FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots, under the eye of NFL headquarters, yesterday fined one of the five players who sexually harassed a female reporter last week in their locker room, calling the player's behavior "unacceptable and unwarranted."
The Patriots did not release the player's name or the amount of the fine, but team sources said it is tight end Zeke Mowatt, a free agent picked up from the New York Giants during the off-season. According to the sources, Mowatt, who will make $460,000 this year, will be fined $2,000, spread out over 14 weeks.
Boston Herald sports editor Bob Sales told the Associated Press: "There's certainly the possibility of a civil rights action. I don't think there's the possibility of criminal action, but there could be."
It is the second time in three years a Patriot player has been fined for verbally abusing a female reporter (television reporter Alice Cook was the target in 1988), but the reprimand is only one of several facets of a story that has drawn national attention and embarrassment to the Patriots.
On Sept. 17, Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson was interviewing Patriots cornerback Maurice Hurst when, she said, five players made lewd suggestions to her. The players asked Olson, who is in her first season of covering the team, if she wanted to touch parts of their bodies. Olson at the time identified Mowatt as one of the players, and a Patriots official said receiver Michael Timpson was also involved. Timpson has denied any involvement.
On Thursday, Patriots general manager Patrick Sullivan told reporters of a problem of harassment involving a reporter and several players, that the matter had been handled internally and that there would be no fines.
Initially, Olson said she wanted the matter handled diplomatically, without any references to her. In preparing a story for Friday's editions, The Boston Globe had two discussions with Olson on Thursday, and she agreed to the content as well as naming her as the victim. The Herald chose not to publish a story on the matter, in deference to Olson's earlier requests.
Since then, the incident has set off a volley of charges and counter-charges by the two newspapers. The Herald yesterday published comments Patriots owner Victor Kiam made to reporter Kevin Mannix on Saturday. Kiam told the Herald that Olson was at fault for the incident, and he is quoted as saying: "I'm sure it [the incident] looms large in Lisa's life, but I can't get excited about it. It's a flyspeck in the ocean."
Kiam, who is also the president of Remington Products, also said: "I feel we're caught up in the tempest of the times. Freedom of speech is fine, but letting women in the locker room goes beyond that. Players should be able to retain the dignity of the individual."
After the Patriots lost to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday, Kiam was overheard in the locker room calling Olson a "classic bitch."
Kiam told the Globe last night that he never called Olson a "bitch" -- even though several reporters said they heard him make the comment -- and said he wholeheartedly supports women being allowed in the locker room.
"A lot of my words were taken out of context" by the Herald, said Kiam, who added that he was not informed about the harassment until Saturday, five days after it occurred.
"Just about everything was either made up or taken out of context," he said. "I never used the word 'bitch.' I have never described her to anyone except my wife, and I said to her that Lisa has a very strong personality.
"I have nothing against Lisa being in the locker room, but to the players, their locker room is their castle. Every man has a castle."
League policy stipulates that no credentialed member of the media may be denied access to the locker room based on their race, religion or sex.
The incident has attracted the attention of the NFL offices in New York, and director of communications Greg Aiello said the league deplores the players' actions and Kiam's comments. Aiello also said he was satisfied with how the Patriots handled the situation.
Some players have expressed concern that the incident has distracted the team and said they want to put it behind them. "This is something no team likes to have hanging over them," said quarterback Marc Wilson.
Concerned about team unity and morale, coach Rod Rust called a team meeting yesterday, the second such meeting about the incident in five days.
Three players, who asked not to be identified, described the two-hour meeting as a rallying point. One player said Rust told them to be careful about what they say in front of the media. "Rod told us that we were right and she [Olson] was telling a lot of untruths," one said.
Another player claimed that Rust said, "The media is powerful, and you have to be careful what you say around them." Another called it a "good meeting" and said players were urged to "be careful" around female reporters.