Monday, August 10, 2009

With All Due Respect

TigerBlog covered a few Rutgers women's basketball games back in his newspaper days, and he remembers how the rules for postgame access to the women's lockerroom were adjusted from the policies regarding the Rutgers men. TB also remembers a general thought process of: "This is proper."

Through the years, TB has been in enough lockerrooms after enough games to know that few places on Earth smell worse. He has also been in this profession long enough to see how the evolution of women in the field has progressed.

It was with that background that TB read Susan Reimer's column in the Baltimore Sun about how little has changed for female sportswriters in the last 30 years. With all due respect, TB disagrees with much of what Reimer says.

Reimer's basic premise is that the Erin Andrews situation (being videotaped in her hotel room) shows that "give a woman a notebook or a microphone and ask her report on sports and it becomes a gross-out contest for the numskull players and their overgrown frat-boys fans."

Reimer details harassment to which she was subjected, largely by former Orioles' manager Earl Weaver, back when she first started covering the team. She talks about having to hide in her apartment for three days after some of Weaver's comments. It's horrible that she had to endure this.

And, in 2009, it's impossible that anyone else would have to endure the same without there being major, major consequences. If the current manager of the Orioles (TigerBlog has no idea who the O's manager is) said those things today to a female reporter, he'd be fired before the first pitch of the next game. Don't believe TB? Ask Don Imus what can happen if you say the wrong thing.

Some of the most respected sportswriters in the country today are women. Do athletes still make it uncomfortable for women in lockerrooms? Of course, but not nearly as much as they did back in the day. TigerBlog, in his first professional lockerroom experience, saw a high-profile professional football player follow a female reporter around while wearing nothing but a towel. Every time she stopped to talk to a different player, he'd sit down next to her and open his towel. Want to try that today? Think the rest of the room would just laugh and there'd be no repercussions? Wrong.

Lockerrooms, as TB said, are awful places to start with. Throw in the fact that your average professional athlete looks upon your average sportswriter with equal parts scorn, annoyance, condescension and anything else negative, and the situation at its best is bad for men and women writers. Harvey Yavener likes to talk about his days talking to Major League Baseball players after games decades ago and how there was a mutual respect. Today? That's evaporated in an environment where most writers are trying to get to the bottom of something and most athletes make millions and millions of dollars.

Now, what does this have to do with Erin Andrews - or Princeton, for that matter? Let's start with Andrews. If someone videotaped her in her hotel room without her knowledge, it's more than just an infringement on her privacy; it's actual criminal. TB admires the way Andrews reacted, with a desire for justice more than simply being hurt by it.

At the same time, she wasn't videotaped because she was a sports reporter. It was because she was a famous attractive woman. It wouldn't have mattered if she was a reporter, an actress, a politician. The fact also remains that her looks have opened up opportunities to her as a sideline reporter that other women haven't had, regardless of how skilled a sideline reporter she is.

If Reimer wants to make the case that female TV reporters are judged more on their looks than anything else, then she would have had a point. To say that women sportswriters are still subjected to the same nonsense that courageous pioneers like she was simply because they're women is in TB's mind incorrect. The whole sports journalism field has gotten out-of-control, for men and women.

Here at Princeton, there have been many women reporters who have covered events here without incident. We've had female beat reporters, female writers from nearby outlets who have been here for games or feature stories and female writers from major national publications who have come here to write about Princeton athletes. These women owe sportswriters like Reimer a great deal for taking the heat early on so that the profession could open its doors to greater numbers of women. Certainly TigerBlog can attest to the fact that quality sportswriting is not limited to men and can give many examples of women writers who are far better than their male counterparts.

The policy here at TigerBlog HQ is that all of our lockerrooms are closed to the media. Members of the media can request players to speak with after games, and those players are brought either to a media room or an area where media member can ask questions.

This has worked perfectly here, and TB cannot remember a single problem regarding access in more than 20 years.

Granted, professional leagues have rules about access to the lockerroom and specific times when media members are permitted in. These rules do not apply to colleges.

Erin Andrews was a member of the University of Florida dance team as an undergrad, and she immediately went to work for a major outlet (Fox Sports) as on on-camera person after graduation. Within four years, she had risen to the top of her profession, and she is now one of the most recognized names and faces in TV sports.

Did her looks help her? Of course. But that's not an issue related to women in journalism and whether or not they have advanced in the last 30 years. There's no question they have.

This is a larger issue about women and the value that society puts on their looks from the time they're little girls. This is about imagery and mass media and the messages that are sent to little girls about what's important.

Fortunately, there are people like Susan Reimer, a woman who has helped counteract this with her 30-year body of work, rather than just her body.

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