NFL confronts harassment--and winks


November 28, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

After an eight-week inquiry and a 60-page report by a former Watergate investigator, the NFL has reached twin conclusions in the matter of Lisa Olson: one, that Olson was telling the truth about being sexually harassed in the New England Patriots locker room; two, that it's no big deal.

Nobody was suspended. Fines were virtually incidental. The cost of wiggling your waggle -- as Patriots owner Victor Kiam so eloquently put it -- in front of a woman reporter is obviously cheap. Here's your NFL benchmark for sexual harassment that borders on assault, as established by commissioner Paul Tagliabue: a $12,500 fine for Zeke Mowatt and $5,000 fines for Michael Timpson and Robert Perryman. That amounts to meal money for most pro athletes, or, if you're James Worthy, escort-service money.

Tagliabue might as well have meted out the punishment -- if you want to call it that -- with a wink, a nudge in the side and some sly comment about guys being guys.

There was no real cost, except to Olson, of course, whom Kiam reportedly called "a classic bitch" and who was booed by so-called Patriots fans when crossing the field after a game. She is devastated. Mowatt, Timpson and Perryman were slapped on the wrists.

It isn't that the NFL, a man's man's league after all, can't get tough. Where the NFL gets serious is when a rule gets broken. Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche broke a rule when he decided not to allow a woman reporter from USA Today into his locker room. For that indiscretion, he was fined more than $29,000. Imagine how he must feel. If Wyche had allowed the woman in the locker room, taken off all his clothes and "modeled" himself in front of her, he would have saved a minimum of $16,500 in fines.

"Modeling" is the term used in the report for the behavior of several players as they paraded in front of Olson. Perryman was reported to have "adjusted" his genitals while shaking his hips in exaggerated fashion. Timpson was reported to be one of many players shouting, "Make her look," as an embarrassed and humiliated Olson stared at the floor. Mowatt, according to the report, "smiled and purposely displayed himself to her in a suggestive way." One player, still unidentified, stood naked alongside Olson and said, "Here's what you want."

No one, including a team official who witnessed the affair, intervened on Olson's behalf, a sad commentary on the state of common decency. And, afterward, Kiam suggested that Olson, a reporter for the Boston Herald who was just trying to do her job, got what she deserved for entering the players' sanctum.

By now, we should realize that the issue of women in the locker room is a phony dodge. The issue is that men can humiliate women and worse and still believe they can get away with it. The NFL, by the way, did little to discourage that notion.

I wonder how officials in other sports might have treated a similar occurrence. In baseball, Roger Clemens was fined $10,000 and suspended for five games, which would cost him an additional $77,000, for yelling at an umpire. Granted, it was an ugly display, but I think we can all agree it wasn't quite as ugly a display as that presented in the Patriots locker room.

In the NBA, one fight between Philadelphia and Detroit resulted in fines totaling $157,500. Bill Laimbeer and Charles Barkley, for their roles, were fined $20,000 apiece and suspended for a game. The NBA, obviously serious about trying to limit fighting, sent out a strong message. What kind of message is the NFL sending out?

Zeke Mowatt will make $650,000 this season. Do you think a $12,500 fine will have any serious impact on him? Do you think it's going to put him over the limit on his Visa bill? If Tagliabue believes what he said, that this is a serious matter, why didn't he treat it that way?

The report itself was serious. It was no whitewash. It named names as far as it could establish them and detailed the sordid events of the day as completely as possible. The report tells of the laughter from the players and of the team officials' unwillingness to address the matter. It also reported that after Olson, so "distraught she couldn't see straight," left the room, Perryman said, "If the kitchen is too hot, get out."

Now, Olson is out. She covers the Boston Celtics instead. Perryman was later released, but picked up by the Dallas Cowboys. Mowatt and Timpson remain with the Patriots, as does Kiam.

It was Kiam, who, when informed of the incident, called it a flyspeck in the ocean. He took a lot of heat for that quote, among others, and eventually took out full-page ads in several newspapers to apologize and also head off a possible boycott of his company, which manufactures Remington razors.

But the sad truth is that Tagliabue has vindicated Kiam, whose team was fined $50,000 to go with the $22,500 for the three players. That's the whole the deal, the entire punishment. And there's your flyspeck in the ocean.

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