Patriots incident exposes just how far 'our heroes' can stoop

John Steadman

November 28, 1990|By John Steadman

NOT ONLY are the National Football League and New England Patriots personally and professionally embarrassed but it's a despicable action that reflects on all sports. For naked athletes to abuse a woman reporter in a locker room provides notification to the outside world what some of them are really like . . . certainly not how the public perceives heroes to be.

Lisa Olson, a writer for the Boston Herald, was harassed in her workplace by sexual taunts emanating from the Patriots. The ugliness of the incident, according to the findings, is "X-rated." Some of the graphic language in the 60-page report is gutter talk. Olson, if she desires, would seem to have justifiable reason for a lawsuit.

The matter has brought her a notoriety she didn't seek and more attention, unfortunately, than if her reporting had won a Pulitzer Prize. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, rookie leader of the NFL, hit the offenders with fines and denounced their actions. But, more importantly, he also knows, if he didn't before, that it's impossible to legislate decency and basic good manners. Therein is the pity of it all.

How do you make players follow the norms the rest of the world adheres to in its general mode of conduct? Responsible citizens pursue appropriate patterns of behavior every day of their lives. Why not pro football players?

Tagliabue summed up his feelings when he wrote Victor Kiam, owner of the Patriots, "This entire episode was distasteful, unnecessary and damaging to the league and others."

Investigation of the incident involved amassing testimony from 91 individuals. It was conducted by Phillip Heymann of the Harvard Law School. He reconstructed the dressing room scene on Sept. 17 when Olson was the subject of crude and vulgar treatment by Zeke Mowatt, Michael Timpson and Robert Perryman. All three were members of the Patriots.

Olson was trying to conduct an interview with Maurice Hurst when, she alleged, a naked player moved close to her and said, "Here's what you want." An exact identification could not be made but others were said to be laughing and screaming, "Make her look, make her look." Perryman, later released by the Patriots and signed by the Dallas Cowboys, is accused of specific charges in the information that was gathered and, presumably, substantiated.

Reading from the 60-page report, Perryman is said to have "stood up, nearby but unseen by Olson and [according to onlookers] adjusted his genitals and shook his hips in an exaggerated fashion, eliciting further laughter."

Mowatt, meanwhile, is described as "purposely displaying himself to her in a suggestive way. Laughter erupted and shouts from the players continued, especially, 'Is she looking?' " The report also insisted "Mowatt's account of the same period is not credible."

Team owner Kiam was subsequently quoted by Glen Farley of the Brockton (Mass.) Enterprise and Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News as referring to Olson as a "classic bitch." But two of Kiam's friends, Davie Burks, president of Harding University, and James Carr, vice president of the same school, claimed Kiam merely said, "Boy, she's very aggressive."

For their part in the Olson case, Tagliabue fined Mowatt $12,500, Timpson and Perryman each $5,000. Additionally, the club was fined $25,000 and ordered to spend another $25,000 to buy materials that will instruct the players on how the media deserves to be treated.

Tagliabue, not even through his first year as commissioner, previously handed out some strong penalties, including $500,000 against Ed DeBartolo Jr., owner of the San Francisco 49ers, for ignoring a league rule on corporate ownership; Sam Wyche, the Cincinnati Bengals' coach, $27,000 for barring a woman writer from the locker room; and defensive back Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles, $10,000, for roughing rival quarterback Rich Gannon.

The financial hit on DeBartolo is the most any sports commissioner has ever assessed a team owner so Tagliabue can hardly be accused of being soft on the men who voted him into office after the resignation of Pete Rozelle. Although the NFL is painfully aware the deportment of the Patriots is a reflection on them, the rest of professional sports also is cognizant and placed on guard that its employees dare not be accused of similar actions.

A lesson should have been learned. Would any player want his mother, sisters or daughters, if they were reporters, treated with such flaunting debasement?

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