Today, we take you back to a time in the NFL when seeing a female reporter in the locker room was not quite as commonplace as it is today, and it caused a big problem for the then-owner of the New England Patriots.
Because of the importance of this subject matter, we offer two columns. The first from June of 1990 and the second from October 1996.
OCTOBER 9, 1990 SPORTS
Copyright 1990/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Taking the Wraps Off Stupidity
I guess I have to address the Lisa Olson-locker room sexual harassment issue. Everyone else has.
The party line, we journalists’ stance, is: How dare these scumbag athletes harass this sportswriter in the dressing room just because she’s a female? OK, I’ll buy that. I’m a journalist. I’m on her side.
And sexual harassment of any kind is unconscionable whether it takes place at the office water cooler or Central Park. It’s ugly, dangerous. It’s criminal. Do it in Central Park and you go to jail. Do it in the New England Patriots’ locker room and the owner profanely defends you.
OK, to sum up, here is my view:
1) Lisa Olson, as an accredited journalist, had every right to be in the football locker room. As a woman and a citizen, she had every right to be free from sexual harassment by a gang of allegedly naked bullies. Anywhere.
2) Harassment of journalists by athletes in locker rooms is not new and predates women in the locker room by about a century. It went on before women went in locker rooms. It’ll go on after.
Item: Sam Wyche, Cincinnati coach, was fined $30,000 for denying a female reporter access to his locker room. Jim McMahon never even got a reprimand from the league for blowing his nose in the direction of a reporter in another locker room in San Diego.
Like most sportswriters, I have been abused, vilified, threatened and ignored in locker rooms, even thrown out of one once by a ballplayer who didn’t like something I wrote. It’s one of the hazards of the business. If you put out oil-well fires, you expect to get burned. You deal with athletes who have just lost a ballgame — or a World Series — you expect to get abused.
When the harassment takes on sexual overtones, it becomes ugly, although there were jeers along those lines even in the all-male days.
I am old-fashioned enough to have been shocked when the first women appeared in locker rooms. And, frankly, if I were an athlete, I would not want a chorus of strange women watching me take a shower. I do not look good in a shower. I don’t work out often enough and I prefer to meet women in a tuxedo if possible.
However, having said that, I must admit that I have never seen a female reporter behave in anything but a highly professional manner in a locker room. I have never heard one tell a leering, off-color joke about it afterward. I have heard plenty from male reporters.
The interesting point about equal access is that most of the time male reporters are not permitted to enter women’s locker rooms, so female reporters have to be barred (from women’s locker rooms), too. In other words, if men can’t go in, neither can women.
So, tennis and golf and volleyball and track dressing rooms are generally off-limits to all reporters, and the cognizant associations require their athletes to consent to a news conference immediately after the competition in a neutral site where dress is not optional.
It’s come to this anyway in major athletic events. A Super Bowl. With upward of 1,500 sportswriters on hand, the league has had to resort to the postgame tactic of bringing the star performers to a mass interview staging area where they stand on platforms to field questions from the media. The World Series has had to do that, too, although in both cases the locker rooms are also open.
The rub is, in this day of super-saturation of an event by television, print reporters have to come up with another dimension to the story, other than who-won-and-how. To do this, they need the one-on-one, locker-side interview.
It wasn’t always this way. Back in the old, pre-TV days, plenty of beat reporters never bothered with the locker room. Jim Brosnan, who pitched for several seasons in the old Coast League, was at my house and I idly mentioned a writer who had covered the team for years. “You know so-and-so?” I asked Brosnan. He shook his head. “But you must have seen him in the locker room in all those years?” “Never,” said Brosnan. “He never came in.”
You can’t do that today.
The Constitution guarantees equal rights for all. There are laws to protect women from sexual harassment. These are facts that should have been known by the owner of the New England Patriots.
To me, the reactions of the owner are as reprehensible as those of his players. Victor Kiam, as an owner, should know how important the media is to his sport. You don’t expect rookie players to realize that they’re getting $2 million a year to bounce a ball upcourt or fall on a fumble because of the millions of words of free publicity given to their sport. Owners should know it. Owners should also know the Constitution. Football players sleep through classes. Guys who own electric-razor companies presumably don’t. Kiam’s insensitive remarks smacked of those guys who cheered a rape in a Massachusetts bar.
Equal access has been court-ordered by a federal judge (and a woman at that), Victor, and you and your team better get used to it.
The social scientists tell us we are trending toward a unisex society anyway. Well, the hell with that. On that, I’m on the side of the French, Vive la difference!
But the relationship between athlete and journalist in a locker room is, too often, an adversarial one. There are mature adult athletes who recognize the value to their profession of publicity. Then there are those who refuse to talk to the media at all. Their privilege.
