AN AMERICAN VIEW

Into the den of the dinosaur

Reporter Lisa Olson says that she suffered ‘nothing less than mind rape’ in the New England Patriots’ locker room

FRED BRUNING October 22 1990
AN AMERICAN VIEW

Into the den of the dinosaur

Reporter Lisa Olson says that she suffered ‘nothing less than mind rape’ in the New England Patriots’ locker room

FRED BRUNING October 22 1990

Into the den of the dinosaur

AN AMERICAN VIEW

Reporter Lisa Olson says that she suffered ‘nothing less than mind rape’ in the New England Patriots’ locker room

FRED BRUNING

When a gang of naked dimwits harassed Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson in the locker room of the New England Patriots, Americans learned anew that social progress is slippery as stewed fruit, that football players may be precisely as thuggish as everyone assumes and that the millionaire owners of professional sports franchises are apt to display the moral resolve of hijackers and cattle thieves.

Excuses and denials abound, but let us note that, in the field of equal employment, organized athletics rarely has done more than slouch towards enlightenment. In 1978, a U.S. Federal Court ruled that a womap reporter for Sports Illustratedbe allowed into the New York Yankees locker room—confirmation that the U.S. Constitution applies even to those who eam a fortune snoozing in the dugout and scratching their private parts on network TV. Not until seven years later did Major League Baseball and the National Football League order clubs to stop the nonsense, open the doors and let female journalists do their jobs. Such is the pace of progress in the big time.

Since then, the good old boys who run the show and the younger versions who play the game seemed more or less to accept the arrival of women into their domain. Certain athletes and coaches actually made a special effort to be hospitable or at least to treat female reporters no more coarsely than males. Under the best of circumstances, the locker room can be hostile territory. Any professional writer—man or woman—knows that going in.

Holdouts were notable, of course. Dave Kingman, the sourpuss slugger whose civility always stood in inverse ratio to his alpine proportions, once mailed a rat to a female writer. Six years ago, several real men on the San Diego Padres humiliated a woman baseball writer with X-rated assertions. Occasionally, some oversized adolescent sends a jockstrap flying towards a woman writer, and there is a

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.

constant gush of commentary that seems purloined from the script of Porky’s Revenge.

Sleaziness announced itself again this year, when Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers told reporter Jennifer Frey he would not talk to a woman while undressed, except if he were atop his inquisitor. In tum, Bo Schembechler, former football coach at the University of Michigan and now Tigers president, defended Morris and offered his personal view of an orderly universe. “No female member of my family would be inside a men’s locker room regardless of their job description,” said Schembechler— a remark one suspects Bo uttered without first consulting the distaff side of his household.

Though embarrassing and insipid, the Morris interlude is eclipsed by the Lisa Olson story. According to Olson’s account, she suffered “nothing less than mind rape” when Patriots tight end Zeke Mowatt and several other unclothed players gathered round during her interview with comerback Maurice Hurst. “She’s in here, give her what she wants,” Olson recalls Mowatt saying. Once Mowatt sounded the traditional “every-woman-wantsit” theme, anything was possible, of course, and what Olson says transpired came uncomfortably close to criminal activity.

“I turned so I was facing into the locker, sitting sideways,” Olson told Newsday sports columnist Steve Jacobson. “Two seconds later, he’s standing inches away from my face and he fondled himself. ‘Did you say this is what you want?’ Mowatt said.” The reporter noted that she did not look at other players in the offending group but tried to focus on the eyes of her subject, Hurst. “I could leave at any time, but I was doing my job, which was to complete the interview. After eight or 10 minutes, it was so nerve-racking, I kept losing my train of thought, and I had to leave.”

One can only imagine how hilarious this must have seemed to Mowatt and his band of merry dunces. Fear, humiliation, insensitivity—their little passion play had it all. Until the story hit the papers, and trouble began to boil, the boys must have had a fabulous time recalling the affair. Such laughs! Such howls! Such knuckleheads! As a football team, the current Patriots are not much of a menace. But when it comes to off-field intimidation—well, some of these chaps are headed for the Hall of Fame.

After Olson complained, Mowatt admitted confronting the reporter but denied her most serious charges, explaining his “religious values” did not allow for such behavior. Also ducking for cover was Victor Kiam, owner of the Patriots and president of Remington Products Inc. Kiam was overheard by two sports reporters calling Olson “a classic bitch” but, soon enough, the boss was spreading blame like fertilizer and even hinted bravely he would fire the Pats’ general manager.

Next came full-page newspaper ads in which Kiam challenged what the reporters swore they heard so clearly and assured Olson he held her in high regard—sentiments that struck many as absurd. By then, the National Organization for Women had suggested a boycott of his electric shavers. Was Kiam filled with remorse, or just worried that female consumers would think twice before mowing their legs with the Lady Remington line?

In the middle of the whole sorry affair, Sam Wyche, coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, saw fit to bar a female USA Today reporter from the team locker room. Wyche said he was merely acting in the best interests of his players and— imagine this!—their wives. Incredulous, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue promptly clobbered the coach with a $30,000 fine. To its everlasting credit, the league also hired former Watergate investigator Philip Heymann to review the Mowatt case.

And why not? The issue of females in the locker room is serious business. Stand in the way of a person doing her work, humiliate her, question her intentions, drive her away and you have put yourself in the camp of every employment-office bully who has denied someone a job for the wrong reason—from shade of skin to cut of hair. If players have trouble understanding such subtleties, fans might as well plead ignorance, too. At a game after the Mowatt incident, the Pats’ faithful spotted Lisa Olson and welcomed her with a ripping chorus of boos. No matter how they fare this year, the New England Patriots—owner and ticket holders included—already have finished last.