Lisa Olson's answer to silly nude incident? A suit

Mike Royko

May 01, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

THREE POLITICIANS once came up behind me as I quietly sat at a bar and began bellowing that they were going to knock my block off and stomp me flatter than a pancake. They called me all sorts of colorful names that impugned my ancestry, questioned my sexual habits and suggested that I was lower than a spittoon. They were upset about something I had written.

Fortunately, I was having a drink at the moment with Johnny Kerr, the former basketball player who now broadcasts the Chicago Bulls game. John, normally a mild-mannered fellow, politely asked them why they were raising such a loud fuss. They told him to shut his mouth. John's face turned red and he stood up. And up. He's almost 7 feet tall. That seemed to pacify them and calm was restored to the bar.

On another occasion, a prominent Chicago officeholder spotted me in the lobby of a hotel where a political rally had been held. He, too, didn't like something I wrote, so he walked over, put his face about a foot from mine, opened his mouth and made a loud vomiting sound.

I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing. Then he did it again. Several seconds passed, and he did it a third time. A small crowd had gathered, since it was an unusual performance. After he did it a fourth time, some of his friends grabbed his arms and led him away. But over his shoulder, he shouted: "That's what you are [deleted] puke."

No, I'm not writing my memoirs. I related those incidents simply to show that when you are in the news business, it isn't unusual for people to treat you rudely. It goes with the job.

Anyone who has worked as a reporter long enough gets doors slammed in his face, is told off and might even have to duck a punch or two. It doesn't happen every day or very often, but it happens.

I mention this because (and I regret to inform you) Lisa Olson is in the news again.

You remember Lisa Olson. Can anybody forget Lisa Olson?

For those who were on Mars last year, Lisa Olson is the sports reporter at the Boston Herald who became the focus of a national debate when several nude idiots on the New England Patriots football team brandished their male appendages at her.

The incident was compounded when the owner of the team made some stupid sexist remarks.

So the argument raged on for weeks: Should female reporters be in the locker rooms of football teams, or any other male sports organizations?

It was kind of a fun flap, with thousands of Americans writing silly letters to newspapers saying that Ms. Olson was a hussy and all she wanted to do was gaze at a man's groin; and others saying the players were nothing but barbarians and rapists at heart.

It finally quieted down. The athletes went on taking their showers and giving interviews. The female reporters, of whom there are many, went on going into the locker rooms, as they had for years.

And I thought I had heard the last of the matter. I hoped so, since I had written several columns defending the right of Lisa Olson or any other woman to do a reporting job, and received my share of goofy mail.

But now Lisa Olson has done what so many Americans do when their feelings are in any way wounded. She has sued.

Her suit, against the National Football League, three players, the team owner and two team executives, says she was sexually harassed, her civil rights were violated, and that she suffered emotional distress and damage to her professional reputation.

Oh, come on, Lisa, spare me the heartbreak. You get mad, you raise hell, maybe you even write something nasty about the clods. But running to court with a lawsuit? If anything, doing that says: "Oh, I am a fragile, trembly female, and my life has been ruined by your boorish behavior." And that makes female reporters who have been on far tougher assignments and been treated a lot rougher look foolish.

If Ms. Olson will check her newspaper's morgue, as the library used to be called, I'm sure she'll find stories and editorials that were written about how America's courts are being buried under a mountain of lawsuits that should never have been filed; and how we are the most litigation-crazed country in the world. She has now added to that paper mountain.

Sorry, kid, I was on your side when the mopes gave you a bad time. But when you take the position that what amounts to stupid behavior by stupid people requires the involvement of lawyers, a judge and maybe a jury, you're getting as silly as the football players.

I hope Ms. Olson isn't setting a precedent for other female reporters.

Take my advice, female-person sports journalists: Don't sue. As I suggested last year, just carry a big set of gardening shears in your purse.

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