It Was Nancy O'Dell's Workplace, Not Donald Trump's Locker Room

This election exhausts me. I am not alone in this sentiment, of course. Yet, I do feel alone in one area: I am still outraged over the treatment of Nancy O'Dell, the "married woman" who Trump joked about in the Access Hollywood tape. I know, I know. So much has happened since that tape. All those women coming forward, all those tweets, James Comey. So many scandals, so little time.

But let's revisit Nancy O'Dell. In the midst of all this chaos, this woman, a longtime broadcast professional, a summa cum laude graduate of Clemson, seems forgotten. And whenever Trump or his surrogates defended that tape, they always say it was "locker room" talk.

But it wasn't a locker room, Mr. Trump! It was Nancy O'Dell's workplace. Those words about Trump trying to score with her, those comments about her breasts and her changed looks were said to her co-anchor, on the bus of her show, on a microphone that could be heard by her co-workers including sound engineers, camera men and producers, several of whom were on the bus. There wasn't a towel or jock strap in sight.


Think about it. When was the last time that a guest of your company walked into your office and started talking about the failed "scoring" opportunity, the fake breasts and the fading looks of a highly ranked woman in your organization in front of her co-workers. Mad Men episodes do not count.

Ah but Trump supporters on TV can't stop saying locker room. And then they ramble on about not realizing he was on a microphone, about it all being a silly, "guys will be guys" mistake. And, here, here again I am stupefied. For you see, I know about how people behave on and off "mic." I have a database of hundreds of personal examples from Shaquille O'Neal to Richard Nixon and everyone in between. And no one acted like Donald Trump.

I worked at ESPN for six and a half years, and before that at ABC News for over five. I've been in and around the locker rooms of the 1990's, the TV green rooms of the 1980's, both far looser eras than the mid 2000's of the O'Dell tape. In sports, I've interviewed entitled athletes, owners, coaches and others. I have heard tough language, aggressive comments, sexist remarks. But those remarks were never made with a live microphone. And none were as crude. Breasts, buttocks, legs might have been mentioned. But vaginas? Never. Think about it. Trump trumps six and a half years of interviewing sports figures.

But forget sports. In many ways, I heard more aggressive things in the green rooms of Nightline in the over-the-top 1980s. It was a late night show, when many of the guests-politicians, diplomats, businessmen and other famous folks-had enjoyed a few drinks with their dinner hours earlier. A relatively low level staffer, my role was to sit in the green room, keep them company, escort them to studio and bring them to the car. As there were far fewer rules and norms in place, many saw no harm in using sexist language and flirting aggressively. I flinch when I see a certain Head of State from the Mideast today and think of his uncomfortable remarks to me circa 1985. But that's nothing compared to a former member of the Libyan Mission to the UN, who one night kept insisting relentlessly that I travel with him to the beaches of Tripoli (far lovelier than the Hamptons!). A colleague thought that he was going to kidnap me. But once that microphone went on, even he became quiet, polite and professional. And he worked for Qadaffi.

I only ran into a live microphone problem once, which had nothing to do with a guest. It was a personal and devastating experience. I was the first female producer at ESPN in the early 90's. At ESPN, I spent my first few months producing the then 7:00 SportsCenter. Early in my tenure as I sat in the chair during a live show, the voice of an associate producer, someone who had been passed over in favor of me, came through on the headset of everyone involved in the show. There was an open mic, not on him, but in his room. He mocked me, he harangued my bosses for hiring me, and he criticized every decision that I was making in real time by saying "SHE just killed that graphic" or "I can't believe SHE just did that." And the punch line was "she." That to him was the obvious joke. He was trying to rile others in his room, but to their credit no one spoke or laughed. As I was in the middle of the show, I had to keep moving. About-thirty seconds? a minute in?-a fellow producer bellowed "Shut up. You're an idiot. Everyone can hear your stupidity." And while this individual gasped, "Oh my God," he never apologized.

After the show, I was shaking. I shook the hand of the producer, now a dear friend, and thanked him for defending me for being a woman producer. But I was devastated. I went home and sobbed. I threw up. I wrote out my resignation. But, I couldn't hand it in. Hiring a woman had been a big enough deal, and I knew leaving would be an awful sign. And after all, someone had stood up for me and no one had joined in. I also had channels for complaint, though I didn't want to create a stir.

I stayed for another six and half years, and had a wonderful, incredible time. I had tremendous support from upper management and became lifelong friends with many fellow workers. The individual who criticized me was fired shortly later for other reasons. ESPN, for me, was an amazing experience and this story is not in any way, a knock on them. These incidents happened in many places when a man was passed over for a woman. It's just that microphones were usually not around.

I suppressed but never forgot the humiliation of the incident. In the intervening years, I have only mentioned it once to an author of an ESPN book, and only as evidence of the integrity of the producer who defended me. Other than that, I have never discussed it with anyone including my bosses, my family, my friends, my significant other or until last week, the producer who defended me. He pinged me on Facebook about something else, and I thanked him again, in light of Nancy O'Dell.

So back to Nancy O'Dell. Though my situation was sexual discrimination and hers was harassment, still it's chilling to have a microphone blare your perceived flaws in front of those with whom you have a professional relationship. I am sorry that no one stood up for Nancy O'Dell, that Billy Bush wasn't like my dear friend, the producer, and told Trump to stop. I am sorry that she has to hear that it was a "locker room" situation when it was her workplace. I am sorry that Trump couldn't behave better on microphone than any of the hundreds of athletes, owners, coaches, politicians, diplomats, businessmen and other individuals whom I interviewed.

But this incident with Nancy O'Dell has galvanized me, has tapped into the spirit of the woman who broke that glass ceiling at ESPN. On November 8th, I'll be at Wellesley College, my alma mater and Secretary Clinton's, along with other alumnae, cheering her along if she wins, supporting her if she loses. Partly in response to the surfacing of this tape and the reemergence for me of the pain of that long ago incident, I have come up with the #ThisIs4Her hashtag in the event of a Clinton victory, which has caught on with my fellow Wellesley siblings and others. On election night, we're encouraging people to share the names and stories of women in their lives for whom "ThisIs4" including those who walked ahead of us, those with us, those behind us. As for me, there are many women that the election of Hillary Clinton will be "4": my late aunt, my mother, my nieces, my former co-workers, and yes, Nancy O'Dell.