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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Women in the locker room: 20 years later, another setback

By Marla Published: September 14, 2010

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the locker room, another alleged incident of sexual harassment of a female reporter reminds me just how far we haven't come.

Actually, I haven't decided what troubles me more -- the way the New York Jets allegedly treated Ines Sainz of TV Azteca on Saturday while she waited to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez or the totally inappropriate remarks of Clinton Portis on the subject Tuesday morning.

At this moment, I'd probably go with the latter.

Portis, the Washington Redskins running back, discussed Sainz during a radio appearance with 106.7 The Fan.  According to a transcription by the Washington Post, Portis said, "You put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her. You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she's gonna want somebody. I don't know what kind of woman won't, if you get to go and look at 53 men's packages. And you're just sitting here, saying 'Oh, none of this is attractive to me.' I know you're doing a job, but at the same time, the same way I'm gonna cut my eye if I see somebody worth talking to, I'm sure they do the same thing."

Portis later issued a statement of apology. "I was wrong to make the comments I did, and I apologize,'' he said. ''I respect the job that all reporters do. It is a tough job and we all have to work and act in a professional manner. I understand and support the team on these issues."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Portis comments were ''clearly inappropriate, offensive and have no place in the NFL.''

The league is also reviewing the Sainz incident with the Jets. Sainz told CNN's Joy Behar that owner Woody Johnson called her Sunday morning to apologize.

Sainz told Behar, ''I pretend not to hear anything,'' when catcalls in the locker room began, which were witnessed by other members of the Jets' media corps, including another woman.

While some were ripping Portis, others were denouncing Sainz. Rush Limbaugh called her ''bootylicious'' and said, ''She's making no attempt to hide it because she wants access for her job.'' Glenn Beck said, ''This is clearly a publicity stunt,'' and ''I've never seen a woman wear a shirt quite like that.''

Of her supposedly low-cut shirt and tight jeans, Sainz told Behar, ''I don't believe my dress is part of the discussion here.'' She said she was wearing ''jeans and a regular shirt.''

Considering the competitive world of sports broadcasting, I can't fault TV Azteca for hiring Sainz. That's been a common practice since CBS tabbed 1971 Miss America Phyllis George in 1974, then put her on ''The NFL Today'' a year later.

But it's been 20 years since Lisa Olson of the Boston Herald was harassed by the New England Patriots and was booed by fans when she stepped on the field. When that happened I was amazed because I thought women in the locker room was no longer an issue.

Twenty years later I'm amazed again, mainly by the fact that NFL players (or at least one we know of) still believe women are going into locker rooms to find a boyfriend or husband.

The Browns were pioneers in opening their locker room long before the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and other NFL teams. When I became the first woman to cover the Browns in 1981, then-coach Sam Rutigliano called me into his training camp office at Kent State and told me they would have open access, but he expected me to behave like he'd expect his daughter to behave.

Since that talk, the Browns have always treated me with respect. Throughout the years, they've been gentlemen, perhaps never moreso than coach Eric Mangini's teams.

But Portis' remarks sounded remarkably familiar. They virtually echoed a talk I had with former Browns linebacker Chip Banks in the lobby of the team hotel in Pittsburgh not long after he was drafted in 1982.

Banks said he believed I went home every week and told my girlfriends who were the best-looking and the best-built players in the locker room. He didn't believe it when I told him there was nothing arousing about the hot, smelly, dirty, towel-filled place.

Portis showed at least one player still doesn't get it. Yes, women are entering players' hallowed sanctuary in pursuit of love. But it's love of sports and love of their work that draws them.

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