Lisa Olson is an American sportswriter and a national sports columnist for AOL Fanhouse. Her work has been featured in the anthology, "The Best American Sports Writing". She was previously a sports columnist for the New York Daily News, and the first-ever female sports columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, where she covered rugby union, Australian rules football, cricket and rugby league. Olson is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. She has covered sports stories in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Japan, China, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. In 1990, while working at the Boston Herald, she was sexually harassed by New England Patriots football players in the team's locker room. Olson sued the National Football League, and the players involved were punished; the incident "is considered a watershed moment for women in sports journalism." Olson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Northern Arizona University in 1987.
Sexual Harassment Incident
At the time, women sports journalists faced frequent discrimination, harassment, and intimidation. Women did not get equal access to post-game locker room interviews until a federal court decision in 1978. In 1985, the NFL enacted an equal access policy of its own.
While interviewing players in the Patriots locker-room on a practice day, two Patriots had complained earlier to James Oldham, the team's director of media relations, and to Patrick Sullivan, the team's general manager, that they believed Olson was, in the players' words, "a looker," someone who stood around the locker room not interviewing anyone. General Manager Pat Sullivan observed Olson and determined that she was acting professionally, interviewing Maurice Hurst, but took no other action. Several of the players subsequently taunted her by walking naked in her presence, making vulgar comments and gestures. One player, Zeke Mowatt, "fondled his genitals" in front of her. Robert Perryman did the same while her back was turned. Others, including Michael Timpson, made jokes and egged each other on.
After Olson complained, describing the experience as a "mind rape", team owner Victor Kiam allegedly described her as a "classic bitch." (He later apologized in a newspaper ad, while denying using crude language.) Eventually, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue ordered an investigation under the aegis of former Watergate scandal prosecutor Philip Heymann; the 60-page report concluded that Olson was "degraded and humiliated." Mowatt was fined $12,500, the other two players $5,000, and the team itself $50,000, since no management had intervened at the time or immediately following. Half the cost of the team's fine was to defray instructional materials the league could send to all teams and players, and Tagliabue wrote a letter to Kiam expressing his belief that the incident had "damaged" the league. The general manager of the team was fired. In an interview on the March 11th, 2011 edition of Bill Simmons' podcast, "The B.S. Report", Jackie MacMullan reported that the fines were never actually collected from the players.
After the incident became public, Olson was subjected to harassment from fans of the Patriots. Her tires were slashed, she received hate mail and death threats, and her apartment was burglarized. The Herald's then owner, News Corporation, offered to transfer her to Sydney, Australia, where she worked for The Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1991, Olson settled a lawsuit against the Patriots.
Return to the US
Later that year, Olson and Sam Marchiano were reportedly subjected to a profanity-laced verbal tirade by New York Yankees pitcher David Wells when they approached him at his home to comment on his sudden trade to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roger Clemens. David Cone, Wells's teammate, gave Olson and Marchiano the address to Wells's house. Olson later wrote a column apologizing to Wells for coming to his house during what was such an emotional time. She won numerous writing awards during her time with the Daily News, including "Best Sports Reporting" by the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a frequent guest speaker at schools and colleges, and active in the public school's mentoring program for girls who hope to study journalism.
- Sherry Ricchiardi (December/January 2005). "Offensive Interference". American Journalism Review. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
- Leslie Whitaker (October 15, 1990). "Trouble in The Locker Rooms". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
- Thomas George (November 28, 1990). "Patriots and 3 Players Fined in Olson Incident". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
- Randi Druzin. "Women Reporters in the Men's Locker Room". Women's Sports Foundation. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
- "The B.S. Report Audio Archive". ESPN. Retrieved 2011-03-13.