Last weekend, reporter Ines Sainz was covering one of the Jets final preseason practices when some of their second stringers turned into second graders, purposely overthrowing each other so they could get close to her when they scooped up their errant passes. This sitcom-worthy attempt to snag Sainz’ attention was led by defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman, possibly after he abandoned the idea of standing midfield, solemnly holding a boombox and playing the extended version of “In Your Eyes.”
“That’s stupid,” you may be saying to yourself. “Why would anyone cover a Jets practice?” The Mexican-born Sainz was on assignment for TV Azteca, stopping by Florham Park for a scheduled interview with quarterback Mark Sanchez, a third-generation Mexican-American. It seemed like an innocent-enough entry in Sainz’ day planner, but the afternoon took an uncomfortable turn as soon as she crossed the laundry-strewn threshold of the team’s locker room. Shortly after walking in, Sainz tweeted that she was “dying of embarrassment” because the Jets players morphed into Tex Avery-style animations, whistling, yelling and unfurling their tongues like tastebud-covered carpets.
Sainz noticed but, as she told the CBS Early Show in her heavily accented attempts at English, “At this precisely moment I decide not to pay attention.” To her credit, she finished the interview with Sanchez, noting that he was “very friendly and smart.” Although she claims that she never felt threatened, her male colleagues were disturbed enough by what they overheard to report it. Seemingly before she’d even removed her eyeshadow, the Association for Women in Sports Media filed a claim on her behalf and she’d earned an apology from Woody Johnson, the double-phallically named president of the Jets.
This week, Sainz has made the rounds on most of the major breakfast shows and has accepted Johnson’s apology, thanking him for his concern. Meanwhile, her critics — including a pair of current NFL players — have been louder than Jets coach Rex Ryan plowing through a bag of Corn Nuts, challenging everything from her credibility to her wardrobe choices to her presence in the locker room, period.
Disturbingly, the most frequently cited justification for the Jets’ behavior is that Sainz ‘deserved’ whatever comments or catcalls that were launched in her direction, both because she is an attractive woman and because she chose to wear something that fit more snugly than a shower curtain.
The ‘she’s askin’ fer it’ excuse has been a longtime favorite of COPS co-stars, domestic court defendants and frat guys on the wrong side of the honor code. These men have to be borderline brain-dead to believe that just because a woman is wearing something slightly more provocative than the Hester Prynne fall catalog that they’re welcome to hit on her, humiliate her or display other forms of asshattery.
Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders avoided any form of end zone celebration after each of his 109 touchdowns, claiming that his father told him to “act like he’d been there before.” You’d think the Jets — or anyone else with the NFL logo printed on their paycheck — would take a similarly understated approach when they interact with an attractive woman. Besides being the decent, respectful thing to do, it’s not the first time they’ve seen someone with symmetrical facial features and working ovaries. C’mon guys … you’re not Charles Darwin discovering a new species of finch.
“She knows she’s getting attention,” some other Geico-caliber cavemen have chimed in. Of course she does. “It’s my style,” she said on the CBS Early Show, which is one of the reasons she has been named the Sexiest Reporter in Mexico and one of FHM’s Five Sexiest Sports Reporters.
The word “reporter” is what you should be focusing on, a job description that isn’t at all diminished by the adjective that precedes it. There’s a cruel double standard for female sportscasters — or female journalists in general — because they’re going to be criticized for being too sexy or not sexy enough; ESPN’s Erin Andrews has endured both the positive and negative aspects of the former. Meanwhile, more conventional-looking — but perhaps more capable — anchors like Suzy Kolber haven’t been invited to be on Dancing with the Stars and Michele Tafoya hasn’t had a stalker that she had to testify against.
TV Azteca, Sainz’ employer for the past nine years, is Mexico’s second largest television network with almost national coverage. If you’ve tripped over it on one of your cable system’s triple digit channels, you may have noticed that they have a different standard for how their presenters — especially the women — should look and conduct themselves. They even describe Sainz on their website as la hermosa conductora — the beautiful host — of Dextips, the Azteca show where she interviewed soccer players Lionel Messi and Zinedine Zidane, as well as Shaquille O’Neal.
Sainz is a smart woman, holding both a bachelor of law degree and a masters in tax law. She’s also aware of what her longtime employer and her largely male viewing audience expect. You don’t acquire a leather-and-lace heavy wardrobe by accident, not unless you found one of Stevie Nicks’ suitcases. But, again, just because a women wears something that looks ‘sexy’ doesn’t mean that she wants someone to point that out, especially by shouting it across the room, making hand gestures or saying anything they remember from a 1980s teen comedy.
Sainz tweeted a picture of an outfit similar to what she wore on Saturday and yes, she was wearing jeans that were tighter than the label on a bottle of Miller beer, but that didn’t impede her ability to do her job, nor should it call her professionalism into question. Sainz has covered the NFL for several years and its up to the league to determine whether she meets their journalistic standards. If she didn’t, they wouldn’t have given her a set of laminated credentials nor granted her interview requests. It’s not like someone said her name three times on Saturday and she materialized in the locker room, Beetlejuice-style.
Just her presence in that locker room has been a problem for some of her more vocal critics, including Redskins running back Clinton Portis and Cardinals defensive end and caps lock fan Darnell Dockett who tweeted “WOMEN STAY OUT!” Why? Journalists of both genders have been allowed to cover even the most uncovered of athletes since 1977.
After Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke was kept out of the World Series locker rooms by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the magazine filed a lawsuit on her behalf. By the time feathered hair had come and gone, all four major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) allowed reporters with both serif and san-serif genitals access to their locker rooms. And yes, male reporters are allowed into WNBA locker rooms, as well as the changing facilities of NCAA womens’ teams. As Ann Killion wrote on SI.com, “When Stanford played UConn in last April’s championship, if you wanted to see how devastated Jayne Appel was, you needed to be in the locker room. I was there. So were my male colleagues.”
Portis added his run-on sentences of nonsense during his appearance on D.C.’s The Fan on Tuesday morning, hinting that Sainz was just in the locker room to check out the players.
“And I mean, you put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her. You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she’s gonna want somebody. I don’t know what kind of woman won’t, if you get to go and look at 53 men’s packages. And you’re just sitting here, saying ‘Oh, none of this is attractive to me.’”
First, it’s highly unlikely that the married Sainz was eyeballing any packages, unless 318 pound tackle Wayne Hunter just needed someone to tell him if his was still there. Next, no, none of it is attractive. Locker rooms are the opposite of sexually-charged; they’re full of potential staph infections and freshly-sewn stitches and taint sweat. If you get turned on by anything you seen in an NFL locker room, you probably also consider Hoarders to be soft-core porn.
Despite spending almost a decade in front of the cameras, Sainz seems to be uncomfortable with the attention this story has received. “I am not the one who makes the [harassment] charge,” she said on CBS. “Because I don’t ever say ‘Hey I feel bad for that.’”
She doesn’t have to, since there are plenty of people who are willing to say it for her. It’s just a shame they have to say it at all.
Jelisa Castrodale is a writer and comedian who has learned a lot about life by making a mess of her own. She chronicles her failures at The Typing Makes Me Sound Busy, and twitters while she waits at stoplights. Castrodale was featured in the book Twitter Wit and was named one of Mashable’s 10 Funniest Twitterers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.