Then there are the cretins who profanely and obscenely knock you out of their space. It’s probably good news for everybody that they have been called to account, and Lisa Olson may have taken a big step toward promoting civility to all in the locker room. If you still have confidence in the system, that is.
As Lincoln said, “To give any man (or woman) freedom is to give it to yourself. To deny any man freedom is to deny it for yourself.
JUNE 30, 1996 SPORTS
Copyright 1996/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
As Owner, He Wasn’t the Victor
Well, don’t talk to Victor Kiam unless you want to be disenchanted. He owned the Remington electric razor company and a few other lucrative and thriving businesses when the ownership of the New England Patriots pro football team was up for grabs. The Sullivan family, which had owned it since inception, came on hard times — mostly through sponsoring a Michael Jackson concert tour.
Victor Kiam bought the Patriots. He thought it would be a nice hobby, might get his picture in Sports Illustrated. Movie stars promoting their pictures might be coming through and would like to see the Patriots play the Cowboys on a Sunday. They’d ring him up.
Then came the day when Kiam, so to speak, found himself on the Bears’ five-yard line. Standing there with the ball and no one open and a 350-pound lineman with a bad temper trying to get at him.
Pro football can be a very dangerous game. I mean, how’d you like to find yourself on the Chicago Bears’ five-yard line, third and goal, with a minute to play and the Bears four points ahead?
Or would you prefer to be fading back to pass with a guy they call the Refrigerator bearing down on you?
But if the game is tough on the field, it’s supposed to be a piece of cake in the front office. You know. You sit in your luxury box and entertain a dozen of your best corporate friends. You get the best tables at restaurants. Secretaries of state try to get on your jet to go to the Super Bowl, maybe even the vice-president.
It’s the good life, right? The American Dream, owner’s division.
It looked like the good life. Money as far as the eye could see. The product was expensive, but depreciation was generous and compared to making razors, a glamorous way to make a living.
It all happened because of the league’s press rule. The one that said female sportswriters had the same access to men’s locker rooms after the game that men had. This was somehow thought to be because men had an unfair advantage in being able to get to the athletes before they had time to cool down, collect their thoughts. It’s a highly dubious proposition, but political correctness doesn’t always depend on reason.
What happened next was a now-infamous confrontation between Lisa Olson of the Boston Herald and tight end Zeke Mowatt of the Patriots. Kiam was about to be tackled for a big loss.
In a postgame session in the locker room, Mowatt made what is, by all standards, a disgusting gesture toward Olson. She was outraged and she said so loudly and publicly.
Well, it became a cause celebre. Some athletes fled into the night recognizing the affair for the ticking package it was. Some sided with Olson, others sided with Mowatt.
Journalism rallied around Olson. After all, freedom of the press was at stake here.
Soon, Kiam got drawn in. Not surprisingly, he sided with his player. He found himself quoted as calling the reporter “a classic bitch.” His denials — “I don’t use those words!” — were too late.
Lawyers came from everywhere. So did women’s groups. Depositions flew around like leaves in a high wind. Kiam’s public image was a shambles. Some of Olson’s depositions seemed to leave questions.
In this one, it seemed, everybody would be a loser. The league levied fines, but there is some question as to whether they were ever collected. Olsen eventually took a newspaper job in Australia.
Meanwhile, back at the counting house, Kiam was like a guy in a bunker. Women’s groups called for a boycott of his razors and other products. Since he also owned Lady Remington jewelry company, this was not funny.
Lawyers’ fees were crippling. So was public obloquy. The more Kiam protested Olson’s version of events, the more he emerged as a villain.
Kiam had always been an impetuous entrepreneur. After his wife had given him a Remington razor one Christmas, he liked it so much he bought the company. He did its TV commercials himself.
He didn’t always fare so well. He tells of mistakes he made. He had a chance to buy a product featuring a fabric that adhered to itself re-usably without zippers or tracks but he turned it down. It became known as Velcro. He also sold 1,000 shares in a computer chip company called Intel. He sold for $23,500. If he held, those shares would be worth $5 million today.
But he leaped at the chance to buy the Patriots. “I lost $30 million,” he ruefully confessed the other day. He tried twice to move the franchise, he says. He was turned down. He is currently suing the league because at least one of the owners who blocked him has since moved himself.
He finally had to sell the Patriots. He also had to sell part of his Remington holdings to make up for losses. The guy with the ball on the Bears’ five-yard-line had it easy by comparison.
Kiam, back to entrepreneurship, was in town with his newest product, EarPlanes, a device to banish ear discomfort on airline landings and takeoffs. He has kicked football.
In the musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, there is a lugubrious character playing the part of Sitting Bull whose constant complaint and refrain to those around him is the advice “No put money in show business!”
Victor Kiam wishes he had been listening.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.
Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole. An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.
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