Women Sportswriters Still Face Hassles In The Locker Room p.

By: Dorothy Giobbe Should they 'take it like a man' or demand better conduct from players? sp.

MICHELLE KAUFMAN, A sportswriter at the Detroit Free Press, like many other women sports reporters, has encountered lewd comments, subtle intimidations and thinly veiled contempt while conducting locker room interviews.
That's often an unpleasant flip side to writing about an enthralling subject.
Last month after the Detroit Lions' 23-0 victory over Tampa Bay, a former Lion who now plays for the Florida team shoved Kaufman during a locker room interview, shouting, "You don't belong here."
Kaufman attributed the player's behavior to the fact that "I was a wo-man," and though the player apologized soon after the incident, she notified a team official and the story quickly went out on the Associated Press wire.
In a column published the next week, Kaufman wrote, "The locker room isn't a nice place to do business for women or for men. But it is where sportswriters do their jobs . . . . I have earned the right to do my job without being harassed."
In the wake of that incident and others like it, a debate of sorts has begun.
Some members of the press said a locker room, ideally a professional forum for both players and reporters, more often is a boisterous, loud, pressure cooker, where emotions run high and common notions of courtesy have as much relevance as the latest fashions.
That environment is unfortunate but unlikely to change, they added. Professional sports teams have decreed that interviews will occur in the locker room, they noted, and while that is the policy, women sportswriters should take the long view, keeping in sight their ultimate goal: access to players.
While all agreed that physical abuse should not be tolerated under any circumstances, some believe that behavior that may be considered harassment in offices or board rooms is par for the course in the locker room and is part of covering professional sports.
"A woman reporter going into a locker room and expecting that she's going to be treated like she's at a summit conference is deluding herself," said Marie Brenner, who spent a season in 1979 writing "personality-based baseball" about the Boston Red Sox at the Boston Herald American.
Now a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine, Brenner remembered the "tricky summer" that she spent with the Red Sox, during which she endured open hostility, projectile tape balls and "a lot of screaming from some players who were primitive, at best."
While there is no excuse for violence or assault, Brenner said, "What I learned from being in the locker room is that if you're going to take an assignment, you have to try to do it on their terms and in a certain way."
She said assuming the role of an objective outsider may help put locker room behavior in context.
"I had an aunt who was an anthropologist in Mexico. I can only compare my experience with hers, going into the tribe. In that locker room, I was the alien. You cannot expect a tribe with established customs to bend those customs for you.
"Do you want to be there to observe, or do you want to be embraced by the tribe?" she asked.
"Those are two different desires, and I'm not sure that both are reconcilable to being a reporter. The fact is, to be a sportswriter is a singular kind of journalism. Women sportswriters are often treated badly, but so are the men [sportswriters]."
Kaufman agreed that male sportswriters aren't immune to abuse, but she drew a distinction.
"When male reporters are treated poorly, it's usually because they wrote something the athlete didn't like or asked a question that the coach didn't like," she said. "I wish we had that luxury.
"I wish the players would throw tape or yell at us because of something we wrote or because of a question that was asked."
Women are more likely to be harassed, Kaufman said, "just for standing there ? just for doing our job."
Insults and tape balls are "absolutely" a part of life for both men and women in the locker room, said Barbara Barker, who covers sports at the Record, Bergen County, N.J. "To be treated equally crappy is fine. But for women, I don't think that we're just talking about throwing tape balls."
Cathy Harasta, a sports columnist at the Dallas Morning News, said women sports reporters must "expect to have a high level of tolerance and on the other hand, be alert to situations that could become so hostile that you would have to take issue with it."
Harasta's policy is to "do what I have to do. Judge the situation. Sometimes, you can diffuse it with one smart-aleck reply," she advised.
A few years ago, Harasta was assigned to the losing locker room of an American Football Conference title game. "When I went by, a couple of the players said, 'We know what you're in here for.' "
"It was just easier to keep going," she said.
When Harasta covered college sports, "I would call the sports information service people as soon as I found out my assignment and let them know. Then, it would be in their court.
"There are some women who say that you shouldn't have to go the extra distance, but I don't buy that."
Brenner agreed. In a confrontational situation, "either react and say something back or ignore it," she said.
It's important to maintain a sense of humor, which is a "good occupational tool for a reporter to have."
Brenner continued, "You cannot let your behavior be altered by the number of names they call you or the number of tape balls they throw at you. Those things happen to male sportswriters all the time. That goes with the territory, and I think you have to try to rise above it."
But, Barker said, "Why should we have to ignore it? It grates on you, and bottom line, it's wrong. I have chosen to ignore plenty of things because it isn't worth the trouble. But the whole point is, it should never happen."
While some teams have fined players for offensive conduct, some journalists said fines may have limited value in changing locker room behavior.
Barker "vehemently" disagrees. "Fines have worked in the past and that type of attitude is why this continues to happen."
For example, she said, when a wo-man sportswriter in Atlanta was verbally assaulted by a player, "within two days, the commissioner of the NBA [National Basketball Association] called to apologize, the player had apologized and he had been fined.
"That's because the NBA does not tolerate that kind of crap. If you look at what happens, time and time again, it's the NFL [National Football League]. Even though the NFL has a policy of equal access, they have not put very much muscle behind it."
Joan Ryan, formerly a sports columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, agreed. "If management doesn't tolerate unprofessional behavior, the players don't do it. A lot of us thought that things would change after Lisa Olson [a Boston Herald sportswriter who sued the New England Patriots, claiming that she was sexually intimidated by three players in 1990], that a committee would be set up, but the issue was never addressed."
Ryan, who has covered sports for 10 years, said she is "really tired of it happening and tired of it being an issue."
"Can't we move on? Let's talk about writing and reporting and get past this. Women sports reporters can deal with it better and can shrug it off until a player gets physical, but the players have not moved on."
Brenner again emphasized, "If they assault you, they should be indicted and fined." But, she added, "If you were in the Middle East as a woman reporter, you would be treated in a certain way that would be reflective of that culture. Why is anything different in baseball or football?"
Brenner believes that in some situations, "younger women have a tendency to overreact."
"When you've been a reporter for a while, you begin to take the long view and realize that some of this is part of being an adult writer and understand that what you really want is access."
But Kaufman remained unconvinced.
"As long as the locker room is where the league chooses to conduct interviews and our job is to do interviews, then that in essence becomes our work place. In 99% of the cases, the athletes are courteous and it can work. It's not that difficult."


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