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Starman: The Blame Game

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Ines Sainz (Franklin/AP)

Ines Sainz (Franklin/AP)

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By Dave Starman

There has been a lot made of the recent issue regarding the New York Jets and TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz and it has taken several different routes. Christine Brennan in USA Today had a very good column on it this week.

I’ll start here because this one hits close to home. I am married to an female TV sports reporter and a very good one at that. Shireen Saski is a 20-year veteran of the industry who has won several Michigan Emmy’s for her work covering the pro and college teams in Michigan for Fox Sports Detroit, the NHL Network, and the Big Ten Network. She is well respected by the teams she covers from players, coaches, trainers and management. She has covered four Stanley Cup Championships by the Red Wings, a World Series by the Tigers, several Super Bowls and Frozen Fours.

In that time she has had one minor brush with players acting like idiots. She was the target of some cat calls and somewhat sophomoric and inappropriate behavior by a few Detroit Lions players after a practice about 5 years ago. A colleague of hers called later and asked her about the incident because he had heard about it from one of the players.

She and I have talked about that day and my first question, whether fair or unfair, was what were you wearing? Calmly she said “What you would wear to a country club for brunch. I was wearing white lined pants (not see through or tight) and a sleeveless crew neck summer sweater. The outfit was conservative but somewhat flattering, I guess. It was nothing that could be remotely called slinky or provocative. I looked professional.”

Lions PR acted swiftly and she was apologized to by the organization and nothing further came of it. But this Jets’ situation obviously sparked some discussion. Her first comment on the incident wasn’t terribly flattering towards the Jets and neither was mine. Then she saw the outfit Ms. Sainz was wearing and said “This is difficult because I don’t think what she was wearing was appropriate. However, for her network, it may be totally acceptable, and therefore she is not to blame. The bottom line is that all professionals have to be accountable for their own actions no matter whose territory they’re in. That applies to players, coaches, management and media members. ”

I’ve been part of the hockey media for a long time, almost 20 years. I’ve also coached in the minor leagues so I have been on both sides of females in the dressing room. I personally never had a problem with it. They have a job to do and they do it, many of them better than their male counterparts.

99% of the ones I have worked with in the NY media are consummate professionals in every sense of the word. A nationally syndicated radio talk show host recently said that the locker room is like an office with the players somewhat the bosses. Would you ever go into see your boss inappropriately dressed for work?

That brings up two points. The first is that her attire might be considered appropriate dress by her network; that we don’t know. The second is that if she was not being playful or flirtatious, and by accounts she wasn’t, then it is the obligation of professional athletes to act with the proper respect and decorum in what can be accurately described as the workplace.

There are two questions out there and the fact that we are still not past the female reporter in the dressing room question is not a great statement to our evolution as a society. The second is should reporters be in a team’s dressing room or should all interviews be done in a neutral room where all players have already showered and dressed?

In the NCAA (at least in hockey) there is a policy that no reporters are allowed in the dressing room pre game or post game. All players requested for interviews are brought to a neutral area near the dressing room for interviews whether in a group or for one on ones. One of the best reasons given for this policy was “the dressing room isn’t that big; it is just easier on everyone to do interviews in the hall.”

Reporters are under deadlines and they need to get to players fast. They are getting the info that you fans will discuss the next day. They are sort of working for you.

This creates a possible nightmare for access to players. Reporters need to get to their subjects and believe me to most reporters these players are subjects and nothing more. They are the people you need a quote from to make a story make sense. They are the ones the fans want to hear from and reporters are that conduit. We in the media all lost that fascination with being a pro long before we got into this business. As Oscar Madison once said in an Odd Couple episode, “Growing up we wanted to be Joe Namath, once we grew up we wanted to own Joe Namath.” If the media wishes they were anyone it’s the owner, not the player.

After any night game a policy of no reporters in the dressing room which some in the mainstream media are calling for is impossible to enforce. With the 24 hour sports industry now prevalent, TV sports shows need content quickly after afternoon games so even this time frame has tight deadlines.

It is probably impossible to enforce a no locker room access rule after games. The again it seems many incidents happen during/after practice so maybe you make it a situation where the room is off limits after practice. There is a lot more lingering after a practice, players are more relaxed, it is more social, it is where the mob mentality can fester better.

Then again, the Jets being accused of running plays towards Ms. Sainz so they could get in her space happened during practice which is reprehensible. Maybe you have reporters a little more distant from practice and have players brought to an interview room for group talk or a one on one interview.

Staying on point, the question comes back to the Jets and the treatment of Ms. Sainz. The Jets are beyond culpable here. They are so out of line that they should be nailed with the strictest discipline that can be imposed. Whether it’s a former Ms. Mexico dressed like a club dancer or someone who blends in with the group, all female reporters deserve to be accorded the ultimate professional status and treatment. However, and many female reporters quoted this week agreed, if you show up looking like Ms. Sainz did you are demeaning the profession and those dedicated to doing it properly. You send the wrong message.

Then again the Jets now have cheerleaders and their in game “host” is featured in a pretty racy expose in the Daily News online sports section so if you are a Jet you are somewhat getting fed a message that sex sells. Doesn’t excuse their behavior but also doesn’t create a respectful attitude towards those women who are legitimately working in an established vocation like sports reporting. It creates that attitude of women as a smorgasbord for testosterone driven athletes who work in an industry based on physical prowess.

Whether it be the Patriots and Lisa Olsen, Joe Namath and Suzy Kolber or Ms. Sainz and the Jets (hmmm, all football incidents) these working professionals need to understand that reporters are reporters regardless of gender. Remember Richard Todd of the Jets once stuffed Steve Serby of the Post in a locker and I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of that.

Is Ms. Sainz partly to blame here? Yes. Are the Jets to blame here? No question. Both parties deserve a lesson in professionalism. The Jets need to understand that they must respect all members of the working media and Ms. Sainz needs to understand what is expected of the working media in the NFL.

Good luck to both.

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