Let me take you inside a men’s locker room before a big game.
It’s a mess. There are bags, shoes, athletic equipment, food and drinks strewn all over the floor and on the seats, creating an impossible maze that you have to sidestep your way through. Oh, and make sure you don’t step on the players stretching on the floor.
The air that hits your nostrils has that combination of Omega and rubbing alcohol. Apart of the human voices, the most distinct sound that reaches your ears is the sharp yanking of athletic tape from the rolls.
The moment you crack open the door and step into this world, all eyes swivel to you and stay on you. You’re the only foreigner inside the room, and because of all the probing eyes, every molecule in your body knows it. You’re being watched, from the tips of your hair down to the soles of your feet. Spotlight, on.
For eight years, I have been ducking in and out of men’s locker rooms to put together game reports for my job as a basketball courtside reporter — first in the UAAP, then in the PBL, then in the PBA, and in various smaller leagues, events and games in between.
The job description includes being the eyes and ears of the viewing public in the locker room, with the team, before, during and even after a game. It means getting your story, telling your story, to keep fans and viewers informed of what’s really happening in the game, on and off the court. It’s a great job. You meet amazing people, see incredible talent firsthand, and have a pretty good time.
But the job description also includes dealing with difficult personalities who don’t want to have anything to do with you, having to extract answers from shy players that go beyond a single word, and yes, if you happen to be female, the tidal wave of testosterone that hits you as soon as you open the door to that locker room.
You don’t have to be a genius or a sports expert to figure out what all that testosterone makes essentially good men do. Most male athletes and sports personalities are great guys — polite, gentlemanly, awesome company — and quite a few of them have become very good friends of mine. But not everyone handles the pressure, the stress, the hormones the right way. And sometimes those who can’t hack it take it out on the unsuspecting female who walks through that locker room door.
I’ve fallen victim to many an uncomfortable situation that involved lewd remarks or jokes, maybe even a hand grabbing a butt cheek. And you know what? I’ve never complained, never told anyone about them. Why? Because from the very beginning, I have been told, I have been conditioned that “all that” comes with the job of having to deal with athletes.
In light of the ongoing sexual harassment case complaint filed by former Philippine Olympic Committee president Cristy Ramos against members of the Philippine national men’s football team Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado, sexual harassment in the world of sports has been brought to the forefront. I cannot comment directly on the case, nor can I take sides, because I don’t have all the details.
But regardless, sexual harassment in the men’s locker room exists. It’s happened to me, and I’m willing to bet that it’s happened to every other female sports journalist.
There have been many opinions and comments about the Ramos-Azkals case, but what has hit home, at least for me, is the reaction that because Ms. Ramos was in the locker room, she should have expected the inappropriate behavior toward her.
It’s been re-worded, re-phrased but in all its different reincarnations, it is always implied that instead of being the victim, Ms. Ramos brought it upon herself precisely because she was in that damn locker room, where testosterone levels were flying, and any woman who step in is a lamb willingly presenting herself to the wolves — that she somehow deserves what she got.
So, every time a female sports journalist steps into that room to get a report, she’s asking for it too? Given that particular reaction from many commenters, I guess so. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that it’s okay, that it’s even right, for men to act that way towards women in such situations. It’s become regulation. It’s become the norm. That’s why female sports journalists are made to brush it off, as a peril of the job.
But why? Why is it OK that it’s become an accepted norm of society for that proverbial wolves’ den to exist? How can people even suggest that women deserve sexual harassment because they lead themselves into that situation? To suggest that a self-respecting woman looks for it is just twisting the truth so far beyond recognition, that we can’t even see anymore that bad behavior is just that — bad, unacceptable behavior.
This isn’t just limited to the sports world. It’s telling of our society, how we as a people react to an issue like sexual harassment. Just because something is the norm doesn’t mean that it’s right. And just because something is the norm doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge it.
Lia Cruz is the host of Home Court, a regular segment on PBA on AKTV every Wednesday. As a sports reporter, she has covered the PBA, the NBA, the UAAP, and many other events. For more updates, follow her on Twitter or visit her blog.