Women Sports Reporters Still Fighting For Respect

Women have long faced obstacles when covering sports, from being assigned low-profile events to blatant sexual harassment in the locker room. Arizona Republic reporter Paola Boivin shares her long career on the field and on the sidelines, and journalism professor Sherry Ricchiardi looks back at the history of women in the locker room.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

It's been a long time since female sports reporters broke the gender line to work in men's locker rooms. That wasn't easy at first, but for the most part, it's old news - until a few weeks ago, a reporter for Azteca TV named Ines Sainz became the subject of catcalls and some might say inappropriate attention from members of the New York Jets, on the sidelines and in the locker room.

Some wondered about the reporter's attire, which raises questions about professionalism and not just in sports journalism.

What's changed for women at work over the past 20 or 25 years? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're joined by veteran sports reporter and columnist for the Arizona Republic, Paola Boivin. She's at member station KJZZ in Tempe. Nice to have you with us.

Ms. PAOLA BOIVIN (Sports Reporter, Columnist, Arizona Republic): Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And with us here in Studio 3A is Sherry Ricchiardi, a professor of journalism at Indiana University, also teaches courses on race, gender and the media. And thank you for coming in today.

Ms. SHERRY RICCHIARDI (Professor of Journalism, Indiana University): Thank you.

CONAN: And Paola Boivin, I wrote earlier that the gender line, breaking it was not easy. You had some experience with that.

Ms. BOIVIN: I did, and it's been a while, but when I first got out of college in the '80s, I went to cover a Dodgers game, and a player from the visiting team, the St. Louis Cardinals, Terry Pendleton, was from the area where I worked in Southern California.

So I went into the visitors' clubhouse at Dodgers Stadium and walked in, I had never been in there before. I was kind of looking for him and felt something smack me in the head, and it turned out to be a jock, and it turned out to be a very angry player who was unhappy I was there and came up and asked if I was there to work or to look at something I won't mention on this family program.

And so I immediately, being my first experience with that, I quickly turned around and ran out of the clubhouse.

CONAN: And was it a while before you went back in?

Ms. BOIVIN: No, you know, the great thing that happened after that was that Terry Pendleton, the player I was interviewing, immediately came out, apologized for the other player, gave me the interview and made a point to say not everybody's like this.

And he was absolutely right. I've had very few problems since that point. I think leagues and professional teams have done a very good job of educating players of what they might expect now.

CONAN: And then what did you make of this incident just earlier this month?

Ms. BOIVIN: You know, honestly it was a little bit of a mixed reaction for me. But my primary reaction was, you know, this is harassment in the workplace.

Media is different these days, with Twitter, with Facebook, with, you know, Access Hollywood appearing at the Super Bowl. It looks different. It sounds different. It's not the sports journalism I grew up with. But it doesn't mean that the people that are involved shouldn't be treated fairly and equally.

And so it was you know, people want to sugarcoat it in a different light, it was definitely workplace harassment.

CONAN: Sherry Ricchiardi, any dispute with that?

Ms. RICCHIARDI: No, none whatsoever.

CONAN: And how long is it now, mid-'80s at least, since women have been working in the locker room?

Ms. RICCHIARDI: Well, really, the movement started in the mid-'70s. And that's when we saw women really forging this new frontier in sports journalism.

And then in 1978, they got quite a boost because that was when the first big lawsuit was filed, and it became known as the Melissa Ludtke Rule. And Melissa filed they filed a suit in her behalf because she was kept out of the locker room during a major league baseball World Series.

And a year later, the courts ruled in her favor. And basically what they said was that Major League Baseball violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause, which goes back to harassment in the workplace.

And so that opened the door and was a very precedent-setting case.

CONAN: After that happened, there were a lot of people who said, well, look, maybe what we should do, instead of making the players available in the locker room after the game is make them available - give them some time to dress and then put them in a news conference, and maybe that would work.

