Normally, I couldn’t care less about NFL news, much to the disappointment of my football-loving boyfriend. But for once, I was the one to bring up the game last night, though it wasn’t regarding Super Bowl predictions or unjust referee calls. Instead, I wanted to talk (really, rant) about a story that I’ve been following for the past couple of weeks and that boils my blood more with each passing news day. I’m talking about a recent NFL locker-room snafu, in which a female sports reporter was subject to catcalls and suggestive comments from members of the New York Jets.
The fact that sexual harassment still happens in these supposedly enlightened times surprises and saddens me, but what I find even more sickening is how the media has handled the situation. Ines Sainz, a reporter for Mexico’s TV Azteca, went from being a bewildered poster child for women’s rights in sports media to being a seductress who tempts witless men with her provocative garb. How did the question of what she was wearing become a bigger issue than the fact that these guys inappropriately hit on a member of the press who was trying to do her job?
Thumbs down: Meredith Vieira, Lauren Streib … oh, the whole lot of you!
I can’t count the number of interviews I’ve watched and stories I’ve read that have questioned everything about Sainz, from her clothing choices right down to why she was in the locker room in the first place. But whether women—or the media in general—should be in locker rooms isn’t up for debate. All members of the press, regardless of gender, have enjoyed equal access to locker rooms since 1978, when a federal judge decided that anything otherwise was unconstitutional. (Yes, male reporters can go into female locker rooms, too.) What she was wearing shouldn’t be up for debate, either, but many journalists who are reporting on the incident seem to feel differently.
Most of the reports start the same way: Sainz was waiting to interview Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the locker room when she was greeted with hoots, whistles, and bawdy remarks. Witnesses also claim that the players and coaches purposely threw the ball in her direction during practice so that they had to run up to her to get it. Sainz has said multiple times that she didn’t have a problem with the team’s behavior, but other journalists in the room were bothered, and they reported it to the Association for Women in Sports Media, who alerted the NFL. Jets owner Woody Johnson was quick to apologize to Sainz on behalf of the team, both over the phone and with a public announcement that condemned its actions. The NFL looked into the matter and decided to not punish anybody, but by that time, outrage had already shifted to the victim.
Do bikinis invite catcalls?
The UK’s Daily Mail is perhaps one of the worst offenders with its story “Harassed Female Reporter Accepts NY Jets Apology (But She Goes on to Game in Another Revealing Outfit),” peppered with several pictures of Sainz in varied attire. One actually has this caption: “Sainz, who works for TV Azteca, has appeared in magazines wearing just a bikini but claims she was appropriately dressed for the Jets match.” I guess your credibility flies out the window when you wear a bikini during a professional photo shoot. Otherwise, why else would the New York Post’s story about the situation end with this line: “A bikini-clad Sainz has been featured in numerous photo spreads.” What a sluttola, huh? No wonder those football players sexually harassed her—she’s been in a bathing suit before!
Lest we think it’s a select ignorant few who are hopping on the “She had it coming!” bandwagon, plenty of respected female journalists have questioned the appropriateness of her outfit, as well. In an on-air interview on CBS’s Early Show with Erica Hill, Daily Beast writer Lauren Streib said, “I think when it becomes distracting … then you question, is she dressed appropriately?” That prompted Hill to ask, “For an American reporter who goes in there, do we need to have a certain dress code?” Mind you, there was no discussion over whether football players should adhere to certain guidelines in the locker room—or whether the dress code should apply to male sports reporters as well.
Washington Post sports journalist Cindy Boren, who was interviewed on the podcast On the DL with Dan Levy, had this to say: “I see pictures of her [and] I say, why is she going into locker rooms dressed like that?” To be fair, she did go on to say, “Even if she’s not professional, even if she’s not a great journalist, even if she was dressed rather badly … none of this excuses the behavior that occurred.” Yes, let’s trash her before begrudgingly admitting that she wasn’t in fact “asking for it” by wearing tight jeans and a blouse. Even the Today show’s Meredith Vieira, who often sympathizes with her interviewees, took a surprisingly hard line with Sainz. “In retrospect, do you feel like those kind of pictures … get in the way of your professionalism?” she asked Sainz, referring to the “fairly provocative” (Vieira’s words) pictures of Sainz that are online.
Guess what? Her clothes aren’t the point.
Here’s a question for you, Meredith: why are her past choices up for discussion in the first place? Her outfit in the locker room isn’t the point. Her pictures and what she wore in them aren’t the point. It boggles my mind how quickly a remark like, “Well, what was she wearing?” comes up with incidents like this. Does it matter? The fact remains that she was trying to do her job and was treated offensively in the process. Sainz may not think of herself as a victim of harassment or consider the behavior egregious, but that’s no longer the point, either. There is a definite lack of respect being shown here, not only by the football players in question, but by the media as well. Fortunately, Sainz isn’t letting it get her down. “I don’t need to change the way I am. They are going to change. Things are going to change in the [locker room]. Not in me,” she told Vieira. Here’s hoping she’s right.
Read the previous Media Malcontent column.
The Media Malcontent is a monthly column dedicated to celebrating the positives and pointing out the negatives when it comes to female representations in the media. If you have a question or suggestion for Vicki, please send it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.