For Female Sportswriters, Little Has Changed Over 30 Years

August 03, 2009|By Susan Reimer

I think the president should invite Erin Andrews to the White House for a beer.

But if Mr. Obama wants to include the creepy peeping Tom who videotaped the ESPN reporter naked through a hole in her hotel room wall, plus all the clowns at Fox, CBS and the New York Post who televised the video or ran still pictures taken from it, he is going to need more than a picnic table on the White House lawn.

It seems to me that if the president of the United States is now refereeing community racial dust-ups, we ought to be able to count on him to step in when the national media and the world of sports demonstrate - 30 years after the courts granted women sports reporters equal status - that they haven't learned a thing.

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was taken from his own home in handcuffs. Ms. Andrews was videotaped while ironing, naked, in her hotel room. It is not hard for me to see who suffered the most harm:

Mr. Gates is hailed as a martyr to the cause of racial profiling and gets a trip to the White House for a beer with Mr. Obama and the white cop who arrested him. Ms. Andrews is written off as a bimbo who traded on her looks to land a job on sports television and is in seclusion.

A woman ran a seminal and nearly successful race for the Democratic nomination for president, and the Republican Party placed a woman on the national ticket for the first time. A woman is sitting in Walter Cronkite's chair. But give a woman a notebook or a microphone and ask her report on sports and it becomes a gross-out contest for the numskull players and their overgrown frat-boys fans.

Before there was a video of naked Erin Andrews on the Internet, there was film of a college player pretending to grind up against her backside during a game while she stood, unaware, on the sidelines, concentrating on the papers in her hand. The fans went crazy, of course, and the player took a bow.

Apparently, not much has changed since I was a rookie sports reporter in 1979.

The U.S. District Court in New York ordered the New York Yankees to grant a woman reporter from Sports Illustrated the same locker room access it granted male reporters, and Major League Baseball was forced to open its locker rooms to women reporters.

The Sun sent me to the Orioles locker room to report on the scene, and manager Earl Weaver refused to let me enter unless I had a note from my father.

Later that same season, Weaver asked me, in front of my colleagues from the local and national press, if I got "horny" when I entered the locker room. In the stunned silence that followed this incredible remark, Mr. Weaver declared that I was probably a lesbian anyway.

That was 30 years ago, and generations of women sportswriters have entered the business since, but they are still being treated as if they are window-shopping while they work.

Instead of just a moment of humiliation in the locker room - a colleague of mine once had a baseball player massage his private parts when she tried to ask him a question - women sports reporters are turning up on the Internet naked. Don't you love technology?

There is something about the mix of television, women and professional sports that is almost toxic, and it appears to numb the sensibilities of otherwise civilized men.

From the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders to Brandi Chastain's famous shirt-shedding moment in soccer. From the powerful pixies in gymnastics to the Williams sisters of tennis. Some men can't sort out the difference between looks and talent, or figure out how to respect a woman who has both.

But a naked video on the Internet? Pictures on the front page of the ? Video clips on "Fox and Friends," "The O'Reilly Factor" and the CBS "Early Show"? (Watch your back, Katie Couric; your bosses are in the tank on this one.)

"It speaks to the voyeurism that is the media landscape today," said Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters in Washington. "It would be a frightening place to be in the minds of people when they choose to run this kind of thing."

A report of the roasting Earl Weaver dealt me ended up in a national sports weekly. But at least I'd had my clothes on.

I spent the next three days holed up in my apartment, refusing to answer the door or the phone, trying to regain the nerve to face the world.

My guess is, Erin Andrews is going to need more than a beer to get her through this.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays.

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