Ms. RICCHIARDI: Well, Paola probably can talk a little bit more about that than I can, but what the women told me, I wrote a piece for American Journalism Review in 2005 on this, and I interviewed women sportswriters, including Paola, all over the country.

And what I was hearing them say is that's not the way it works. I mean, it doesn't work that way for the male reporters, and we really need to be in there as soon as possible, win or lose, to get the best story.

CONAN: Why is that so important, Paola?

Ms. BOIVIN: You know, especially on a professional level, if you wait too long after a game, you're not going to get sort of the emotion of the reaction, whether it's a positive or a negative.

You'll get maybe half an hour of somebody thinking about what they're going to say and not to offend anyone or how am I going to make this sound right. And there's I think a very honest reaction that you get in a locker room in a clubhouse.

And the other thing, frankly, is deadlines make it very challenging. I have, you know, deadlines. Sometimes I have to file a story at 10 o'clock at night. The game's ending at, you know, 9:45. And because of time and this need to Tweet right away, this need to blog right away, there's definitely a need for quick access.

CONAN: And I wonder, given that, you cover all kinds of sports. Are some easier or worse than others?

Ms. BOIVIN: As far as covering?

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. BOIVIN: Well, you know, just from my experiences, for whatever reason, you rarely will find a problem with the NHL. They're happy for the coverage. I don't know if it's a lot of guys maybe grew up in small towns in Canada, brought up a certain way. There have been very few issues with the NHL.

I've heard a lot with Major League Baseball, and not so much now. I think the majority of athletes, you run into very problems, media or athletes.

But baseball in the past, there were quite a few problems. And I don't know if it's maybe the you know, a lot of baseball players come right out of high school and enter the Major League Baseball, you know, minor leagues. And maybe they don't get some of that social upbringing you might experience in college.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. We'll start with David(ph). David's calling us from St. Paul.

DAVID (Caller): Hi, Neal and guests. You know, I think well, first of all, let's understand this the springboard for this is the Ines Sainz incident with the Jets, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a Jets fan.

I am disappointed with whatever mistreatment that she suffered once she was at the Jets practice facility, although when I read the material, she herself says that she was simply made uncomfortable, and she does not point to any specific things that were said to her or any physical mistreatment of any kind. So I'm not sure about that.

But to the deeper point here. I'm an NFL fan, and there are some established journalists, we all know their names. Their names are Pam Oliver, Andrea Kramer, Suzie Kolber, Michelle Tafoya, Linda Combs(ph), Hannah Storm.

You know, these women have covered the NFL and other sports at a very level. And when you see them doing their job, the word, one of the first words, perhaps the first word that comes to mind is professionalism.

Now, Ines Sainz is probably a very good person, but she markets herself - and I know I'm going to offend some people, and I really don't care - she markets herself as to first order, a sexual object.

And I'm sorry to say that, but if you Google, you know, if you Google the name Ines Sainz, the first thing that comes up is a large set of photographs, and, you know, the idea that a sports journalist, you know, would actually go to an NFL practice facility or locker room with her business attire applied with a Wagner paint gun is something that kind of flies in the face of the idea of that professionalism.

CONAN: All right, let's a couple of good points there, David. Let me turn to Sherry Ricchiardi. Well, I guess everybody has to start somewhere. You'd not going to be Hannah Storm on your first visit to the locker room.

Ms. RICCHIARDI: Well, and the fact is that the Hispanic media market differs from ours, somewhat. And I believe that it's clear, and I haven't watched a lot of Mexican television, but from what I've seen in the reports I've read, the media culture is different.

If you look at the anchors, the game show hosts and even the soap operas and certainly the sports writers, you'll see a more steamy side to it than you would see here.

And I think it's obvious that Sainz knows what sells on Mexican TV, what her bosses want, and she's clearly been successful at marketing herself.

She held, in Super Bowl 2009, she held a competition for the biggest biceps and ran around with a tape measure, measuring the biceps of the players.

CONAN: And Paola Boivin, let me ask you. I mean, once the Jets give her a media credential, she's a working reporter, no?

