by | Sep 30, 1990 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Let’s say your sister goes to the office one day and a group of guys surrounds her and starts giving her trouble. One pulls down his pants. He says, “Is this what you want?” They’re laughing. They think this is funny.

Your sister is humiliated. She comes home, visibly upset. And you’re ready to kill these guys, right? You want them fired. Now. They can’t get away with this.

Victor Kiam, the owner of the New England Patriots, would like to get away with it. So would his employees, the four or five football players who harassed a reporter named Lisa Olson in their locker room recently and set sports behavior back 20 years. Not that it was very advanced to begin with.

What they did was stick their private parts near her face and make suggestive comments. And now, having exposed their flesh, they’re ready to expose their audacity. They and Kiam — who reportedly called Olson “a classic bitch” after the incident — are diving into a very old safety net in sports:
“She didn’t belong there in the first place.”

And across the country, people who would load the rifle if this happened to their sisters are somehow, unbelievably, acting as if these football players are right. It’s the law Let’s get a few things straight. First of all, Olson belonged in that locker room as much as the next guy, and I mean guy, because right now, those are the rules. Women are allowed to cover pro teams. Same as men. Olson didn’t make that law, the Supreme Court did. You don’t like it? Fine. Pick a better way to protest than getting naked and doing an Andrew Dice

Clay impression.

But this is beside the point. This incident is not about sports writers, or access, or why male reporters don’t go into women’s locker rooms
(name one sport in which that is really necessary).

No. This is about the terrorizing of a human being. What the Patriots did to Lisa Olson you don’t do to a woman, you don’t do to a man, you don’t do to a dog.

I have seen this kind of behavior before in locker rooms. Gang mentality. Come on. Let’s get so-and-so. Remember, many of these players have been protected since high school, bailed out by coaches, agents and public relations men, then patted on the back and told, “That’s OK, big fella. Just win on Sunday.”

Thus spoiled, they figure there are two sets of rules, one for them, one for everybody else. And the line is the locker room wall. No less an authority than Bo Schembechler, who is usually smarter, recently blamed an ugly incident between Tigers pitcher Jack Morris and a female reporter on the fact that sports writers — both men and women — don’t understand “the sanctity of the locker room.”

Maybe not, Bo. But as long as that locker room is in America, there are laws to obey. And I don’t mean curfew. No fun for anyone You want to know the sickest part of this whole thing? The New England players accused Olson of leering at them the day before. She explained that she was waiting for an interview; they claimed she was hanging around, giving them the eye.

I doubt it. Let me explain something about locker rooms: They are cramped, open places, with no place for a reporter to sit. So you have to stand, rather foolishly, in the middle. And wait. You would rather be anywhere else, you try to avert your eyes, but lest you risk your subject running out the back door, you have to stand there. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s how you gather information for stories — the stories that help make these guys famous and rich.

Male reporters can do this and don’t get accused of leering. But, apparently, many players still feel that women, deep down, are basically cheerleaders, wanting only to jump in the sack with a football star. Consider the horrifying amount of sexual assault charges in recent years against pro and college athletes. Everything from fondling to rape.

That is no coincidence, folks. That is the sad result of a culture that teaches star athletes to take what they want.

But they can’t take a person’s dignity. This is unforgivable. Can you imagine if a group of white players surrounded a black reporter and began taunting him with racial slurs? It would be on “Nightline” for a week.

Olson’s case is no different. It was the terrorizing of a human being, and every Patriot involved should be suspended by the NFL. Kiam, the worst kind of owner, a rich bigot, should be suspended as well.

And after all this, if you still think these athletes were somehow justified, imagine if it was your sister they had harassed.

Because one day, it might be.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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