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NFL reaffirms commitment to equal access for all media

In reaffirming the NFL's commitment to equal access for all members of the news media, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Friday that the league will implement a training program for all 32 teams on proper conduct in the workplace and develop an expanded set of best practices for media relations. These programs and practices will supplement the league's current media policy and improve the ability of clubs to maintain a professional environment in the workplace.

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson has agreed to underwrite the training program, which also will be given to NFL rookies next year to help educate incoming players on how to deal professionally with news media and others in the workplace. The training program and related set of best practices will be developed by the NFL office in consultation with the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM). It will be implemented at each team on an expedited basis this season.

In reviewing the incident of Saturday, September 11, involving TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz during the Jets' practice and open locker-room time for the media, the NFL interviewed 17 individuals that were present, including Ms. Sainz. Commissioner Goodell determined that while there was unprofessional conduct, Woody Johnson and his staff acted promptly to correct the situation, including a personal apology to Ms. Sainz and arranging a professional education session for the Jets on workplace conduct.

"I believe this is the most constructive approach," Commissioner Goodell said. "There is no debate about the longstanding equal access rule of our media policy. The issue for us, like all organizations, is proper conduct in the workplace, whether it is dealing with the media, co-workers, fans, or others. It is our responsibility to provide a professional setting for members of the news media and other business associates that work with our teams and the league. We appreciate Woody Johnson stepping up promptly to properly manage the situation at his team and agreeing to underwrite this new initiative for all clubs."

In a letter to Mr. Johnson, Commissioner Goodell said, "The conduct of the Jets clearly should have been better last Saturday, but your prompt action in calling Ines Sainz and Mike Tannenbaum's subsequent discussions with Joanne Gerstner of AWSM have made clear the club's commitment -- and your personal commitment -- to ensure a respectful and professional environment for all members of the media."

Other excerpts from Commissioner Goodell's letter:

» "A fundamental and longstanding element of our media policies has been that accredited media - male and female - are entitled to equal access to the workplace and to NFL personnel, and there is no question that the practice field and locker room are part of that workplace. Any debate over whether women reporters belong in the locker room was settled long ago, and this incident offers no occasion to reopen that antiquated discussion. But in the NFL, the policy goes beyond simply access. The policy is designed to ensure that all reporters have a professional environment within which to do their work, and to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect between members of the media and those who work in the NFL."

» "Regarding last Saturday's practice, while there seems little doubt that passes were thrown in Sainz's direction at last Saturday's practice, it is also clear that she was never bumped, touched, brushed against, or otherwise subjected to any physical contact by any player or coach. Sainz herself was unequivocal in saying both that no physical contact occurred, and that no player or other Jets staff member made any comment or gesture that could be construed as threatening, demeaning or offensive."

» "As far as the locker room, Sainz explained that her postings on Twitter while in the locker room reflected her general lack of comfort in that setting, and were not related to any specific act, comment or gesture directed to her by any member of the Jets organization. She also advised in her interviews that she had not seen or heard any catcalls, sexually explicit or offensive comments or gestures directed at her, and did not believe she was subjected to any improper conduct. She was able to obtain the interview with Mark Sanchez and was quite satisfied with her conversation with him. She did not believe that the activity in the locker room interfered with her ability to do her job (namely, obtaining an interview with Sanchez), and did not identify any member of the Jets organization who did anything that was in her view improper. That being noted, Sainz did state that the locker room environment "could have been better."

» "Sainz's public remarks were consistent with her comments to NFL Security. For example, on September 13, she gave a televised interview on TV Azteca, in which she said, "I want to assure you that at no time did I feel offended, nor at risk, or in any danger. Simply it was a situation that comes from the natural context. I want to say that in my perception at no point did I feel attacked nor did I feel that there were gross things going on around me." At another point, she said, "It was definitely a joking tone, very amicable. I wasn't offended."

Other reporters who were in the locker room described the atmosphere as "juvenile, immature, high school," but "not over the top." Others agreed that the atmosphere was not hostile, that no obscene or lewd comments or gestures were made and that nobody had physical contact with Sainz, that Sainz did not appear concerned, disturbed or troubled by what was going on around her, and that nobody had difficulty doing his or her job, but also described the atmosphere in the locker room as "unprofessional, uncomfortable, and disappointing."

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