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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Female reporters feel singled out by dress code

By Jane McManus

Before the 2012 season, Major League Baseball instituted a dress code for reporters covering the teams. The code was approved by a panel that included women and was meant to be gender-neutral, but the requirements have led some women in the field to feel self-conscious about how they present themselves and wary of speaking up about it lest they lose the access to do their jobs as reporters.

One woman who, like many, asked that her name and affiliation not be used, said the policy -- which bans short skirts, short dresses, short shorts, tank tops, sheer clothing, flip-flops, and one-shouldered and strapless shirts -- often left her uncomfortable in the oppressive heat.

"It reminded me of Middle Eastern dress requirements, because you can wear sleeveless shirts in the workplace [but you can't at a baseball game]," she said.

Susan Slusser, a baseball beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, was part of the committee which approved the guidelines. She said they were not intended to be oppressive, but rather to bring the standard of dress in MLB press boxes to a level consistent with other professional sports.

"I think it was all pretty common sense," Slusser said.

MLB spokesperson Pat Courtney said the league hasn't heard any complaints about the policy that asks media to dress for a "business-casual work environment." He said the league plans to revisit the topic during the winter meetings this year.

"This was our first crack at it," Courtney said. "It was Year 1; it wasn't meant to be inflexible and [is] meant to evolve."

Courtney said a few male reporters noted that asking for business casual in Texas summer heat is unrealistic, but that was it.

"Amazingly, not one thing was brought to our attention," Courtney said. "Not one incident."

Which might be a function more of a reluctance to step forward than of everyone being happy to dress according to code.

Look at it from one woman's point of view. She saw a player drop his towel right in front of her like an aggressive dare, but didn't want to report it to MLB. Like a lot of young women, she feared that reporting the incident would make her a pariah in the locker room and destroy her ability to do a job she loves.

Instead, the league instituted a policy to hold her responsible for wearing a skirt that doesn't go down to her knee, but does not address the problem of inappropriate player behavior.

"I'm glad they're telling me how to behave," she said wryly.

Not many women work as sports writers in smaller towns, so each generation has to break ground all over again. There are professional organizations to help, mentors to call, and visible role models on television or at larger newspapers. But for some women on the ground, the dress code felt very personal.

"I just felt insulted," said Jessica Quiroli, who covers the Trenton Thunder and other minor league teams for Gotham Baseball Magazine. "They had a woman on the committee to show [instituting a dress code] was gender-neutral and it just wasn't."

In August, a woman who works as a reporter and cameraperson for a local television station finished her morning assignment with an NFL team and prepared to cover a baseball game later in the day. She had worn a sleeveless dress shirt and sandals to cover football but had to put on a jacket and a pair of boots before the baseball game.

She didn't see any of the men she worked with be so conscientious, but the reporter, who didn't want to be identified, would rather sweat through a dress jacket than be a test case.

"I guess I'm the only one this cognizant of it," she said, "but at the end of the day I don't want to be the one to get pointed out."

While all the women interviewed said they were very aware of the dress code when picking out their outfit before a game, none of the male reporters asked was.

The dress code was initially instituted with an eye, reportedly, to scantily clad female television reporters in the wake of the Ines Sainz appearance in the New York Jets' locker room in September 2010. A story on says the policy "is an attempt to maintain a level of professionalism during the hot summer months when clothes have a tendency to get skimpier." MLB might have felt hard-pressed to try to enforce standards that did not exist. There were also incidents of reporters wearing team jerseys to cover games, so baseball banned sports logos.

"To the young women worried about it, I don't think it's a big deal," Slusser said. "But if someone wants to bring it to someone's attention, then maybe they would look at it."

Reporters don't work for baseball -- they work for a newspaper, magazine, website or television station. For example, Sainz worked for TV Azteca, which did not appear to discourage women from wearing, um, not-business-not-casual attire to cover games.

From my experience covering the Super Bowl and other events, outlets like TV Azteca play up the tension between a reporter's on-display sexuality and the masculine vibe of professional athletes. That brand of entertainment is inherently different from what a beat writer does, but rather than asking teams to be professional with all members of the media, baseball has put the onus on conscientious young women who cover their sport.

Not everyone found it to be a problem this season.

One woman with plenty of credibility in a major warm-weather market dropped the ruse of complying with the dress code about halfway through the season. Tired of baking in the sun, she went back to sandals and sundresses and no one gave her any trouble.

She said she was never in danger of being confused with a "trollop."

But the potential existence of scantily clad women and the imminent threat they pose to the sanctity of the locker room, to overstate it a bit, has had a real effect on women who just want to do their job without being singled out. They have been asked to hold the line of decency by taking rulers to their shorts.

Maybe the problem isn't really the dress code but rather some other issues that baseball should, pardon the pun, address.