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Ines Sainz did not deserve abuse from Jets, but professionalism works both ways

By Leonard Shapiro
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 10:11 PM

There's probably not a sports journalist on the planet who hasn't been harassed or harangued by an athlete, coach or team owner, usually for something they didn't want to see in print or on the air, but hardly ever for what they happened to be wearing that day.

I vividly remember the day back in the George Allen era when Billy Kilmer, the old furnace-faced quarterback of the Redskins, apparently was not happy with something I'd written in the newspaper. One day during practice he started aiming footballs in my direction as I stood on the sideline.

I was not happy with him, either, and wrote the next day at the very end of a story something to the effect that they were typical Kilmer throws - high, wide and wobbly, not to mention badly off target. It didn't happen again.

I can't remember what I was wearing that day, probably my typical work uniform of wrinkled khakis, a rumpled collared shirt and well-worn penny loafers. I wanted to be comfortable, of course, while maintaining something of a professional look, as well, even if my "style" comes right out of the Oscar Madison school of fashion.

No one will ever confuse Ines Sainz of TV Azteca in Mexico of any resemblance to dear old Oscar, a lovable slob of a sportswriter in "The Odd Couple," Neil Simon's Broadway play later made into a popular movie and TV series, as well.

Sainz apparently bills herself as "the hottest sports reporter in Mexico," whose personal and network Web site, according to published reports, include pictures of her in what might best be described as provocative apparel, skimpy bikinis included. Why she wouldn't want to be known as the most informed sports reporter in Mexico, the most knowledgeable, the most persistent, or even the most admired sports reporter in her country? Only she and her employers can say for sure.

Is she really a reporter? I don't see enough of her work to make that call. But at media day last year at the Super Bowl, she was photographed using a tape measure to ascertain the size of several players' biceps, surely information that was vital to whatever story she happened to be reporting that day. Still, she was credentialed as a member of the media that week, and also by the New York Jets last week.

This much is obvious: Sainz obviously knows what sells on Mexican television (and probably American TV, as well), and clearly has no qualms about selling herself in whatever manner works best for her. She also keeps breaking a cardinal rule of journalism, that reporters are supposed to report the story, not become the story.

Her appearances this week on "Good Morning America" and "Today" show, among other national outlets, would seem to indicate she clearly likes being the focus of some attention. And in her chosen profession, she is hardly alone, male or female.

All that being said, no one deserves what happened to Sainz at the Jets practice facility Saturday when she showed up to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez, dressed, according to a report in USA Today, in "jeans, high heels and a low cut blouse."

Head Coach Rex Ryan and assistant Dennis Thurman reportedly took note of her presence by throwing footballs in her direction on the field. And when she ventured into the team's locker room, she was subjected to some verbal abuse from some of the players.

To his credit, Jets owner Woody Johnson almost immediately personally apologized to Sainz. And on Tuesday, the NFL sent out a memo to team public relations directors reminding them about the importance of cooperating with the media. The league also sent a copy of the e-mail to Jenni Carlson, chairwoman of the board of the Association of Women in Sports Media, which repeated the league policy.

"It is important to you and your team that you present yourself to the media in a manner in which you yourself would like to be treated," the e-mail read. "Women are a common part of the sports media. By law, women must be granted the same rights to perform their jobs as men."

But something else is important here, as well. Don't sports reporters, male and female, print and broadcast, also have certain responsibilities? Isn't it critical to their own credibility to conduct themselves as professionals, in their actions, in their demeanor, and yes, even in the choices they make from their closets?

Sainz has been quoted as saying said she did not think she was dressed provocatively, that she "dressed the way I would for my show" and that she "wanted to look nice for my audience and the show."

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I'm also taken aback when I walk into a locker room or a media room these days and see what some of my male colleagues wear to conduct their business. Cut-off jeans and T-shirts are appropriate for the beach, not watching a training camp practice, or conducting an interview, no matter how hot it is outside. In my personal opinion, if you wear shorts or jeans into a press box on game day, you don't belong there.

If members of the sports media want to be taken seriously, want to be treated as true professionals, they at least ought to dress the part. That's a message I try to drum into my sports journalism students at the University of Wisconsin, whether they're conducting an interview for the student newspaper or being interviewed for their first real job.

That's something I'd have no problem telling Sainz, either. I'd also direct her to a Web site affiliated with Indiana University's journalism school called SportsJournalism.org. She might also want to read the comments of some of her outraged female sports media colleagues on her fashion choices at the Jets' training facility.

Ines Sainz "was not dressed properly for doing her job," wrote one woman who described herself as a sports journalist. "And that's unacceptable whether you're an accountant, construction worker or sports reporter, especially for women. Reporters know the credential we are given also obligates us to professional standards as well, including attire. Sainz didn't observe that standard even if she doesn't deserve what happened.

"That she gladly went on various national TV shows to talk about it and now admits she wasn't all that offended by what happened is evidence that she doesn't mind being the story. That, too, is not properly professional and it undermines what so many women sports journalists do every day."

Exactly.

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