweet gig – and, OK, it is – it’s still a job. It still has its good, bad and downright awkward moments, the most awkward of which involves a smelly locker room, a crowd of cameras, microphones and notebooks, and a group of professional athletes in various states of undress with attitudes ranging (often depending on the outcome of the game they just played) from happy and friendly to pissed off and bitter. And that doesn’t even get in to their underlying personalities – everything from the team leader type, to the chill, personable guy who will strike up a casual conversation after the real interview’s over, to the brooding one in the corner trying to avoid your incessant line of questioning and just get out of there.

One of the tokens of wisdom my boss bestowed to me, on the first day of my college internship with a professional sports team, was “Get in, ask your questions and get out. Keep your eyes up, and don’t just stand around.” Soon added to the list was “Don’t step on the team logo in the center of the room” and “Go do the interview! Quick, before he takes his pants off!”

Ah, yes, the ways we make this odd relationship work. And maybe I was just lucky, or maybe the players I worked with (I hope, like most) had class and respect, but I never had an incident, so to speak.

That’s why this whole Ines Sainz spectacle really bugs me. Other female journalists reported the incident, other players are sounding out about it, and the peanut gallery keeps saying Sainz “deserved it” because she was dressed (pardon me) like a whore. That’s about as logical as saying someone “deserves” to be a victim of rape.

Clinton Portis’s inane comment about “put[ting] a woman [in a locker room] and giv[ing] her a choice of 53 athletes” is, thank you very much, the stupidest effing thing I’ve ever heard. Players and reporters alike are professionals. It doesn’t matter if you think someone’s attractive – go gush to your friends about it after – because you are doing your job when you are in the locker room.

Did I think certain players were cute? Never! (*cough*Yes!*cough*) But I never used that position in the locker room to voice that opinion because if such a situation were the other way around – if Sainz, or any female reporter any reporter, period, made a sexist remark – the offending party would have been thrown out of that locker room sofast. Why shouldn’t such a player face such punishment?

The funny thing is, despite all of this, I can’t quite figure out what side I’m on.

As an (aspiring) sports journalist, and with a sports internship that I miss (a lot) under my belt, I feel for Sainz and every other female reporter in that male-dominated world. But that makes me sound antiquated because it’s the sort of crap people spew when they want to complain about inequality.

The truth is, there are plenty of excellent female reporters out there, many of whom are well-respected by players and fellow reporters, haven’t been the center of media attention (good and bad), and have the job they do because they’re good at what they do, not partially because they’re “hot.” They understand the rules, dress appropriately, and “get in and get out.”

So maybe Sainz, who isn’t usually a guest in the Jets locker room, didn’t quite get it. But being a TV personality herself, she probably “got” what she was doing when she went on a zillion talk shows to talk about the incident. Maybe TV Azteca reporters usually wear outfits many of us would deem inappropriate for work. But, again, that doesn’t give anyone the right to make comments, unless it’s someone helpfully suggesting she change.

Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post sports columnist, more or less sums up how I feel. This is 2010 – why is this even a problem?

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8 thoughts on “Of Female Reporters and Professional Sports — Is this the '50s??

  1. Eisenbart says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote.

    Didn’t this happen not that long ago? The only thing I have noticed is the complete double standards on this subject. Why are women in a mens locker rooms? If they are allowed why are men reporters not allowed in womens locker rooms? The response is always “it’s different” Why?

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  2. Ya know, I didn’t really know men weren’t allowed in women’s locker rooms ’til you said it. I legitimately had to Google it.
    A couple theories: 1. It’s easier for men to, um, cover up than for women. 2. Women’s professional sports aren’t as prevalent. Double standard? Maybe but it seems like the former’s probably a pretty legit reason.

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  3. Aren’t male reporters allowed in WNBA locker rooms? I believe this is the case…I will investigate further. I’m pretty sure that Bud Collins had easy access to Billie Jean King in the Wimbledon women’s locker room back in the day.

    But, let’s be clear…the comparison of female reporters in NFL/MLB/NBA/NHL/etc. locker rooms to male reporters in any female pro league locker room is beyond apples and oranges. The WNBA and the women’s pro soccer league notwithstanding, there is no “cause” for male reporters to demand access to female locker rooms because there are very, very few, if none, and it doesn’t compare to the access needed by any professional journalist, male or female, to the locker rooms of the major sports, which happen to be predominately, well 100% male.

