Allison Van Pelt* has worked “for the better part of a decade” in multiple jobs in and around professional football. Before today, I knew who she was, but relatively little about her experience in the game. In the wake of this this Ines Sainz/Clinton Portis business, Allison wanted to deliver some of her thoughts on how women have been treated in the game over the course of her career. We were only too happy to accommodate.
I was recently told by a superior that I am lucky to work for a company that gives me the respect they do, given that I am a female in the football industry.
The part about getting respect here is true. I certainly no longer feel uncomfortable, as I did when I was working for other football-related organizations. I don’t have to worry about ignoring the type of comments that Ines Sainz heard from Jets players and coaches, and Brett Favre isn’t sending me pictures of his junk.
But does that mean I should consider myself lucky? That would be like saying that all women in the corporate world are “lucky” that they no longer live in a Mad Men-esque world, where looking as attractive as possible to your employer is considered a career goal.
The fact that the inappropriate treatment of women is still somehow extremely prevalent in the football industry doesn’t make it right.
When I worked for a football team, I was put into all kinds of awkward situations. One player, who always yelled “hey sugar” across the room to every female he saw passing by, also constantly stopped to lick his lips while staring at my toes and ask me if he could lick barbeque sauce off of them.
Another would simply walk up very close to me, usually while I was having a work-related conversation with someone else, and simply look me up and down, make some sort of sexual grunting noise, then walk away.
A Hall of Fame coach, though what he said to me was almost always perfectly work-appropriate, said these things while looking…well, not at my face.
Even recently, when I was introduced to a team owner, I was given an awkwardly long handshake with a thorough up-and-down eyeing. At the end of the conversation, my colleague was invited to dinner and told to “bring this pretty young lady” with him.
Now, could I have perhaps avoided all of these things by refusing to wear open-toed shoes, leaving my hair in disarray, and wearing no make-up to work? Perhaps. Although my body and my outfits look nothing like Sainz’s, I don’t exactly try to make myself look as unappealing as possible. But the point is that I shouldn’t have to. If I want to look nice, that shouldn’t be considered an invite to treat me like a sexual object.
Wearing heels and a relatively modest dress to work should never be interpreted as a woman “asking for it.”
I don’t think that everything Sainz wore was work-appropriate, and I know many other women in the industry who dress provocatively specifically to get attention. I won’t pretend to support their behavior. However, these women are simply not professionals, and they WILL eventually get weeded out of this business.
What I have a major problem with is the fact that the MEN who act inappropriately will not. They and many of their fans will simply make excuses like, “She was asking for the players to say something with the way she was dressed,” or “How do you expect 53 guys to act when they’re in the locker room?”
Well, my answer to the second question is, “Like professional athletes”. Emphasis on the “professional”. This is your job and you are at work, and in no other industry would behaving the way you do towards female co-workers be acceptable. Football should not be an exception.
Many football players are wonderful guys and complete gentlemen, and I’m sorry that you have to be lumped in with your colleagues who have no self-control or sense of workplace decorum. But if all of you, as a group, want to be considered grown men with intelligence and stop being stereotyped as barbaric cavemen, you will have to show each other that it is simply not okay to act like the latter.
And as for you, Clinton Portis – no, I’m not interested in you, your teammates, or any of your packages. Thanks for asking.
*Allison Van Pelt is a pseudonym. Our author did not wish to disclose her identity.