With all the hubbub about "Hard Knocks" and the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, the New York Jets have something else to deal with – and unlike your average Rex Ryan soundbite, there's nothing funny about it. Inés Sainz of the Mexican television network TV Azteca, claimed that she was harassed by players and coaches in practice and in the team's locker room last Saturday. From the New York Times:
The New York Post reported that during drills, Dennis Thurman, the team's defensive backs coach, purposely overthrew passes that landed near Sainz on the sideline. The Post also reported that linebacker Jason Taylor(notes) volunteered to join the defensive backs. Players also reportedly made sexually suggestive comments in the locker room after practice. [...]
In a statement released by the Jets, [team owner Woody] Johnson stressed to Sainz that "he expects all members of the Jets organization to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times."
Johnson has said that interviews with players and coaches will begin after the season opener as part of an investigation that also involves the league office. "Right now, we're working with the league and we're doing all the fact-finding, checking the facts, doing the interviews," Johnson told ESPN New York. "Interviews with the players will start [Tuesday]. We've talked to some of the non-players, but [Tuesday] we'll get into it all."
Johnson offered Sainz what was described as an "open apology."
"I called her the minute I found out about it, and I finally spoke to her later on in the day," Johnson told ESPN. "We take this very, very seriously, as you can imagine. We want all of our reporters, female or male, to be comfortable wherever they are, on the sideline, in the locker room or at a game. We have to make the working environment professional, representing the New York Jets well."
Sainz told CNN.com that she has acceped the Jets' apology. "I said thanks to him for the concern and all the rest of the team, because he promised that he is going to make everybody on his team respect ... women," she said. "And I think the important point is that women deserve respect in any profession, so I think it's going to happen."
The Association for Women in Sports Media has filed a complaint on Sainz's behalf, and Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has spoken with Joanne Gerstner of the organization.
Judy Battista, the NFL writer for the New York Times, told me Monday afternoon that as the alleged incident would have been ongoing, she was most surprised that the PR staff wouldn't have put a stop to whatever was supposedly going on.
Battista also said that she's never encountered such behavior from the players she's covered, and that she's not aware of any other female reporter (she estimates that there are at least four who cover the New York football teams on a regular basis) dealing with stuff like that.
Tara Sullivan of the Bergen County (N.J.) Record wrote an interesting article in which she enlisted the opinions of several New York Giants players on the matter. "Just be respectful," defensive tackle Justin Tuck(notes) said. "Some guys might not like it, but it's not that big a deal. For me, I've got six sisters. I know how I would want them to be treated. Not like that."
Giants executive VP of public relations Pan Hanlon spoke to Battista's concern with Sullivan:
"I would expect [the PR staff] to intercede and make sure it doesn't go beyond the line. That's one of the many things we talk to the players about, that if they have an issue with the media, they should come to us. That's what we're here for. ... When we talk about the media, we don't make a distinction between male and female reporters. We remind our players that as a group, the media is to be dealt with professionally."
"No matter what you say about it, whether you want to try to be politically correct or whatever, it's uncomfortable," Giants center Shaun O'Hara(notes) said. "It's uncomfortable to me to have any media in the locker room and I think it's also for the women in the locker room. But all they want is to do their jobs and be treated fairly."
The real danger in this scenario is that amateur moralists will undoubtedly climb up on their soapboxes and claim that whether this incident happened or not, Rex Ryan's cavalier attitude toward profanity in public forums lead to a "loose" environment that would somehow predicate such incidents. That's the easy way out, for those who don't want to acknowledge that the Jets can run a professional organization and color outside the box when it comes to the "Miss Manners" stuff. Those who spend time around the Jets, as Battista does, seem to be far more surprised that this could happen at all.
It's an odd situation, and one that will get far more coverage in the days to come.