Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Dear Performative Cowards: An open letter to men in sports media

Dear sirs ...
Dear sirs ...
Illustration:

One of my former bosses used to kiss me. All the time. On the cheek mainly, but close enough to the mouth to make me really uncomfortable. Not that being kissed every time I saw him wasn’t bad enough. It was. He also told me when he liked something I was wearing, calling it “sexy” or “hot.”

Advertisement

Men are generally incredulous when I tell them this story, especially as I’m not the kind to keep quiet about being sexually harassed multiple times per day by a much older man. But there’s something about sports media (and probably media in general), that conspires to keep women silent. “You’re just lucky to be here,” it whispers to you at night when you can’t sleep. “A million other women would love to have your job.”

All of this is notwithstanding that my boss kissed women, all the time, in front of our male co-workers. If I ask the women I used to work with if they remember this, I get an immediate “OH yeah!” But the men don’t remember it. They believe it happened, but they don’t remember seeing it, even though I can give them times and dates when they did.

Sports media is still one of the least inclusive industries out there, particularly in terms of gender. The women who have managed to elbow their way into plum jobs (at least as far as the public is concerned) all have stories like the ones coming out now about Mickey Callaway and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And a whole bunch of other men working in high levels of sports, too.

Sports and sports media never really got its #MeToo moment; maybe that’s about to change. But regardless, what can’t be denied is that for as many women as have been sexually harassed in this industry, there are also plenty of men who witnessed it and stayed silent.

I’ve only gone to HR once in my career, to ask for help with online harassment, but I’ve had male co-workers suggest I go to HR on several occasions for a variety of inappropriate things that happened in various jobs. None of these suggestions, I should note, included them involving themselves in any way or demanding that our workplace do better. The message from the industry has been clear: Sexual harassment is a woman’s problem and a woman’s problem alone.

Of course, once the allegations are public, plenty of men in sports rush to Twitter to clutch their pearls and proclaim their shock and horror. They love to pat us on the back, virtually, and tell us how brave we are for coming forward, for telling our stories. They call us “queen” and “badass” and “goddess.” We have earned these monikers, you see, for sacrificing ourselves at the altar of public opinion, for laying our trauma bare for the entire world to see and comment on, probably by trolling us on Twitter.

Advertisement

But where were all these #GirlDads when we needed someone to talk to? When we needed someone to go to HR with us and say “She’s telling the truth, I saw it, too.” Where were the men saying, “I don’t want to work in a place that tolerates this behavior?” Where were the guys who consider themselves “feminists” and “allies”?

Most of the time, they’re watching their own back and looking out for number one. Sports media is an incestuous, insidious business, and you never want to be on the outs with the in-crowd. The fastest way to find yourself on the outs? Rock the boat. Stand up and say the 1960s frat house culture that dominates too many outlets, teams, and organizations is not okay, that your outlet needs to do better. Go ahead, put a target on your own back. See how that goes for ya.

Advertisement

This conspiracy of silence, intentional or unconscious, is, more than anything else, why women in sports and sports media are still dealing with sexual harassment, in the year of our Lord 2021, while at work. At work! Like, we’re sitting here working when all of a sudden someone blows up our phone with dick pics or insists we kiss them. It still blows my mind whenever I really think about it.

If we’re ever going to move past sports and sports media in its current incarnation, we’re going to need a lot more from the men working in the industry than pats on the head. We need men to take it upon themselves to report other men, to call out bad behavior when they see it, even if there are no women around. We need them to decide they won’t wait for women to report sexual harassment, they’ll do it on their own. Here’s a clue: If you are calling an employee “Dick Pic Mick,” you should probably go to HR about why, exactly, he has that nickname.

Advertisement

Women don’t need your performative ally bullshit on Twitter. We need men to be the brave ones, for once. It’s not on women to end sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s on the men who have let it go on for this long.

Co-host of The Ladies Room podcast. Author of "Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America." Former law-talking chick.