Barker: Female reporters belong in the locker room

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Ines Sainz of TV Azteca attends Media Day

Ines Sainz of TV Azteca attends Media Day prior to Super Bowl XLI at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Jan. 30, 2007) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Barbara Barker Newsday sports writer Barbara Barker

Barbara Barker is an award-winning sports features writer and columnist who has covered sports in New York for

Back in the dark ages when you could count the number of female sports reporters in New York on one hand, I covered the Jets.

I was the first woman to report about the team on a full-time basis, and on any given day I was the only woman in the locker room. I paid a great deal of attention to what I wore. Loose shirts, pants, no short skirts even on the hottest of training-camp days. In order to get ahead in my career, I thought I had to project a certain image - think nerdy little sister meets prep-school marm - even though that may not have matched how I felt inside or how I behaved when I was away from work.

Ines Sainz of Mexico's TV Azteca doesn't take the same conservative approach to dressing that I did nearly two decades ago. And she shouldn't have to.

Sainz, as I did as a young reporter, dresses for success. These days, a major factor in the charisma of television reporters such as Sainz and ESPN's Erin Andrews is their sex appeal. It is an important factor in advancing their careers. Yet there are some people out there who think that because Sainz wears tight jeans or has had her picture taken in a bikini or two she deserved to be harassed Saturday when she came to the Jets' practice facility to interview Mark Sanchez.

Never mind that the courts and the rest of the world decided long ago that no matter how provocatively a woman is dressed, she never invites sexual harassment. This message has not trickled down to Rex Ryan and a few of his more loutish players. Nor, judging from some of the calls I've heard on sports talk radio, has it trickled down to a number of NFL fans.

There are people who believe Sainz had no right to be in the Jets' locker room. They believe she has no right to be doing a job that the NFL and the Jets issued her a credential to do.

I want to make it clear I wasn't there during the practice when she was given such a hard time. But according to several credible eyewitness reports, Jets coaches, including Ryan, were running fake pass drills in Sainz's direction during practice, so players could run by where she was standing. Then later, Sainz was subjected to hooting and hollering as she entered the locker room. According to several reports, nose tackle Kris Jenkins openly ogled Sainz and then shouted, "This is our locker room."

Well, it may be Jenkins' locker room, but it is also Sainz's workplace. Jenkins' employer says so. And the law says so.

It's a strange custom having to walk among half-dressed people in order to do your job. One that is almost impossible to explain to people who haven't done the job. It is the best way to get information after a game. As much as walking into a locker room has made me uncomfortable over the years - early in my career I would sometimes get severe stomach cramps before walking in because I would be so nervous - I don't think it's a custom I would change. I am, after all, a reporter. And it's hard for reporters to ask for less access.

The battle to open the locker room to all reporters regardless of sex was decided way back in the Seventies, and though it took awhile to get some to accept this fact, it's been almost a decade since I heard anyone question a woman's right to be there, as Jenkins did. Or as Clinton Portis did on a Washington radio show this week.

On any given day, there are three or four female reporters in the Jets' locker room. I was there a couple weeks ago when the female reporters outnumbered the men. These players are a different generation than the ones I covered as a young reporter. They've grown up watching female reporters, grown up with mothers who have careers.

But football, more than any other sport, is one where players take their cues from their coaches. The cues Ryan gave his players on the sideline were right out of a frat party manual. From what he's said since, he regrets it. Ryan said Tuesday that "everyone should be comfortable" in their workplace.

And I would add that means Sainz. No matter how tight her jeans are.

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