    I don’t know the specifics of this case and you soell out the predicament quite nicely, Angela. I don’t think female journalists need to dress down to resemble Helen Thomas to gain respect in the locker room, but there is no excuse, no matter how provacatively a woman is dressed, for professional athletes to behave as if a fraternity party has just commenced. If the players disrespected this female reporter, whatever her bonafides, they need to be reprimanded.

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  4. Re: men not being allowed in women’s locker rooms: that’s totally false. It’s amazing — depending on the way you google, you get two totally opposite results that say men aren’t allowed in women’s locker rooms, or those that say they are. However, I’m going to trust the Sports Illustrated report to have the last word: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gameon/post/2010/09/nude-naked-locker-room-nfl-nba-wnba/1 But what does it say that so many people are misinformed about this?

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  5. BobbyCat says:

    Let’s examine the “She deserved it because she dressed like a whore.” theory. It’s a credible theory.
    No, a woman doesn’t deserve to be raped if she dresses provocatively, but that’s a false comparison because we’re not talking about rape. Does she deserve catcalls, propositions, leers or whistles? Deserving or not, she will surely get them. If she walked past a construction crew at lunch hour, what do you think would happen? Shall we lecture the crew about their decorum?

    Now, let’s say this lady dressed like a whore is walking across the piatzza in Italy. Naw, forget it. You get the idea. Of course men will react. Common sense dictates, Don’t dangle raw meat in front of wolves and not expect them to bite. My guess is, that’s exactly the reaction she was hoping for. She got the headlines she was seeking..

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  6. Maybe it was the reaction she was hoping for. Part of me totally agrees with you, especially after her whole stint on every TV show ever (ok, I exaggerate, but you get the point). Part of me also says that the way she was dressed is just part of her culture and totally fine to her.

    OK, forget the rape comparison — let’s try cancer. Is it cause and effect that if she dressed that way, she might get such remarks? Yes, much like it’s cause and effect “If you smoke, you may get lung cancer.” But did she deserve it? No, again, in the same way that no one “deserves” to get cancer, except at the basest level that they KNOW their behavior MAY cause it. Just because “common sense dictates” something doesn’t make it right. It means you can take the measures to prevent against it, and, sure, it does mean, in some ways, that you’re tempting fate (“asking for it” if you will) if you participate in that behavior. But after all of that, does that make it right, whether it’s smoking or catcalling (and whether it’s a football player or a construction worker)? Nope.

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  7. pirate's code says:

    Right, wrong or indifferent, the simplest of solutions to most of the problem is to close locker rooms to the press entirely.  It’s really not necessary, even for the major league sports, as beat reporters get access to players and coaches before games, after games, at practice and so on.  Just don’t do it in the locker room.  Years ago, for a college assignment, I asked to interview a professional athlete.  His team PR person arranged it, and I met with that athlete in a room at the stadium…outside the locker room.  All these years later, I doubt there was anything lost in that interview by not having access to the inner sanctum.  

    Now, as I understand it, at least some of what Ms. Sainz initially complained about took place along the sidelines at a Jets practice, so my no-locker-access plan wouldn’t address that, but it’s a start.

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  8. I think it’s common practice for most college sports to have interviews outside the locker room. The one story I did on my school’s hockey team was conducted at practice in the stands, and after games, you’d often see the reporters doing interviews with the players outside the room.

    However — and this is a big one — those were usually one on one interviews. There’s obviously not as much media, so it’s easier to do interviews in a hallway or somewhere. Were you to make professional sports players conduct interviews outside the room, the hallway would descend into madness — there’s not enough room, too many people trying to get to too many players all at once. And to parade them out of the room one by one would take SO much time.

    The other thing to take into account is this: “As Ann Killion wrote on SI.com, “When Stanford played UConn in last April’s championship, if you wanted to see how devastated Jayne Appel was, you needed to be in the locker room. I was there. So were my male colleagues.”” (http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/39239362/ns/sports-nfl/) — The best stories don’t usually come from the remarks made at a table with a microphone, in front of a team banner. You don’t see the same emotion or get the same little details that you do from the locker room.

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