Defending Clinton Portis, The NFL's Supposed Misogynistic Monster

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Okay, the Ines Sainz story has already been beaten to death, so I'll try to keep this brief.

In light of what happened with the New York Jets, though, it seems like there's been some sort impromptu referendum on women's rights that's emerged. And that's fine; women in pro sports deserve as many advocates as they can get. They face an uphill battle to gaining credibility, and even if they get to the point where people take them seriously, if they're even moderately attractive, people cite their looks whenever they talk about their success. 

So it's cool with me if people want to take every opportunity they can to try and emphasize the importance of women's rights. Annoying, yes, but not inherently wrongheaded or problematic on its own.

The problem arises, however, when something like the Ines Sainz situation gets blown out of proportion mainly to prove a broader point, and it sparks resentment among people who don't know enough to realize that we're talking about women's rights, in general, and not Ines Sainz.

Because by any stretch, this Ines Sainz thing shouldn't be a big deal. At all. She went to a Jets practice and coaches threw passes that led players to run closer to her. Then she went to an NFL locker room for the first time in her life and caused a stir. Nobody exposed themselves, nobody grabbed her, nobody said anything offensive, and she wasn't offended by any of it. That's the extent of what happened.

Which brings us to Clinton Portis' comments on the radio yesterday:

"You know man, I think you put women reporters in the locker room in positions to see guys walking around naked, and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room, I think men are gonna tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman."

That's just... 100% true. I'm sorry, but if you're in a room with 53 naked dudes and a gorgeous reporter walks into the room, you're going to look at her instead the naked dudes to your left and right. Right?

"And I mean, you put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her. You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she's gonna want somebody. I don't know what kind of woman won't, if you get to go and look at 53 men's packages. And you're just sitting here, saying 'Oh, none of this is attractive to me.' I know you're doing a job, but at the same time, the same way I'm gonna cut my eye if I see somebody worth talking to, I'm sure they do the same thing."

This one, particularly the "packages" comment, was more controversial. And maybe he's being demeaning to women, but really, he's just saying that people are human, and humans can't help but notice other attractive humans. It's not necessarily politically correct, but women don't (and shouldn't) become androgynous the moment they put on a press pass.

And men are the same way. When you work as a pro athlete, it's rare to have females in the work place. When they enter, it's hard not to notice, or pretend that nothing's different. Sorry, but Ines Sainz in skin-tight jeans is a little more eye-catching than Bob Glauber sweating through a baggy suit. Is it right to call attention to someone's looks? No, but it's not really evil, is it?

Which brings me to the vicious Portis backlash, typified by this column from Yahoo! Sports:

Portis is a clown. This was ignorant. This was pathetic. This was insulting, both to the many professional women covering the league and Portis’ peers, most of who are far more enlightened and compassionate than him.

And that's where I draw the line. It's one thing to use this opportunity to make a point about the importance of women's rights and the ongoing plight of female reporters searching for legitimacy in the male-dominated world of sports. It's another to turn Clinton Portis into a misogynist monster for, essentially, stating the obvious.

As the column continues, Dan Wetzel writes:

They are mothers and wives and daughters and serious professionals. They are educated, intelligent and dutiful. They are workers trying to hold onto a paycheck in challenging times for their industry. This is modern America, where talent and hard work need to be respected.

Which is funny, because last night, completely unprompted by me, my mom called to say what they're doing to Clinton Portis is totally unfair. She's a mother, she's a wife, she's a daughter, and she's a serious professional. She's worked on Capitol Hill for thirty years as a lobbyist for women's health, and she's just about the most successful woman I know.

And my mom thinks the whole thing is just ridiculous. "I'm sorry," she said, "but if that lady thought she could wear that outfit into a locker room full of football players and have them not notice, then she's just insane. I mean, what does anyone expect?"

It's matter of feminism vs. pragmatism. We can grant that men and women are intellectual equals and capable of great reporting regardless of gender, but that doesn't mean the differences between men and women are just going to disappear.

"The package stuff, I don't know about all that," my mom continued. "But if you're as attractive as that reporter is, you have to know what's going to happen walking into a room with 100 guys. It's probably been happening to her for her entire life. It's happened to me my entire life. But for some reason, it seems they're making Portis out to be this horrible scumbag."

Yes, for some reason...

It's because while Portis is citing human nature, columnists would rather focus on nurturing this ideal for humanity that's just plain, unrealistic. The idea that athletes won't notice a beautiful female reporter from Mexico as opposed to some schleppy beat writer from North Jersey. Are we being serious here?

And of course, we ignore the idea that good looks could ever benefit a female reporter. The idea that it's a lot more lucrative to be Erin Andrews than, say, ESPN sideline reporter Rob Stone. Does Rob Stone get teased by Rey Maualuga? No, but Rob Stone's also never going to be on the Dancing With The Stars.

Maybe the dynamic's not "right" for either side, but it's real. And while it's a lot more comforting to condemn someone like Clinton Portis and pat ourselves on the back for collective enlightenment, the truth is more complicated. There are advantages and disadvantages to being Ines Sainz, Erin Andrews, or my mother, a reality that those women would freely admit. But we won't let that happen, because it makes us feel better to champion this cause on their behalf, even if it means turning someone like Clinton Portis into a villain for speaking honestly about the realities of an NFL locker room. 

And that's okay, I guess. The cycle of judgment with these things isn't right, either, but it's real, and tragically predictable. But just for the record, if we're going to have a serious discussion about all this, I'd rather be sane than sanctified.

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