Lisa Olson Redux p.11

By: MARK FITZGERALD AFTER MORE THAN six years of silence, former Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson has told her side of the infamous New England Patriots sexual harassment incident that came to symbolize ? and ensured an end of ? the male sports world's resistance to women journalists reporting from the locker room.
In an account written exclusively for the Chicago Sun-Times and published Jan. 19, Olson recalls in painful detail the death threats, home invasion and vandalism that followed the revelation ? not by Olson, but by the Boston Globe ? of the Sept. 17, 1990 incident.
The savage reaction eventually forced Olson to flee the country. She writes that she was offered a transfer to another Rupert Murdoch-owned paper ? and she chose the one farthest away from Boston ? in Sydney, Australia.
With the Patriots ? under new management ? playing in the Super Bowl Jan. 26, Chicago Sun-Times deputy sports editor Ron Rappaport asked her if she wanted to write an account of her ordeal.
"She had to think about it long and hard," said sports editor Bill Adee. "She has totally avoided anything like this. . . . I felt a little funny, a little bit like Oprah, asking for this piece. She wrote it really quickly, worked on it overnight, faxed it and went to bed. I think it was really cathartic for her."
The Lisa Olson saga began with the young reporter ? covering the Patriots season for the first time ? asking defensive back Maurice Hurst to come to the media room for an interview.
"The player, however, insisted I come to him," wrote Olson, who in her article does not identify Hurst or any other player, "saying he was icing his knee or ankle or whatever it was that was ailing him. I did, and, as we sat on the bench in front of his locker, the prank began."
Olson gives a fairly circumspect account of the incident in the Sun-Times, referring to players who "approached me, flashed their genitals and tried to get me to look while other players egged them on."
According to accounts by Olson and others who witnessed it at the time, however, the players were aggressive, crowding within inches of the reporter's face and daring her to touch their genitals and making other lewd comments.
"Is this what you want?" one is reported to have yelled repeatedly.
Olson later identified one offender as tight end Zeke Mowatt. An NFL investigation later identified two other players in the incident: Robert Perryman and Michael Timpson.
Olson and her Herald sports editor, Robert Sales, intended to confront privately the Patriots management about the incident, but the item was published three days later by the Boston Globe.
While sports reporters, women's groups and others acted with outrage at the incident, Olson was attacked verbally by then-team owner Victor Kiam ? who famously called her a "classic bitch" ? and physically by "fans" of the Boston team.
Trash was thrown at her during Patriots home games ? and fan harassment actually increased in intensity through the season as the then-woeful team went on a 14-game losing streak.
"After every loss [the Patriots] would blame it on the 'Lisa Olson Affair,' never thinking that maybe it was the 'Patriots Affair,' " Olson wrote.
At one game, Olson, a redhead, wrote, vendors sold "Lisa Dolls"?blowup sex dolls with red wigs.
Even the end of the season brought no relief, Olson writes.
"One day, after covering a Celtics practice . . . , I had come home to find the worlds "Leave Boston or die" written in red spray paint on my living room walls," she wrote.
"The phone would ring and there would be a man's voice saying he knew where I lived, and he was coming over to 'shove a screwdriver up your crotch.' I changed my number six, seven, then eight times, until finally the only people who knew it were my parents, my editor and my boyfriend and still the calls came, threatening to mutilate me for what I had done," Olson wrote.
Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine ran a cartoon showing Olson being gang-raped by football players.
For Olson, even away games could be dangerous.
A few weeks after the National Football League completed its investigation of the incident and the team and three players, Olson was covering a Chicago Black Hawks/Boston Bruins hockey game at the old Chicago Stadium when she went between periods to buy a soda.
"A man walked up to me and said, 'You're the bitch who caused all that trouble in New York.' I was confused. New York? But before I could correct him, he sucker-punched me. I ended up filing my story with an ice pack attached to my cheek," Olson wrote.
Olson says she likes her new life as a sports columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age "covering rugby and cricket and Aussie Rules and sports that I, like most Americans, never knew existed until my world was forced to expand."
Olson has, however, been back to the United States, covering the last two Super Bowls and the Summer Games in Atlanta. Chicago Sun-Times sports editor Adee said Olson grew close to several members of his newspaper's staff at those events and covering Chicago Bulls basketball player Luc Longley, an Australian native. There is another connection, too, in that the Sun-Times and Olson's Australian papers are both controlled by Conrad Black.
Olson was scheduled to cover this year's Super Bowl, which pits the Patriots against the Green Bay Packers. She wrote that she is "thrilled" the Patriots are in the Super Bowl. She notes that the team is under new management and all but one of her former tormentors are no longer playing professional football.
In April 1991, Olson sued the Patriots, three former officials ? owner Kiam, general manager Patrick Sullivan and public relations director James Oldham ? plus the three players named in the NFL investigation. The case was settle for an undisclosed amount in February 1992.
The NFL required the Patriots to spend $25,000 to develop instruction materials on player and team responsibilities toward journalists. Player Mowatt was fined $12,500 and his teammates Perryman and Timpson were fined $5,000 each.
In a bitter aftermath to the incident, it appears Mowatt ? identified as the ringleader of the harassment ? never paid the fine. "I don't know if the NFL has collected the fines from the players involved in the incident, and I don't really care," Olson wrote in the Sun-Times.
"Lives were changed irrevocably," she continued, "because of those few minutes in the locker room. The general manager lost his job, the coach lost his job, all but one of the players involved is out of the NFL. Kiam had to sell the team and I moved to Australia, the point on the map that was farthest away."

?("Lives were changed irrevocably because of those few minutes in the locker room. The general manager lost his job, the coach lost his job, all but one of the players involved is out of the NFL. Kiam had to sell the team and I moved to Australia, the point on the map that was farthest away.") [Caption]
?(? Lisa Olson) [Photo]
January 25, 1997 n Editor & Publisher #


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here