Ms. BOIVIN: She is, and that's why, going back to the point of workplace harassment, they allowed her to come in there. And Sherry makes a great point. You know, and again, this isn't my media. It's not the one I grew up with.

You know, we were sort of taught to dress down and be as inconspicuous as possible when you go in these locker rooms. And so it's difficult. It's a difficult, awkward situation to begin with.

But the bottom line is the media has a new face now, and while it's, you know, a little bit difficult for some of us to adjust, I think what has to happen now is that teams and leagues just have to prepare their players and their coaches for the fact that it's going to look different, let's adjust, let's educate each other about it and move on.

CONAN: And while David David makes the point. I mean, her attire, was that in your opinion, Paola Boivin, professional?

Ms. BOIVIN: Let's put it this way: It is not something I have ever worn to a sporting event. But again, it doesn't excuse the behavior. It's not how I was raised to be, to cover sports, and it's not what we are used to seeing, but as Sherry pointed out, there's a different media culture where Ines came from, and whether it's appropriate or not in my eyes or anybody else's eyes, she was still in a workplace environment and deserved respect.

CONAN: Okay. David, thanks very much. Let's go next to Dave(ph). This is another Dave. This one from Tallmadge in Ohio.

DAVE (Caller): Yes, yes. We Daves are really interested in this. My comment -my question is very simple, from Middle America here. How do you turn this around and respond to the guy reporter who wants to get into the WNBAs, the lady basketball league's locker room? How do you respond to that? How - I'll keep it simple. That simple.

CONAN: All right. There's a women's NBA team there in Phoenix. So what are the rules there, Paola Boivin?

Ms. BOIVIN: Yeah. It's - you know, it's a great question because I think a lot of people ask it. The league allows male reporters in there. There's a cooling off period, but the reality is, most of these women leagues are very hungry for attention, and so they are allowed in the locker room. And the situations, if they're not in other sports, they will go out of their way to allow these people access, whether it's an interview room, whether it's setting up a different interview time, because frankly, they're not getting the coverage that they want in newspapers. So there's never been an issue of access with the WNBA or other women's leagues, primarily because they've all been starving for attention for so many years.

CONAN: You mentioned a cooling off period. Is that applied to everybody? No reporters allowed in the locker room and - for a certain amount of time?

Ms. BOIVIN: Yeah. That's, you know, almost league wide. In any sport there's typically a cooling off period before reporters can come in.

CONAN: And that's true in the football games and in the Major League Baseball games?

Ms. BOIVIN: Absolutely. And, you know, the biggest reason is, one, they're always giving players the opportunity if they want to cover themselves up. You know, they can always change. They can always get dressed. They can always put on a towel or a robe if they want. So there is a cooling off, I think, you know, an emotional cooling off, but also to be presentable if they choose to be when reporters walk into the locker room.

CONAN: Dave, thanks very much. Let's see if - well, Sherry Ricchiardi, as you look at this issue, this seems to have been a fight that was fought and won - I guess depending on your point of view - lost a long time ago. As you look at it though, this changing media environment where it's much more sexually charged, and in fact in football games, not at the practice field, but at football games, you got cheerleaders playing, you know, hired by the team. This is clearly a part of the spectacle.

Ms. RICCHIARDI: Well, that's true. But I think professionalism is number one. And wherever we work, in whatever profession we're in, if we want to gain respect and we want people to view us as equals, then we have to have a certain air of professionalism. And that's part of what happened here, I think, is that perhaps people felt she didn't have. I looked at the blogs, and the blogs are running pretty strong against the fact that the she should've had more sense than to do what she did. Now, I agree with Paola. She was in the workplace and she should not be harassed. But there's a strong opinion out there that perhaps she wasn't acting as a real reporter might act.

