By Audrey Snyder
Ever since female reporters began breaking down social barriers and entering locker rooms in hopes of receiving the same treatment and access as their male counterparts, the goals of all reporters have essentially remained the same.
Get in and get out. Ask well-thought out questions, talk to as many sources as possible and present oneself in a professional manner.
However, when female reporters were starting to move beyond the days where lewd and sexual comments were directed at them in professional locker rooms, just one incident is all it takes to tear open old wounds.
With the New York Jets facing criticism for what happened when television reporter Ines Sainz was targeted for suggestive comments by players presumably because of her appearance, the harsh reality of the struggles facing female reporters once again captured media attention.
“It’s amazing how you can think we’ve moved so far past this, and then a couple things happen and you’re having all of this stuff regurgitated,” said Karen Crouse, a sports reporter for The New York Times, during a phone interview. “It was a shame all of the stuff that happened involving the Jets this year because I had felt to that point that we had sort of moved past that.”
Sainz’ situation also emphasized the notion that when working in locker rooms, women go through much more trouble paying attention to the details of their appearance before they even arrive at the stadium, arena or ball park, Crouse said.
Something as simple as deciding what to wear when covering a game takes a more conscientious approach from a female reporter, who must think about possibly dressing differently than she would if she were going out with friends.
Being sure to dress in a manner that keeps the focus on the questions being asked and not the reporters’ appearance is a hassle that male reporters don’t have to worry about, Crouse said.
While the idea of acting professional often translates to being treated professionally, as former AWSM Pioneer Mary Schmitt Boyer put it, the demands of the job aren’t getting any easier.
The continued emergence of the web and the necessity to relay the information in a timely fashion remains an ever-changing challenge for the journalism industry. And while locker rooms haven’t always been the most welcoming place for female reporters and don’t always provide the most natural setting, there are few alternatives.
“I believe that equal access is a good stride but that teams and leagues need to construct their locker rooms as the “workplace,” confronting inappropriate behavior (regardless of gender) and encouraging a good environment for everyone to do their job,” AWSM president Amy Moritz wrote in an e-mail.
The good environment, equal access and least awkward setting possible that reporters seek is one that some journalists say can’t be duplicated outside of the locker room. The raw emotion visible on the faces of players after the customary 20 minute cooling period is something that would be taken away if professional teams moved to a media-room setting, Schmitt-Boyer said. Plus, what’s the guarantee that the player availability is suitable for most or all of the reporters present?
“My fear is that it’s sometimes harder to control professional athletes in that scenario,” said former AWSM president and The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com sports columnist, Paola Boivin. “And I don’t know if they’d necessarily come out even if they had the risk of getting fined.”
Through years of working in the industry and covering Cleveland Cavaliers for the Plain Dealer, Schmitt Boyer knows all too well what it’s like to be sitting in a media room for an hour waiting for LeBron James to step up to the podium.
Losing precious time that could be used to write and report is something that needs to be kept in mind, even though she added that the NBA continues to try and make the uncomfortable situations of the locker room as comfortable as possible.
“The bottom line is it is an awkward situation that men and women who primarily don’t know each other are sharing a space and one group of these people are half dressed,” Boivin said. “It’s just not a natural environment.”
But Boivin said she is seeing an overall change for the better when it comes to the way the majority of athletes conduct themselves around female reporters.
Citing leagues being more direct and holding programs where players are instructed on how to deal with the media as one of the main reasons for this change, Boivin said the divide between athletes and female reporters is becoming less of an issue.
While incidents like Sainz’ continue to show the challenges of working in the locker-room environment even years after barriers have been broken, the driving force behind better treatment is an age-old concept.
“I think the issue is respect and having a respectful environment for all members of the media,” Moritz wrote. “As a woman and a sports reporter, I just want to be treated fairly and have the same access that my male counterparts have.”
Note: Featured in the AWSM Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2011 edition.