Women in locker rooms: a controversy only to those uninvolved

Ines Sainz, sports reporter for TV Azteca, details what really happened in the Jets' locker room.
By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 10:30 PM

A locker room is not the Lux Lounge, and it's not Clinton Portis's private den, either. It's a weird hybrid room, a public space where private things happen, crowded and stinking, littered with dirty adhesive tape that sticks to your shoes, and packed with bodies, starting with the un-deodorized athletes in various states of dress and undress, some of them picking their feet or putting salve on their back acne, but also including equipment managers collecting sweat-soaked laundry, and TV anchors and radio announcers jostling each other.

Anyone who argues that women reporters don't belong in a locker room because they might see something private had better kick the cameras and microphones out first.

Personally, I don't interview naked men. That's just my policy; I wait for them to put on pants or a towel. So I can't really speak to Portis's comments because I've never been confronted by "53 men's packages." Nor have I ever had a problem in a locker room, which I attribute to the gentlemanly qualities of the men in them, and my own tact. And I'm not sure that TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz had a real problem with the New York Jets, either. She seems to have received ruder treatment from Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann.

The other day Sainz went out to the Jets' facility to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez, and while she was there, some Jets seem to have acted 14 years old and lost it, because she is a former Miss Universe contestant and she wears tight jeans (she's also a married mother of three with a masters degree). None of the comments were overtly rude, but they were inappropriate and unprofessional, and another journalist complained on her behalf. Sainz herself told TV Azteca she did not feel insulted, or harassed.

"It was definitely a joking tone, very amicable," she said. "I wasn't offended."

Jets owner Woody Johnson has apologized for his team's juvenile conduct. It should have ended there.

But it didn't, mainly because everybody else started losing it, too. Limbaugh attacked Sainz for her jeans and cleavage, calling her "boobalicious;" Glenn Beck suggested she wanted the publicity, an impression Sainz did nothing to discourage by going on every talk show in creation; a women's media group suggested the Jets undergo "sensitivity training;" and then Portis had to get into it, suggesting women reporters can't go into locker rooms without fainting from lust.

"You put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her," he said. "You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she's gonna want somebody."

So now we're locked into an interminable debate about appropriate professional conduct for women. Despite the fact that this all started with a handful of guys acting unprofessionally.

Let's dispense with the dumbest part of this whole controversy, the question of what Sainz was wearing. She had on jeans and a collared white shirt, but I don't care if it was Doctor Dentons and a nose ring. It's her prerogative to wear what she wants, and the only people entitled to judge its professional appropriateness are her bosses at TV Azteca, who apparently are fine with it. And if she dresses for attention, what of it? Women have been using dress as a form of communication since Queen Elizabeth I of England first put on pearls.

Contrary to Olbermann's speechifying, one woman's neckline doesn't define all women in the business, much less "undermine" them. If I had to put a word to that assertion, I'd call it sexist.

The more interesting and less easy part of the discussion concerns the locker room. Factually, the issue is simple: It's not a question of whether women belong in locker rooms. It's the law. Equal access in the workplace was mandated in 1979 by a federal judge. But that doesn't make it comfortable for anyone.

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