Women in Sports Media, or Undressing for Success, or How do we get from Gretz Kunzweiler to Ines Sainz?

It all began so innocently.

The smart and funny John of Not to the Swift noted on Sunday, “Very little tweeting about Greta Kunzweiler who is turning out to be the comeback story of the year.”

In response to which the smart and funny irish_1 asked, “Racing’s gender bias?”

Thus giving rise to a smart and reasonable conversation about the role of women in racing: women who participate in the sport, and women who write about it.

How satisfying it was to have such a conversation unladen with hysteria, axes to grind, or stereotypes.

How nice it was while it lasted.

Because yesterday afternoon, we heard this from the excellent Judy Battista of the New York Times: “Not good. At all. RT @cbrennansports:#NFL investigating alleged harassment of female reporter by New York #Jetshttp://bit.ly/aNwuJn.”

Which I found noteworthy enough to pass on.  And the first response I got, from the smart and funny o_crunk, was: “do an image search for the reporter in question.”

So I did.

Now let’s just get out of the way that Ines Sainz does not convey the sort of professional image that one might hope, nor the sort of professional image that I generally encounter in any of my workplaces. Nor is it the sort of professional image to which I would guide aspiring writers, reporters, or teachers. If you’re looking for justification or defense, look elsewhere. It is indeed tough to take Sainz seriously as a journalist, given her internet presence.

But the questions are not: What does Sainz look like? How does she act at work? Is she a good reporter? What was she wearing?

She was, apparently, a credentialed journalist by the New York Jets, and if that’s true, she is entitled to be treated as a professional in the workplace by the organization that granted her entry, even if you think that she appears silly, frivolous, and unprofessional.

In related news, yesterday afternoon, si_vault, online representative of one of sport’s finest publications, put out a request: “i am doing Hot Clicks and need a Lovely Lady of the Day. She should be somewhat under the radar and very good-looking. Any suggestions?”

I responded that he was doing a great job of joining the Jets in “demeaning women in sports week.”

Undeterred—or perhaps, encouraged–si_vault posted later yesterday afternoon:  “Monday’s P.M. Hot Clicks are out –http://su.pr/1e3T1k – thanks for helping with Lovely Lady of the Day. I’d say it worked out quite well.”

Indeed it did, if trivializing and objectifying women in the name of sport was the goal—one that a magazine with Sports Illustrated’s rich history, with its venerable roster of sports writers, should be above. Oh, yeah, there’s that Swimsuit Issue, too, in addition to all of that great writing and reporting.

I know that my frustration—even anger—about these situations can make me seem humorless and idealistic and out-of-touch.  But I don’t care.

Too often, “Boys will be boys” is the answer. Too often, “You can’t act like that and expect to get treated seriously” is the answer. Too often, the responsibility for behavior is placed on the person being treated badly, rather than on the people behaving badly. Just check out the comments section of almost any article on this topic.

The Sainz situation brings up complicated questions about the nature of reporters in the locker room, about a reporter’s responsibility for her own behavior, about the role(s) that women are expected to play and how they get to be successful in a male-dominated world. But there’s no question that Sainz should have been able to do her job without being a target.

Oh, yeah, and if you’re interested in reading about Greta Kuntzweiler, Marty McGee was on it in June; check out his  excellent story from Daily Racing Form.

22 thoughts on “Women in Sports Media, or Undressing for Success, or How do we get from Gretz Kunzweiler to Ines Sainz?

  1. I agree with all your points. Regardless of her appearance, Ms. Sainz should be treated in a professional manner.

    I’ve heard a little of Greta’s story and I look forward to reading the DRF story you linked later this evening.

  2. I don’t really see what Ms. Sainz’s photo gallery has to do with her being taken seriously as a journalist. I would respectfully submit that by impugning her professionalism because she likes to dress hot and be photographed, that you are in fact engaging in a form of gender bias. Here’s the photo gallery for Shannon Sharpe; he likes to show off his bod too, yet would anyone say that a man is being unprofessional in his occupation because he shows off his pecs in his spare time?

