Boston Herald sportswriter Lisa Olson was sexually harassed so badly in the New England Patriots’ locker room by several players in 1990 that the National Football League hired a Watergate prosecutor to investigate and issued a 108-page report on its findings.
What happened afterward was even worse. So many football fans sided with the players that Olson fled the country after she was harassed and threatened by hundreds of obscene phone calls and hate mails as well as messages left next to her car’s slashed tires and inside her burglarized apartment. Olson worked in several countries for eight years, according to Wikipedia .
From the mid-1970s through the early 1990s, “blatant” sexism “plagued” female sportswriters, according to a 2005 American Journalism Review article that documented innumerable instances of locker room sexual harassment despite a 1978 federal court order that women had to have the same access to locker rooms as men. I witnessed an incident in 1985 when a University of Miami football player thrust his naked body at a female sportswriter. I stepped between the two of them, and he backed off.
Dave Kingman was so opposed to women covering sports that he sent a live rat to an ex-colleague of mine in 1986 after harassing her for months. Kingman hit 35 home runs in 1986, but he never played another Major League Baseball game. His victim, Susan Fornoff, wrote that his misogynistic behavior might have caused his career to end prematurely.
Times have changed for the better, but I still oppose sportswriters being in locker rooms. Please notice that I did not write “female sportswriters.” I wrote “sportswriters.”
Who’s in Whose Locker Room?
I hated going into locker rooms from the first time I entered one.
I hated them even more after baseball star Kent Hrbek decided to act like an 8-year-old in the middle of my interview with him by intentionally making large noises via his backside and celebrating like he had just hit a home run.
When I resumed sportswriting after several years away from it, I refused to go into locker rooms, even when I was invited. I wanted to talk to the athlete one on one in an environment that was comfortable for the athlete and freelance writers for hire.
Locker rooms are a completely inappropriate place to do business. Politicians, business executives, entertainers and others aren’t interviewed while they’re undressing. Athletes are because, in the words of ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock, “it’s a stupid, disrespectful, antiquated tradition started by men.” Female sportswriters should be in the forefront of objecting to this tradition, but they aren’t, according to Whitlock’s column.
In my opinion, athletes who have been in their uniforms for hours should stay in their uniforms for another 15 minutes while answering reporters’ questions. And the venue should be the playing field, as it often is after high school football games I’ve covered, or an interview room, which it often is when there are big events.
What do you think—do writers belong in the locker room, or is this a sports writing tradition that needs to get scrapped?
Martin Z is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.