CONAN: We're talking with Sherry Ricchiardi, a professor of journalism at Indiana University. Also, Paola Boivin, a reporter and columnist for the Arizona Republic.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Paola Boivin, I meant to ask you. One of the reasons there was - this whole fight happened all those years ago, was to give women sports reporters greater opportunity. And obviously we see a lot of sideline reporters in TV and a few women doing play by play, not very many but a few. Are there more women sports reporters working your beat?

Ms. BOIVIN: There are more, but there are certainly not as many as I would've thought. You know, from all the strides we've made for access, there's been this great organization, awesome - Association for Women in Sports Media has really worked hard to address any issues that have come up. I thought, frankly, Neal, by now there'd be a lot more, you know, I thought there'd be more editors, sports editors within the business, reporters. I'm the only full-time, I think, female sports reporter at my paper. And it's a case, I think, with a lot of major papers around the country. So it's a little bit disheartening. I know there's been great strides, but it's a little bit disheartening for me.

CONAN: And let me ask you, Sherry Ricchiardi, the women who work on broadcast, on television broadcast, I think it's fair to say many of them are very good reporters, but it's - I think it's fair to say some of them are chosen, in addition to that, for their looks, how they present themselves on TV more so than some of the men reporters.

Ms. RICCHIARDI: I think that's probably true. But if you look at who the news anchors are, they're usually beautiful women or very attractive women also. I think that's just what TV does.

CONAN: Let's go to Scott(ph). Scott is calling us from Jackson, Wyoming.

SCOTT (Caller): Yeah. I just wanted to weigh in on this subject here, Neal. I appreciate what you guys are talking about today. I just find the whole thing kind of utterly ridiculous, to say that the workplace environment is the locker room. I don't know. That really - you know, it doesn't sound exactly right. It seems like the - it's a locker room. Did we forget that?

CONAN: It's also where reporters go every - after every game to talk to the players and the coaches.

SCOTT: Yeah. But you're forgetting - I mean, you know, you're a guy. It's a locker room.

CONAN: Both those things are true. Paola Boivin, can you help Scott out here?

Ms. BOIVIN: You know, I hear that and I understand where he's coming from. I hear that a lot. But the reality is this is the only way that I think you can, you know, read newspapers and get the quotes that you're looking for newspaper articles, get the interviews you want to see on TV.

Make no mistake about it. It's a very bizarre environment. I mean, there's people changing. There's people of both, you know, sexes trying to report. And I wouldn't be surprised down the road if we see leagues close the doors on locker rooms and make everybody do interviews outside it. Yeah, I kind of see that happening.

SCOTT: Yeah. That probably makes more sense. I mean, it's a locker room, so I don't know how more clear you can be about it.

CONAN: Well, is it, Paola, a sexually charged atmosphere in there?

Ms. BOIVIN: No. And I can't tell you how opposite of that is. Anyone who's ever spent anytime, say, in a hockey locker room, it is like the most disgusting smelling place there is. It's just - there is no kind of environment like -everybody's kind of rushing to do their job. They tend not be pleasant smelling. It is anything but sexually charged.

CONAN: Scott, thanks very much for the call.

SCOTT: And thanks for the - thanks. Bye.

CONAN: Okay. And, Sherry Ricchiardi, we'll give you the last word here. Do you - you know - obviously the environment, as Paola was just saying, seems to be changing. If there's got to be a change, if there are going to be news conferences afterwards, that sort of access, it has got to be right down the middle. Nobody gets in the locker room.

Ms. RICCHIARDI: Absolutely. I believe that it's got to be one way or the other. Women cannot be kept out or separated. They are professionals. Every woman I interviewed for the stories I've written on this have said how hard they work, that they work harder. They strive to be as professional as they can possibly be.

CONAN: Sherry Ricchiardi, thanks very much for your time today. Sherry Ricchiardi, professor of journalism at Indiana University, with us here today in Studio 3A. Our thanks as well to Paola Boivin, a reporter and columnist for the Arizona Republic, joined us from member station KJZZ in Tempe. Nice to have you with us today.

Ms. BOIVIN: Thanks, Neal.

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