It Ain't Easy Covering The NFL As A Female Reporter

The New York Jets are already making headlines for their performance at a team practice on Saturday when a female reporter for Mexico's TV Azteca interviewed quarterback Mark Sanchez. Allegedly, some members of the team acted inappropriately, including catcalls and hooting. Tara Sullivan, a reporter for The Record in Bergen County, N.J., who has reported from many locker rooms, talks with NPR's Melissa Block about the incident.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Tonight, the New York Jets take on the Baltimore Ravens, their first game of the new NFL season. But the Jets are already making news for their performance at a team practice on Saturday and claims of sexual harassment.

Inez Sainz, a female reporter from Mexico's TV Azteca, attended the practice to interview Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. She was allegedly the target of incidents both on the field and in the locker room.

We're going to hear about what happened from sports columnist Tara Sullivan, who has reported from many locker rooms for The Record, a newspaper covering Bergen County, New Jersey. Welcome to the program, Tara.

TARA SULLIVAN: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And what have you been able to piece together about what started on the practice field? What happened?

SULLIVAN: Well, from what I can gather, and I spoke with various people who were at the practice, at the beginning of practice, reporters are allowed to watch from the sidelines. And one of the assistant coaches decided - as his players who are defensive backs were running these receiving routes that he would throw the ball deliberately in Inez's direction - thus setting up this potential collision with the players and her.

And then later in that drill, even the head coach himself, Rex Ryan, threw one of these passes to his assistant coach and clearly just singling her out. Another player volunteered to go into that drill even though that wasn't his group. So that was the start of it.

BLOCK: And then that was the start but it continued later in the locker room with cat calls and hooting.

SULLIVAN: That's what I've been told by various sources. As the group of media enters the locker room, when it's opened to the media, hooting and hollering was the way that it was described to me, as the best words to use. And there was an incident where this player, Chris Jenkins, stood behind the woman as she was in the center of the room, and ogled her from behind with his jaw hanging open.

And then when another reporter asked her was she okay, Chris Jenkins decided to yell from his locker: No, this is our locker room. You know, as in staking his claim that somehow, you know, he was making his point there.

BLOCK: Let's clarify, too, here that Ms. Sainz is not a regular beat reporter. She is a former Miss Universe contestant but she would not be somebody who typically would be in the locker room. Nobody you would have run across.

SULLIVAN: That's correct. I don't personally know the woman. But what I can say is because sometimes that is used against her, well, you know, maybe she's not as legitimate, quote-unquote, a reporter as other ones. But the Jets have the right to issue credentials to whom they see fit, and once they issue that credential, she is included in the group of media that is allowed all that access and should be treated professionally.

BLOCK: Does this remind you of anything you have seen in your time covering sports and time in the clubhouse with teams?

SULLIVAN: I consider myself lucky. I have to say, personally, I haven't been subjected to this type of behavior. And I count myself lucky because I think that there were women ahead of me who broke that barrier.

And that's what makes me sad about this incident. This battle was fought already. This is the way the game operates. This is the way we do our jobs. And it just should not have reared its head.

BLOCK: What do you think about the Jets response here? You said that Rex Ryan, the head coach, was apparently involved in some of these antics on the field.

SULLIVAN: You know, it's funny, the sad part again is that, you know, they're in this reaction mode instead of being proactive. They had PR people, public relations staff members who were in the locker room and did not intervene in this incident, which is troubling. So now they're sort of back- peddling and trying to do things.

And they are trying. Last night they brought it up in their team meetings. Prior to tonight's game, they set up an education session with this association for women in sports media. And I'm sure there will be more fallout as we go on because the NFL is indeed looking into the incident. But it's a little too little, a little too late because it should've been handled in the locker by the people whose job it is to make sure these things don't happen.

BLOCK: We should say that there are players who don't want any reporters in the locker room, period, much less women reporters, right?

SULLIVAN: That is very true, and part of what I reported today, I was at the Giants game yesterday, and I spoke with their center, Shaun O'Hara, who's been in the league for 10 years. And he was adamant on that point. And he, you know, laughingly said: Do CEOs hold meetings in the bathroom? No. I mean, we understand it's not a regular situation. There aren't many walks of life where this is what happens, that we're in a place where they're showering and dressing.

But that being said, this is the way the job is done. And it's up to both sides to make sure that that hour goes professionally and happens without incident.

BLOCK: You do see the suggestion on some blogs and some columns that Inez Sainz was not dressed appropriately, she did not look like a sports reporter should look. When you hear that, what do you think?

SULLIVAN: I think it's unfortunate that we're still judging people by how they dress for their job. I mean, even if people have an issue with what this woman was wearing, it does not condone that reaction.

PR: Why did you let this woman come into the locker room? She shouldn't be credentialed. That's the professional way to handle that, not to start hooting and hollering at her in the locker room.

BLOCK: Tara Sullivan, thanks very much for talking with us.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Tara Sullivan is a sports columnist for The Record. That's the newspaper out of Bergen County, New Jersey. And this afternoon, Inez Sainz spoke with CNN about the incident. She said she received a call Sunday morning from the Jets owner. He expressed concern and said the Jets will investigate.

Ms. Sainz tried to downplay the incident, saying that she felt embarrassed but indicating it was not a big deal.

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