    On another note, Bob Nastanovich, the former jockey agent and boyfriend of Greta Kunzweiler who is quoted in the DRF story, is also a member of Pavement, who are doing five “reunion shows” here next week.

  3. It’s a great story, Linda. Enjoy it.

    Alan, I tried to convey that I didn’t agree with Sainz’s choices while avoiding impugning them–and I don’t necessarily think disagreeing and impugning are the same thing. Her standards are not mine, and I do think that the photos distract from the main and only point, which is how she was treated (allegedly?) by the Jets. But they are a part of this story (mine), because the photos were the first response to my re-tweeting of Battista’s original post.

    In a perfect world, those photos wouldn’t undermine Sainz’s credibility. But the world’s not perfect, and whether I think they undercut her as a professional or not, that feels like the majority opinion out there, and I felt like it needed to acknowledged.

    And if a man trying to be taken seriously as a reporter flashed his bod around the female teams he was covering, I’d question him, too.

  4. I think this even points to a larger issue of what constitutes “professional attire” for both genders. When I started my work life (and I am not THAT old!) I was required to wear a tailored dress, tailored skirt and blouse or a suit and stockings! Every day! The guys wore suits or sport coats and ties every day. Nowadays some of the young ladies in my office probably have never heard of stockings and the guys never learned to tie a tie. Sigh. Never mind, I am just getting old 😉

  5. @Alan–In many of those photos, Sainz is not in her spare time (especially any where she is obviously wearing the battery pack for her wireless mic.) She’s dressing in sleeves low-cut v-necks for WORK. It doesn’t give anyone a free pass on touching her, but it does make it harder to believe she’s aiming for “serious sports journalist” and not “eye candy.” You don’t see the male reporters showing up for work in a Speedo and wifebeater or commentating shirtless on the womens’ matches at the US Open.

    I don’t get from her tweet (translated, admittedly) what happened–doesn’t know where to look? It’s a men’s locker room, what does she think she’s going to see/hear? (Why do team-sport journalists need to go in locker rooms, anyway? I never understood that.)

  6. A good,thought-provoking post, but I agree with Alan that what Ms. Sainz looks like — or the manner or style of dress– has nothing to do with it. She’s an attractive woman who rocks a mode of dress that may not jive with “traditional” attire for what, “journalists”? “Professional images” themselves are stereotypes of our own consciousness, and our own biases of what a “media type” should look like in the year 2010 are not germane to the allegations.

  7. “I agree with Alan that what Ms. Sainz looks like — or the manner or style of dress– has nothing to do with it.”

    What is the “it”? If the “it” is the harassment, then yes–that was exactly my point.

    If the “it” is this post, then the style of dress does, because an interlocuter raised the issue, and that’s the story I’m telling.

    And to ignore the social and cultural implications of dress, no matter how lofty one’s ideals might be, is to trivialize their very real implications.

    Teresa

  8. I’d like to live in the utopia vacuum that Alan & Sid dwell in. Then maybe I can start wearing my favorite ratty jeans with the holes in them to work everyday. Hell, why not go one further and not wear anything at all. I do like being naked. Yeah, must be nice not to be judged in that special, lofty, non-existent place.

    Look, these dudes were probably unsurprisingly way out of line. We’re talking about the highest level of meat head world here, all together in a locker room, which we’ve been told is “their world”. Of course there’s no excuse for it but again, it’s just not that surprising.

    I’m embarrassed when I see this type of behavior on the streets. I see it quite often and, like the “reporter”, I put my head down and wish the offenders would just shut up.

    But every now and again, I see the recipient of these catcalls acknowledge them back with teases and smiles.

    I get the feeling that for this “reporter”, the acknowledgment phase is just beginning in the form of glossy magazine covers and over-exposure.

    Can’t defend anybody in the situation, I’m afraid. Like both sides were meant for each other.

  9. If I had $100 bucks for every inappropriate comment that has been thrown my way in the vicinity of jocks’ rooms across the nation (i.e. lounge areas that are open to members of the media), I’d be a rich woman. From what I’ve read about the situation, Sainz wasn’t hit with anything I haven’t dealt with over the past few years. In fact, her case seems pretty mild compared to some of the things that have been said to me.

