Ines Sainz Issue Shows Us Why Sexism Doesn't Belong in Pro Sports
Jets owner Woody Johnson (pictured below) reached out immediately to Sainz in apology, promised that he would get to the bottom of it and issued a statement decrying any boorish behavior toward women in the locker room. League spokesman Greg Aiello stated Sunday that commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to know all the facts.
That was a far cry from what happened 20 years ago this week when my colleague Lisa Olson suffered derision in the Patriots' locker room aimed at her gender. The Patriots owner at the time crudely dismissed her complaint. The league finally got around to looking into what happened to her, which resulted in a voluminous report damning the behavior of some Patriots, particularly Zeke Mowatt, who was fined for his abhorrent behavior.
So if there is a positive to be taken from the still-unfolding Sainz story, it is that some people -- those most responsible for selling America's pastime to more sports fans, especially women, than any sport in our country -- were reminded of something rather fundamental in this country: Sexual harassment and discrimination has no place in our workplaces. Both, in fact, are against the law.
What some people in sports need to have underscored for them in our new journalistic environment, however, is that that protection doesn't shrink with the fit of jeans or disappear with the height of a hemline. Women in journalism, or any line of work, shouldn't be subjected to as much as sexual innuendo for any reason.
Some among us aren't taking seriously what Sainz, who reports for TV Azteca in Mexico, said happened to her because she is a former Miss Spain and Miss Universe contestant, allows her employer's website to post pictures of her in bikinis, refers to herself as "the hottest reporter in Mexico," and reinforces all of the above in her work attire. At the Colts' last Super Bowl press day, she even allowed herself to be hoisted onto the shoulder pads of a couple of linemen and paraded around like some Babylonian goddess.
No, Sainz doesn't share the same rung in journalism as a distinguished and serious writer like Olson, or the women -- Lesley Visser, Christine Brennan, etc. -- who rallied around Olson twenty years ago and this week are rallying around Sainz. She's part of the growing breed of female journalists who stand out more because of how they look than what they report.
Sainz doesn't represent a new model. To some extent, Jayne Kennedy and Phyllis George (maybe even Downtown Julie Brown) preceded her. But there are a lot more Sainzes, Kennedys and Georges nowadays, including women whose reporting is just as noteworthy as whatever aesthetic they meet yet find themselves diminished, unfortunately, because of their appearance.
If all of that sounds sexist, it's because it is. Men rarely if ever get judged similarly, in large part because we're doing most of the evaluating. But it is as sexist to judge people's abilities based on their gender as it is racist to make a similar distinction based on skin color.
It doesn't matter that Sainz made the media rounds on Monday telling every interviewer that what she tweeted happened at the Jets' practice facility wasn't as terrible as maybe her tweet made it sound. "I want to make clear that in no moment did I even feel offended, much less at risk or in danger while there," the New York Daily News quoted Sainz telling the Spanish-language program DeporTV on Monday. "It was simply a situation that got out of hand. I waited for the interview with Mark Sanchez, we did it and it turned out great. ... the next day the press is reporting that I was a victim of harassment and inappropriate behavior by the Jets."
What happened to Sainz is bigger than her.
What happened to Sainz is why the NFL in 1985 implemented a policy mandating that female journalists have the same access to players as male journalists. It is why a month after Olson was violated that then-NFL boss Paul Tagliabue levied what then was the biggest fine against a coach, Sam Wyche, after Wyche barred a female reporter from his Bengals locker room declaring that, "I will not allow women to walk in on 50 naked men."
I've never seen a nude woman in a women's locker room, and never looked for one.
The NFL couldn't afford to let that sort of culture fester if it hoped to appeal to everyone. Fast forward 20 years and the league can't afford the sort of culture Jets' coach Rex Ryan -- our favorite new caricature of the boisterous, cussing football coach, thanks to Ryan's self-absorbed performance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" -- seemed to be cultivating with his club.
First, there were all the characters he brought in, most notably Antonio Cromartie, who was stereotypically portrayed as an irresponsible black man by having a multitude of children by a multitude of women. (It never gets pointed out that white men like Clint Eastwood, Rod Stewart, Charlie Sheen, Mick Jagger, Kevin Federline or Kevin Costner have a multitude of children by a multitude of women, but that's a subject for another column.) Then came his salty language that got him in trouble with the NFL's moralist, former coach Tony Dungy.
And all of that came before a team with a fan base that was criticized for how it encouraged women to demean themselves on game days at the old Giants Stadium where the Jets played.
The Sainz incident also came after an offseason in which the league suspended the Steelers' Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for all but preying on young women.
A New York Daily News poll asked readers if Ryan's "Hard Knocks" performance and the Sainz incident gave the Jets an undesirable image. At last look, 57 percent of respondents said it did.
Pro football may be a man's game, whatever that means. But masculinity doesn't have anything to do with disrespectfulness.