On Saturday, multiple reporters contacted us regarding the events that transpired at the Jets facility when Ines Sainz of TV Azteca visited practice. We were told that the players behaved like “frat boys” in her presence. Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post chronicled some of the on-field behavior on Twitter and in a subsequent column; we shared some of the details of the treatment she received in the locker room. (ESPNNewYork.com has reported some of the same details.)
Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News, in a Monday appearance with yours truly on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, was present for the practice, and Armstrong said that the players’ conduct in his view was not appropriate.
And so the league is investigating, the team is investigating, the team will interview players on Tuesday, owner Woody Johnson has apologized to Sainz, and a complaint has been filed by the Association for Women in Sports Media.
The problem is that Sainz has provided mixed messages regarding the question of whether she was disturbed or offended by the behavior. As chronicled by ESPNNewYork.com, Sainz posted Twitter messages suggesting that she was embarrassed and/or offended.
“I die of embarrassment!” she said in one tweet, which was translated from Spanish. “I am in the locker room of the Jets waiting for Mark Sanchez while trying not to look to anywhere!” She later posted, “Thanks all for your support and
concern. I already testified before the NFL, and now is up to them to
decide whether or not there will be consequences!”
Per the New York Post, Sainz added, “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
In other statements and messages she said that she was never offended nor threatened. John Sutcliffe of ESPN Deportes said that Sainz told him that she was surprised by the fact that “the print media had made a big fuss about it,” and she said that she “never felt harassed.”
The disconnect comes from the apparent fact that the behavior, even if objectively not appropriate, apparently was not unwelcome by Sainz. She admits that she wasn’t offended, and the Post subtly has been playing the “she asked for it” card by pointing out her attire at the practice and other facts suggesting that she intentionally tries to attract the kind of attention she received.
From a legal standpoint, the zone of harassment in cases like this expands to include reporters who witnessed the conduct and who were offended by it. It’s a common phenomenon in many workplaces. If the male employees are saying objectively inappropriate things to a female employee who invites the comments and never complains, other employees who witnessed the conduct legitimately can be offended, and they can become victims of actionable sexual harassment.
That’s why the NFL and the Jets have moved so quickly. The first task for the lawyers in a situation of this nature is to ensure that the person who was the target of the conduct was not offended — and thus is not inclined to file suit. Then the question becomes whether the behavior triggered collateral issues, such as other reporters (female or male) being offended by the behavior.
And even if Sainz enjoyed the attention and secretly relishes the publicity that she has received in the wake of the incident, the Jets know that they can’t allow this kind of stuff to happen at all because, eventually, someone will sue over it. Even without a lawsuit, the notion that players are subjecting females to inappropriate conduct — even if it’s welcome — is not the kind of message that the NFL ever wants to send, especially at a time when the NFL is trying to attract more and more female fans.