    In my opinion, the entire situation has been blown pretty far out of proportion, but now everyone knows who Ines Sainz is, that’s for sure.

    Here’s what I’ve learned from the athletes I deal with: when a woman walks into a male-dominated environment, they’ll treat her professionally if they respect two things – who she is as a person and the kind of work she does. Until that differentiation is made and they know where you stand, they’ll push the limits just to see how far they can go. Is that right? No. Is it the way things are? Yes.

    “Entitled to be treated as a professional in the workplace by the organization that granted her entry” is a great goal but it’s very rarely the case. And in my experience, this problem extends beyond the “locker room” to the press box and the corporate office as well.

  10. The issue really is a thorny one, and I agree with Teresa’s last response (if I’m reading it right) that attire does have “very real implications.”

    Clearly Ines Sainz dresses provocatively to elicit male response. She keeps eyes glued to the screen for TV Azteca, her employer. The simple reality is, that takes its toll on journalistic credibility.

    This is NOT to say that she nor any other woman reporter should made to feel insecure in the workplace. (Though I must confess I haven’t seen details of what the players said to her, and the only response I’ve seen FROM Sainz was that she tweeted about being “embarrassed” not feeling physically threatened. … I can’t count how many times I’ve been intentionally embarrassed, even physically threatened, by coaches and players while on the job, though clearly not in a sexual manner.)

    Part of the trouble here is that the lines here have been blurred from both sides.

    If Suzy Kolber of ESPN walks into the locker room — attractive, yes, but always tastefully attired, sharp as a tack and she knows more than most guys about most sports — she’s probably going to be treated very respectfully. (A drunken Joe Namath notwithstanding.) Same for Erin Andrews, beside whom I’ve stood on a college sideline as the catcalls and marriage proposals rained from a student section (things she’s hopefully learned to zone out) and who certainly dresses in a figure-flattering fashion, but she doesn’t climb onto the shoulders of players after games and have her picture taken.

    That’s something Ines Sainz has done at least once that I’ve seen — sitting on the shoulders of players after a game, also measuring a player’s biceps on camera — completely wiping out not only the line between reporter and eye candy, but eliminating even the physical distance between beefcake (the NFL players) and cheesecake.

    If a reporter from “The Naked News” showed up to interview a player, wouldn’t you expect his eyes to wander and for some off-color statements and innuendo to be uttered? It would take a better man than most to be the same guy on camera for that reporter as he would be on camera with Suzy Kolber or Erin Andrews.

    Somewhere in-between — closer to Kolber and Andrews, but not close enough in my opinion — lies the work of Ines Sainz.

    As both former athlete and journalist, I’ve always had an issue with how the genders (and sexual tension) are handled in the sports media world. While still a high school player, I was part of a group of athletes taken on a tour of the facilities after a football game by a (then) Big 8 conference coach. Nearby, a player — completely nude but for a towel draped across his lap — was being interviewed by both male and female reporters. That was my first experience seeing such a thing, and as a 16-year-old, sheltered kid from a small town, it was jaw-dropping.

    Female reporters have insisted upon access to the locker rooms in order to do their jobs in the same fashion as their male counterparts. And I don’t believe women should be at a disadvantage in doing that job, nor any job.

    But try walking into any women’s team locker room, anywhere in the country. Last I knew anyway, if you’re a reporter with a penis, it ain’t happenin’.

    I’ve long advocated eliminating that particular double-standard. If female reporters are permitted in men’s locker rooms, then men must be permitted in the women’s locker room. … Or NOBODY gets into EITHER. That’s fair, too. … And I’d be fine with the latter, so long as coaches and players made themselves accessible outside the locker room immediately after games, before (forever it seems) hitting the showers. And they often don’t, so you chase them inside the locker room unless that team has a “no media” policy.

