Woody Johnson owns the New York Jets, who are making headlines for the wrong reasons. Poor play, resulting in a season-opening loss on national television, and even worse behavior, triggering a National Football League investigation into whether a female reporter was mistreated in the team’s locker room.
Johnson wasted little time contacting Ines Sainz, a reporter with TV Azteca, to offer his apologies on behalf of the organization. Good move.
But, as any football coach will tell you, and here’s the lesson for every sports team owner to extract from this kerfuffle, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. A wide receiver, for instance, is taught to catch the ball at its apex. Waiting for it to fall courts failure by giving a defender a better chance of disrupting the play.
Well, Johnson waited for the ball to fall. Lots of team owners do, especially when the topic is boys-being-boys. When the subject is the game itself, which player to draft, which play to run, owners should hire smart people and get out of their way. When it comes to standards of conduct and the consequences of falling short, however, the boss must be the most visible and vocal member of the organization.
It’s his team, his investment. And, most importantly, his name to protect.
‘Dying of Embarrassment’
The back story:
From what we can gather, an assistant coach during practice tossed passes in Sainz’s direction so that his players could get close to her. Then, once in the locker room, where Sainz was waiting to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez, an undetermined number of players greeted her with ogles and catcalls. Whatever was said and done was enough that Sainz, via Twitter, made note that she was “dying of embarrassment.”
We can only surmise that the players and coaches did what they did, and said what they said, because they thought it was acceptable.
It’s why hockey player Sean Avery thought nothing of crudely disparaging an ex-girlfriend to a TV reporter. Or why Chicago White Sox players thought it was a good idea to insert a baseball bat in the rear ends of female blowup dolls and call it a slump-buster.
And it’s why some Jets players thought it alright to whistle and hoot at a reporter who once at a Super Bowl media day had the temerity to grab players’ biceps for a puff piece about who had the strongest arms.
Heck, one of Sainz’s colleagues at TV Azteca once wore a wedding dress to media day, which courts the cameras of Access Hollywood just as much as ESPN, where she pestered Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to marry her. Sports is entertainment, folks. Not everyone watches to dissect the intricacies of New England’s 3-4 defense.
The Jets welcomed Sainz into their locker room, which, contrary to what many players and coaches contend, isn’t their exclusive domain. It’s a workplace for journalists, too.
What Sainz wears, and the questions she asks, is immaterial. This is about one thing: how the Jets behaved.
And that’s on Johnson, who has the responsibility as owner to establish from the outset what he expects -- make that demands -- from his employees.
What the Jets do, what they say, how they behave, is a reflection of the owner.
The Man Responsible
Johnson was the team’s point man for selling luxury suites and tickets that require personal seat licenses. He could have used some of that time and energy to remind his players that they represent the organization and need to act accordingly.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made bad behavior his personal crusade. He sees the importance of, as the league likes to say, protecting the shield, meaning the NFL logo.
No longer is the litmus test a court of law. Players are suspended simply for casting themselves, their teams and the league in a negative light.
Consider Ben Roethlisberger. There was no guilty verdict, no plea bargain. Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback received an unpaid, unwanted, four-game vacation after being accused of sexually assaulting two women.
Johnson should suspend anyone involved in this boorish behavior, even though his team needs a win against rival New England on Sunday. Speaking of the Patriots, 20 years ago they had their own locker-room ugliness, subjecting a female reporter to humiliating treatment for which they were sued. The team settled.
The NFL this week sent its 32 teams a letter, which in part asks players to please remember that female reporters are professionals and should be treated as such. Pathetic that such a reminder is needed.
Still, Johnson should personally hand a copy to every coach and player, emphatically reminding them that they work for him.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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