Three Pages Woody Would Rather Forget

Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige (pictured) loves the spotlight -- but he was undoubtedly less than jazzed by the attention he received on June 29, when articles appeared about him being named in a sexual-harassment suit filed by Rita Ragone, a onetime makeup artist for Cold Pizza, an ESPN chat show that prominently featured Paige until late last year.

The Associated Press story that ran in the Post is a rather bare-bones affair. In contrast, the Rocky Mountain News' piece is more thorough, noting that Paige stepped down as the Post's executive editor in 1992 after an assistant, Carrie Ludicke, "accused him of verbally haranguing her and calling her a crude term for the female anatomy during an argument in his office." A May 1992 item in the American Journalism Review provides additional details about this earlier event, revealing the disputed profanity in question -- "cunt" -- and estimating the settlement Ludicke received at between $25,000 and $30,000. However, none of these offerings is as detailed as Westword's coverage of the Paige-Ludicke situation, which predates our web archive, but is reproduced below.

First up is Patricia Calhoun's devastating column about the matter; take note of her reporting about two attempts by the Post to buy off Ludicke. That's followed by a pair of snippets from Westword's Off Limits column -- one pointing out that Post employees were made to attend seminars on the subject of sexual harassment as a result of Paige's alleged misbehavior, and another focusing upon a convention for sports editors at which Woody was slated to appear as part of a sexual harassment panel discussion...

“Turn the Paige” By Patricia Calhoun Westword March 18-24, 1992

There are few jobs worse than being the secretary of an egomaniac

But here’s one” being the secretary of an egomaniac who happens to be a media “personality.”

Thanks to the celebrity boss’ personality-packed – and highly profitable – snits and snipings, the secretary is treated to an earful from the public, an outpouring of insults that aren’t limited to the star’s shortcomings, but quickly move on to include the secretary’s. And since all too often the hapless secretary is female, the disgruntled callers inevitably start zeroing in on her anatomy. That’s not the way men castigate a man (although they’ll often offer some choice bits aimed at their target’s mother), but it’s almost always how they insult a woman. As though there were no worse way to hurt her than to focus on her form. To get her where she literally lives.

(One female writer here, for example, had the misfortune to be working late – and alone – the night many angry football fans were calling to scream about a story written by a male reporter. Their suggestions for what she could do with her body – and what they planned to do to it – were perversely fascinating, if only because the woman on the receiving end of the calls was nine months pregnant at the time, rendering many of the proposed acts patently impossible.)

When you accept such a job, abuse from outsiders comes with the territory.

The abuse isn’t supposed to come from the inside, too. The insults shouldn’t be hurled by your employer.

But on Friday, March 6, Carrie Ludicke’s boss – the one and only sports editor of the Denver Post – took aim at her with a slew of invective. In the process, you can only hope he shot himself in a most sensitive part of his anatomy. He certainly made an ass of himself.

Ludicke’s sin? She’d received some personal financial information Paige had requested from the paper’s payroll office and had called KDEN, where Paige co-hosts a talk show, and left the figures with a colleague. Stupid, sure – particularly as few people, Ludicke most certainly included, enjoy the perqs that come with Paige’s jobs – but hardly a world-class blunder for an assistant (Ludicke’s official title) or a secretary (Paige parlance for her job).

But Paige quickly put his mouth where his money was. He began dressing down Ludicke in the photo department, then moved the verbal abuse to his office. As he called her on the carpet, his language was so loud – and so vulgar – that there was no way the Post could sweep the encounter under the rug.

Because among other things, Paige reportedly called his secretary a “fucking cunt.”

This is the “sexual epithet” that Channel 4 referred to so daintily last Thursday.

Judging from the language that appears in the mainstream media, only rap musicians are ever indelicate enough to utter profanity. “But “fuck” is not unknown in a newsroom, and in fact, often liberally sprinkles perfectly civil conversation. The word “cunt,” however, does not.

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a term that only refers to a woman, and in a far from complimentary way.

The word “cunt” isn’t just distasteful. Depending on how it’s delivered, it could be illegal.

After a year of he-she controversies of tales filled with Long Dong Silver and Coke cans festooned with pubic hairs, people may have trouble remembering what constitutes sexual harassment. So here’s a handy refresher course, courtesy of the Code of Federal Regulations:

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when: 1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment: 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals; or 3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

No one’s suggesting that Paige made a pass at Ludicke. But what he said could be equally actionable. It’s certainly inexcusable. Try imagining a work environment less inviting than one in which your boss has called you a “fucking cunt” within earshot of your fellow employees.

Misery may love company, but not that much company.

A sympathetic reporter who heard of the outburst suggested that Ludicke contact the Denver Newspaper Guild, where she filed a complaint. It wasn’t the first one lodged against the Post sports department, or even the first to mention Woody Paige. It was, however, the first to allege sexual harassment, says a guild spokesman.

Which could account for why the Post took fast action. Four days after the incident, management offered Ludicke $8,000 and a job anywhere on the paper – so long as she kept quiet. She turned down the deal. On Thursday, she and her guild representative met with Paige and the paper’s management. This time the numbers went higher, reportedly to twice her annual salary. To $50,000 – which would pay a reporter’s salary. Or pay off Paige’s idiocy.

As of Monday, though, the paper still didn’t have a deal.

The Post can weather a guild grievance filed against Paige. And it would certainly survive a high-profile civil suit against the sports editor; after all, the word he’s accused of uttering – for the record, Paige denies using “cunt,” although there’s no argument over “fuck” – is common coin in the locker rooms he covers. The sad reality is that for ever reader the paper loses, others might see Paige as the champion of men everywhere who are tired of uppity women.

Ironically, this isn’t an image Paige professes to want. Just two weeks ago, he called to complain that no one in the town ever wrote about all the good things he’d done. Things like hiring women in the sports department.

But it doesn’t count, Woody, unless you treat them right.

Off Limits April 29-May 5, 1992

And he said that: Just two years ago, Denver Post columnist Woody Paige offered this suggestion for the Nuggets. “Westhead [that’s Paul, then the coach at Loyola Marymount] would be perfect at a mile high with his fastest-breaking offense.” What was that again? Westhead would be perfect at a mile high.”

Last week, of course, Westhead was out as the Nuggets’ coach – two seasons, several Paige columns and 120 losses later.

And Paige is still at the Post, although the paper is undergoing an embarrassing series of seminars as part of the Newspaper Guild-arranged settlement of a sexual harassment grievance filed against Paige by his former assistant.

Off Limits June 17-23, 2007

What’s my line? Next week’s annual meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in San Francisco includes the standard convention schmoozing and boozing, along with one hell of a chaser: a “Harassment in the Workplace” panel featuring Denver Post columnist Woody Paige. The lineup was designed to “put the fear of the Lord into sports editors,” says Kathy Kenkel, sports editor of the Seattle Times and president of the Association for Women in Sports Media.

Not that Paige, who lost his position as Post executive sports editor this March after employee Carrie Ludicke accused him of sexual harassment, was easy to pin down. “He’s a guy trying to survive in the business,” says fellow panelist Tracy Dodd, sports editor of the Austin American-Statesmen and outgoing president of the women’s group. “They had a hard time convincing him to come. He’s changed the time of this thing a couple of times and tried to get out of it by saying he had another commitment. I’ve had to change my airline plans to accommodate him. But he’s coming.”

And may get what’s coming to him. According to the settlement agreement with Ludicke, Paige isn’t supposed to talk about the case. Before that settlement was reached, though, Paige implied that Ludicke was no angel. “It’s like blaming liquor if you’re an alcoholic,” observes Dodd.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts