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The Ines Sainz Incident

November 29, 2010

In an NFL season rife with sex-related controversy (see: Roethlisberger, Ben and Favre, Brett), one of the major stories early in the season emerged from the practice field of the New York Jets.  Ines Sainz’s accounts of offensive comments and immature behavior at a Jets practice earlier this season became a national story.  There was little agreement, however, over who was to blame, if anyone at all.

First things first, the behavior of the Jets players, who directed flirtatious and lewd comments at Sanchez, was inappropriate.  The practice field and locker room are ultimately part of the workplace, and such behavior needs to be controlled.

That said, was anyone actually surprised?  Professionals though they may be, the Jets, and NFL players in general, are mostly young men in their 20s, many of them fresh out of college.

Sainz's outfit at the Jets' practice. Unprofessional? Maybe. Unintentional? No way (Twitter)

Combine that with the power-trip of being a highly paid athlete and you have a recipe for impulsive and stupid behavior.  It has a lot to do with our culture as a whole and, regrettable though it may be, it isn’t changing any time soon.

That’s not to say that such behavior should be encouraged or even allowed to continue.  In this particular case, in fact, it wasn’t.  Sainz received an apology from Jets owner Woody Johnson and the organization requested that the  Association of Women in Sports Media hold an education session for Jets players.  So there you have it, the team acknowledged the situation and addressed the issue in an apparently appropriate manner.

The more shameful actions were those undertaken by head coach Rex Ryan.  Ryan, along with defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman, purposefully overthrew passes so that players could get closer to Sainz.  As head coach, Ryan is supposed to characterize the professionalism and maturity we ask of his players, and his actions are in blatant contradiction to that idea.

So what are we left with?  We have a group of young men in a locker room who acted like idiots and were then told they were idiots and taught how not to be idiots again.  And we have a coach who forgot his role and sunk to the level of his players, who were being idiots.

As for Sainz, do I care how she dresses? No, not personally.  Do I think her outfit was somewhat unprofessional and purposefully accentuated certain parts of her body? You bet.  Does that mean she deserves to be the subject of name-calling and flirtation? I don’t think so.  Do I think it’s the best way to get respect as a journalist or be treated fairly in a locker room? No, not at all.

So ultimately, what does this story say about sports or sports journalism? Nothing specifically I think.  In the end we learned that some men can act like boys (I’m looking at you, Ryan), and that if you put a provocatively dressed, attractive woman in a locker room with a bunch of guys in their 20s, there’s a good chance someone’s going to say something stupid.

This may represent a barrier for women looking to make it in sports journalism, but the problem itself is by no means unique to that field.  Instead, its just a part of our culture, one that’s hopefully changing.

Until then though, let’s just make sure this kind of behavior is discouraged and do everything we can to make sure women have equal opportunities when it comes to covering sports.  Oh, and can we not act so shocked when something like this happens?

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