Stupidity, not sex harassment, prompted locker-room incident


Lisa Olson, a sportswriter for the Boston Herald, discovered an amazing thing while conducting interviews in the locker room of the Boston Patriots football team.

Some of the players were buck naked.

Yes! They did not, out of sensitivity to Olson's presence, wrap themselves in fluffy bathrobes or even put on jammies.

No, they were in their birthday suits.

And some, apparently thinking that Olson liked to hang around naked guys, made lewd remarks to her recently. One, who was clothed, allegedly exposed himself and invited Olson to engage in a lewd (though popular) act.

Olson has deemed this "sexual harassment" and is demanding severe punishment for the players and the owner of the team. She is outraged. I know this because I saw her on "Entertainment Tonight," which is certainly the place I would go if I were outraged.

I am on her side, however. Olson was just doing her job. Her job is to go into locker rooms and interview men who are in various states of undress.

But what happened to her, I would argue, stems more from confusion and stupidity than from a real desire by the players to sexually harass or abuse her.

Some football players, seeing a woman repeatedly enter an area where they are naked, get the impression that the woman likes to see them that way. They are wrong about this.

In fact, most male sportswriters I have spoken with aren't thrilled about interviewing naked men either.

"It's weird," one said. "You're standing there in your clothes and the guy is naked, talking to you and eating chicken. Then you soon get to know which players like to walk around naked."

Football players don't always realize the discomfort of the reporters. Football players are not always very bright. (Some are very bright.Some read Proust. Some can balance a checkbook. But this is not universal.)

Now combine this lack of brightness with the fact that since grade school these players have been told what fine physical specimens they are. And consider what they do for a living: They parade their physical prowess in front of 30,000 fans every week.

So what happens? Some players become preening, strutting peacocks. They strut on the field and they strut in the locker room.

Also, there is what generally can be called a "locker room atmosphere" in locker rooms. This occurs not only around hard-bodied athletes but around pot-bellied golfers. A bunch of guys are sittin' around scratchin' themselves and the conversation often strays from U.S. foreign policy or the effects of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings to women and sex and dirty jokes.

Now, let us add one last ingredient to the stew: Some players think reporters are their chums. They think this because the reporters hang around with the players and joke with the players and are palsy with the players (the better to get stories from the players).

So some players think they can josh and joke with reporters right back. But the joshing and joking of athletes can sometimes be crude and physical.

One of the players who made lewd comments to Olson said later, "Can't she take a practicaljoke?"

No, she can't. She shouldn't have to. Reporters are not the friends of the players. They are professionals who are working in an unprofessional setting.

So why do women have to be in men's locker rooms in the first place? Short answer: They don't.

A male reporter could not go into a female locker room. I could not enter a locker room on the women's basketball circuit. Not even if I promised to be 100 percent professional and stare the women right in the eyes and not look upon them as sexual objects.

But that is fair. Because all reporters are barred, men and women. Which is the standard for fairness in this case: All reporters in or all reporters out.

I say: All reporters out. Out of women's locker rooms and out of the men's locker rooms.

Yes, the sportswriters would howl. Their job would be tougher. They would have to wait for players after the game. Sometimes they would have to track players down instead of having them held captive. But reporters in other areas of the profession work under this kind of handicap all the time and manage to do their jobs just fine.

Olson has a legitimate beef over what happened to her. But she has now become a celebrity and so she must make instant judgments every time a microphone is stuck in her face. (Sort of like the players haveto.)

No, she will not accept the apology of the Patriots owner. And, no, the $2,000 one player was fined was not enough, and yes, the owner should be suspended from the league and so on and so forth.

The NFL has appointed a special counsel to look into the matter, just as if we were talking about the Iran-contra affair or Watergate.

But it's not the same. Exposing yourself to a woman in the manner the player allegedly did to Olson is a crude and disgusting act. But it is not the same as if he did it on a street corner.

He did it in his locker room. And he could not understand why a woman was in his locker room if she did not want to take part in locker room behavior.

As I said, it is a matter of confusion and stupidity.

Olson's newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, a man so dedicated to feminism that he features bare-breasted women in some of his papers, has called for fans to boycott today's Patriot's game.

"Do it for all the women in your life," the paper thundered. "Do it because it's the right thing to do."

Well, it's not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is get all the reporters the hell out of the locker room.

Leave the players alone while they are changing their clothes.

That way, if the boys want to play, they can play with themselves.

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