Before this weekend, perhaps only Miss Universe Pageant fans or sports fans in Mexico had heard of Ines Sainz. But today, we know her as a beautiful sports reporter who was sexually harassed by members and staff of the New York Jets football team. Or wasn’t sexually harassed at all. Or is skeptical about whether to label what happened to her. In any case, Ines Sainz may not call what happened to her “sexual harassment,” but she did say this to The New York Post last night: “I felt very uncomfortable … Women should be treated professionally, and they deserve to be treated with respect.”
Ines Sainz is a former Miss Universe beauty pageant queen and a sports reporter for a Mexican TV station, TV Azteca. This weekend, she was on hand for a Jets practice in Florham Park, New Jersey, for an interview with QB Mark Sanchez. Her presence did not go unnoticed by men on staff. According to the NY Post, Jets coach Rex Ryan and defensive back coach purposefully overthrew passes to Jets players so they would land near Sainz. Another Jet, who is as yet unnamed, shouted at her, “I want to play with a Mexican” and “Eres muy guapa (you are very beautiful)” in Spanish, Sainz said. In the locker room after the game, players “allegedly hooted and hollered when Sainz walked in,” according to the New York Post. Tara Sullivan, a sports columnist for The Bergen Record in New Jersey, told NPR, “[Player] Chris Jenkins stood behind [Sainz] as she was in the center of the room, and ogled her from behind with his jaw hanging open.” That behavior prompted a female sports reporter to speak up for Sainz, which caused Jenkins to yell at them both, “This is our locker room!”
Granted, it’s not the most egregious case of sexual harassment — but not all sexual harassment is ass-grabbing. It’s sexual harassment because it is disrespectful, unwelcome and, most importantly, unprofessional behavior in a work setting.
It is unclear if Sainz herself ever went to an authority about the Jets behavior. What she did do, though, was tweet while it was happening. Sainz tweeted to say she was “dying of embarrassment.” Sainz also tweeted, “Jeans and a white button-downed blouse with boots is not wearing something inappropriate” and that she was not “inappropriately dressed.” (FYI, her tweets are in Spanish, so I am relying on translations as reported by the NY Post.)
The locker room antics came to the attention of the Jets management somehow (the media?) and their response was swift. NFL security and lawyers from the Jets have been interviewing other sports reporters about the players behavior and the Jets’ owners released the following statement:
“The New York Jets believe that reporters have a job to do, and it is our obligation to provide them with proper and professional access. [Team owner] Woody Johnson spoke with Ines Sainz of TV Azteca today to discuss the time she spent covering the team yesterday. He stressed to Ines that he expects all members of the Jets organization to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times.”
The Association of Women in Sports Media will also be hosting an “educational session” with the Jets next week at the request of the Jets owners. (One wonders if their hasty response was motivated by recent criticisms of the NFL for reducing the number of games player Ben Roethlisberger is banned from after he was accused of sexual assault several times. Perhaps they are more sensitive lately to the fact fans don’t take kindly to boorish treatment of women?) Personally, I believe this is about the best response you could ask for in this situation — although I think Tara Sullivan, the sports columnist for The Bergen Record made a good point on NPR when she accused the Jets of being “in reaction mode instead of being proactive,” since “[the Jets] had PR people, public relations staff members who were in the locker room and did not intervene in this incident, which is troubling.”
Back to Sainz: with all the public attention on the sexual harassment, she started backpedaling and downplaying the incident. Which, in my opinion, is contributing to the public perception that what happened to her was not a big deal. In her broadcast on Sunday night, Sainz said, “In my opinion, I never felt attacked, nor that they reacted grossly toward me,” continuing to explain, “I arrived in the locker room and there were comments and games. One of the other reporters came up to me and apologized for what was happening, but I thought [the players] were joking around.” ‘
Sainz also told CNN that on a phone call with Woody Johnson, she tried to “calm him down” and assured him, “Don’t worry, it’s not as serious as you probably believe it,’” and “It was definitely a joking tone, very amicable … I wasn’t offended.” At the Jets game on Monday night, Sainz told the NY Post she thought little of the team’s behavior. “I heard the noise. I knew they were talking about me,” she said. “I was just focusing on my job.” Sainz even downplayed what happened based on Twitter messages she tweeted on Monday morning:
“I already spoke to the NFL, which will decide if there will or will not be consequences. I can say that at the time I didn’t want to pay attention to what was happening but the rest of the media heard clearly and in solidarity have denounced what happened, hoping that there is always a respectful climate.”
Guess what, Ines? Even if you were not gallingly offended or hurt by what happened to you, it still doesn’t mean sexual harassment is something you or any other woman should have to put up with. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, even if personally you did not feel “offended.”
Now, I don’t mean to seem like I’m chastising Ines Sainz for not behaving like a “good victim” — i.e., one who storms the barricades fighting the injustice that has befallen her. People who are mistreated have all sorts of different responses to what happens to them. But I think we have to take note of what Sainz’s language and behavior is saying about how she was treated, even if she’s not naming it as sexual harassment. Sainz never denied what happened; she just said she didn’t feel “offended” or “attacked,” but felt “uncomfortable.” I interpret this as not wanting to rock the boat, because let’s face it: being seen as uptight or a scold, someone who can’t pal around with the guys, is not appealing to some women, especially if you’re a reporter who covers a male-dominated sport. Sainz would not be the first woman to downplay sexual harassment so she doesn’t threaten her own career by looking like a complainer. (For a “Mad Men” example, think how Peggy Olsen is treated in the office versus Joan Holloway.) It’s telling to me that Ines said another reporter came up to her and “apologized for what was happening.” Clearly, someone thought the behavior was objectionable and Sainz’s language certainly implies she knows in her gut the way she was treated is wrong.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a sexual harassment scandal if the old “But what was she wearing?” question didn’t get dragged out of the basement. The fact that she is a former Miss Universe — not a demographic known for walking around in a Snuggie — probably doesn’t help. And to be fair, Sainz forwarded that “But I don’t look like a slut!” narrative herself when she tweeted about how she wasn’t dressed “inappropriately.” Of course, it’s a natural impulse to defend oneself; perhaps it’s even a knee-jerk reaction for women specifically to assure everyone we were dressed modestly and weren’t asking for it. The result, though, is that now the tabloid media is reporting Sainz’s every outfit change in an inappropriate, sexually charged fashion: “a sexy dress,” “a black dress with a plunging neckline,” “tight jeans.” And don’t even get me started on a slideshow by The Daily Caller, a website run by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, which was titled “Baby Got Back” and showed pictures of Ines Sainz’s boobs and rear end.
Then again, I’m not surprised that the media’s treatment of Ines Sainz — nude modeling Miss Universe beauty queen that she may be — is as bad as anything that happened to her in that locker room.