    Which does beg the question: If Ines Sainz was just waiting to do an interview with Mark Sanchez, did that waiting really need to take place inside the room where dozens of naked men were standing around? Personally, if I’m gonna do a scheduled stand-up with a player (that is, not post-game, on-deadline, we-gotta-do-this-now), I don’t really want to sit around smelling and staring at sweaty, naked men. I’ll wait outside with a Coke, thanks.

    Oh, and speaking of double-standards and the changing gender roles, I’ve had a handsome young male reporter return from covering a girls’ soccer team aghast that several players — *high school girls* — approached him on the field with suggestive statements, one even handing him her phone number.

    What goes around comes around, I guess. Though clearly, a man being approached by a very forward woman (or, yikes, an underage girl) doesn’t have the intimidation factor nor the societal stigma of a woman receiving unwanted attention from boorish men.

  11. Out of curiosity, Claire, did you receive this supposed inappropriate behavior before or after your ” 10 Sexiest BC Jockeys ” article?

  12. @Just Asking – before. After, only two comments were made. One was from a jock who complained that he was not on the list. The other was from a different rider who told me more people talked to him about that piece than about any other that was done during Breeders’ Cup week. Go figure.

  13. This is a hot topic issue and the comments are very interesting from all –just to clarify a few things that I don’t think were mentioned in the above comments:

    The problem began not inside the locker room but first began on the practice field when one of the assistant coaches was intentionally over throwing the receivers in the direction of Ms. Sainz so that they could pick up the ball right at her feet and when they did, some of the receivers also made the alleged objectionable comments. ESPN has showed the videotape and it looked pretty classless to me that not only the players but a Jet coach would do that.

    Many of the comments I have read focus on the issue that she should not have been in the locker room-should she now avoid the playing field also?? I mean, really, where does it stop?

    She later interviewed Jets QB Mark Sanchez in the locker room later, in Spanish and Sanchez, responded in Spanish. I speak Spanish and listened to the interview. The questions were intelligent and pertinent and Sanchez answered all the questions in a professional manner. I guess others in the locker room were rude, but Sanchez was clearly not-maybe his teammates can take a lesson form him in class.

  14. Robert,

    Thanks for the information. Too many here are too concerned about her appearance, and your comments clarify the professionalism of her interaction with Mr. Sanchez.

    Ms Sanchez, btw, may not have been dressed to convention but that’s not the point, either. If her appearance as a credentialed reporter was deemed not appropriate by the Jets, then it was their duty to rectify the situation, which, apparently, they did not.

    And, again, the activity on the field—not locker room—was the site of the initial comments, as you noted.

  15. “It is indeed tough to take Sainz seriously as a journalist, given her internet presence.”

    There’s an expression that goes something like, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

  16. John–you’re right! But thanks for getting the conversation started. 🙂

    Thanks, folks, for taking the time to leave comments that provoke further thought and discussion. A few responses:

    Claire, I think that excusing the situation by “that’s the way it is” isn’t good enough. It’s unfortunate that you’ve encountered such things, but I don’t think it should be acceptable just because it’s common.

    Like o_crunk, I am envious of the world in which Sid lives, in which physical appearance is irrelevant.

    I’ve no desire to offer Sainz up as fodder for further criticism–as I’ve said numerous times, I’m on her side here–but her actions as well as her behavior have also created some skepticism about her chops as a reporter. But maybe what she does doesn’t count as much as what she wears doesn’t.

    Robert–thanks for filling in some of the blanks.

    Glenn, as you suggest, there are no parallels between millionaire professional football players and high school athletes. And being made to feel “embarrassed” in a workplace is harassment as much as being made to feel physically threatened. For what it’s worth, this SI article suggests that the locker room double standard may not be quite as prevalent as has been suggested.

  17. And again–thanks for taking the time to comment. I find the whole situation complex, multi-dimensional, and compelling, and I appreciate your offering various perspectives to consider.

  18. Marshall, I could write a book.

    One response, though, to Glenn Craven: In my experience, women’s locker rooms, with the exception of the wnba, were never open to reporters of either the male or female variety.

  19. Too often, the responsibility for behavior is placed on the person being treated badly, rather than on the people behaving badly!

    dress code at your job doesn’t apply!
    boys will be boys!

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