5 things Brett Favre should know about sexual harassment

Just weeks after being fined $50,000 for not cooperating with an investigation into sexual harassment allegations made against him by a New York Jets sideline reporter, recently retired Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is being sued for allegedly sexually harassing two other women.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 4 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Christina Scavo and Shannon O'Toole, both former massage therapists for the New York Jets, are suing Favre, the New York Jets in general, and Lisa Ripi, the woman who hires massage therapists for the Jets. Scavo and O'Toole claim that they lost their jobs with the Jets after complaining about sexually suggestive text messages sent to them by Favre in 2008.

According to the lawsuit, Favre allegedly texted Scavo: "Brett here you and crissy want to get together im all alone" and "Kinda lonely tonight I guess I have bad intentions." Scavo told her husband about the texts; he confronted Favre and asked him to apologize but, according to the lawsuit, Favre refused. The National Football League and the Jets refused to comment.

Note to Brett Favre: This is not OK.

Favre is the latest in a long line of athletes and celebrities who act like their sports-hero or celebrity status gives them carte blanche to treat women like toys. We're long past the "Mad Men" age where women tolerated groping and lewdness at the office because they had no recourse; sexual harassment is much more subtle and, thanks to technology, much easier to prove now than it was back in the mid 1970s, when the term was coined.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature." It doesn't have to involve a boss and a subordinate, though power struggles are typically part of the equation, and while women are usually the victims, men can also be sexually harassed (the March controversy over the way the female hosts of "The View" treat their male guests is one solid example).

In December, Favre was fined $50,000 by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for not cooperating in the NFL's investigation involving Jets sidelines reporter Jenn Sterger, who accused Favre of sending her suggestive messages and raunchy pictures of himself. $50,000 may sound like a hefty fine, but when you do the math you can see why it wasn't much of a deterrent: "Brett Favre makes $11,373 per minute of every game… he's only giving up 4 1/2 MINUTES OF PAY for Sterger fine," tweeted Darren Rovell a sports business reporter at CNBC.

We don't know if Favre's head injuries have affected his reasoning abilities but, aside from the obvious-and, for those who are still unclear, the obvious is "Sexual Harassment = Bad" and "Don't Treat People Like That"- we think there are a few things Favre, and everyone else out there, should keep in mind:

  1. Not all women who touch you are prostitutes. When a personal trainer or team admin hires massage therapists for a sports team, she's not searching for candidates on Craigslist. They're not available to you just because you're an athlete, or because your team pays them.
  2. Text messages aren't actually private. Neither are emails. Or voice mails. Not only do copies remain on servers in several places, once the message leaves your phone or computer, you have no control over where the recipient sends it -- or whether she saves it and shows it to her lawyer.
  3. There's a fine line between flirting and sexual harassment. If you're not sure if you've crossed it, then you've probably crossed it. Here's a guideline: If it makes the other person uncomfortable, or if someone overhears you and it makes them uncomfortable, then it is not flirting.
  4. No means no. Do we really need to explain that in greater detail?
  5. Not all instances of sexual harassment involve the libido. Making demeaning comments about women also counts as sexual harassment, according to the experts at Nolo.com. (This applies to you, too, Ron Franklin and Mel Gibson.)
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