For the last eight years, baseball fan-turned-writer Becca Schultz has presented herself online as Ryan Schultz, a false identity she assumed when she was 13 years old, duping and harassing women on Twitter along the way.
On Wednesday night, a woman named Erin tweeted a series of screenshots announcing that Schultz is not actually Ryan, a married father of two studying to become a pharmacist. Instead, Schultz is a 21-year-old college student in the Midwest, whose entire career as an aspiring baseball writer has been under a fraudulent byline.
Schultz began contributing to Baseball Prospectus’s local White Sox blog at the end of the 2016 season and wrote for BP South Side and BP Wrigleyville throughout the 2017 season. Additionally, Schultz wrote for the SB Nation sabermetrics site Beyond the Box Score throughout 2017.
People who knew Ryan Schultz online say that in retrospect, some of his behavior seemed odd, but no one expected that this moody White Sox fan from Missouri would actually be a teenage girl.
Schultz’s fraud was as true to the catfish genre as can be. She told the people who discovered she was not who she said she was that she assumed the identity because she felt as if she couldn’t write about baseball professionally as a woman, especially at the age of 13. As the deception went on, she couldn’t figure out how to get out of the middle of her web of lies.
Over time, Ryan formed serial relationships with women who use Twitter to talk about baseball and hockey. Some women told me that he would get drunk and berate them; others told me they felt emotionally abused and manipulated because he would imply that he’d hurt himself if they didn’t continue to talk to him. Ryan received nudes from at least two women I spoke with, one of whom said she did it because she was afraid he would hurt himself if she didn’t.
Schultz’s story is interesting for reasons far beyond its sheer shock value. It’s entirely reasonable that at the time she created the Ryan persona, she might not have thought she could easily have a career writing about baseball as a woman. She’s also drawn a big red arrow sign pointing toward the exploitative ecosystem of online sportswriting, which created the conditions for her to get her enviable opportunities without much interrogation from editors who have a lot to do and few resources with which to do it.
Most of all, though, there are real women who have been genuinely hurt by their interactions with a woman who, as she tells the story, caught herself up in a lie she didn’t know how to untell, not least because it was bringing her what she wanted.
Last weekend, Ryan Schultz made some sort of misogynistic joke on Twitter that elicited a lot of anger and criticism, multiple women told me; Saturday night, the @rschultzy20 Twitter account was deleted. (It has since been restored, and again deactivated.) After this incident, women started talking about having been harassed by Ryan for years, and on Monday night, four writers began searching for the wife to whom he constantly referred to offer support to her and their two supposed children. They feared Ryan’s erratic and harmful behavior might be affecting his family most.
They couldn’t, though, find any evidence that his wife, Blair, even existed. Then they realized that the university Ryan said he was attending while working on his pharmaceutical degree didn’t have a pharmacology school. Finally, after looking at the Facebook pages of Ryan’s family members, they realized that he was not mentioned by any of them and wasn’t in photos with the children he had presented as his, and that another Schultz, Becca, seemed to have an awful lot in common with Ryan.
On Monday, women began reaching out to the editors at BP Wrigleyville, BP South Side, and BtBS with stories of being harassed by Ryan. The outlets immediately terminated their working relationships with him. (SB Nation sent a statement from a Vox Media spokesperson, who said, “We can confirm that Ryan Schultz no longer has publishing privileges with our site and is no longer affiliated with SB Nation in any way.”)
Erin and the other four people involved in the investigation confronted Ryan, who admitted that, yes, they had actually been talking to Becca for all of these years. Once she was in too deep with the persona, she explained, she realized she couldn’t simply begin presenting her real self to the people she knew online and still have them as friends.
After Erin tweeted about Ryan/Becca, a handful of other women began tweeting and talking about their experiences with Ryan. Many of them said Ryan had harassed them, and one told me she had been coerced into sending nude photos of herself under threat of Ryan hurting himself otherwise.
One of those women, Alex, told me that she began talking with Ryan in 2010, when she was a sophomore in college.
Alex and Ryan carried on a public relationship for roughly a year, during which time, she says, she became emotionally intimate with a person she thought was just a run-of-the-mill Blackhawks fan a couple of years older than her. She said she told Ryan about a number of “emotional traumas” she’d experienced in high school, adding that she’d only told those things to the people closest to her. She and Ryan also had “graphic” conversations about sex, with Alex sending Ryan photos of her breasts. Alex said she talked to Ryan on the phone a number of times, and was confused by the “weird” voice she heard on the other end, but didn’t think too much of it given that her older brother’s voice didn’t drop until he was nearly 18. She never, she says, would have even thought to consider whether or not she was being deceived.
At some point Alex received a Facebook friend request from Becca Schultz and asked Ryan about it. He told her that it was just his younger sister. Alex declined the request, adding that she doesn’t become Facebook friends with people she doesn’t know in person; Ryan was angry that she hadn’t accepted Becca’s request, Alex said.
After the honeymoon period wore off, Alex said, Ryan made her feel terrible, treating her like she was stupid. After Ryan bailed for a third time on an in-person meet-up, Alex ended things and moved on.
Shortly after, Ryan began telling Alex that he had met someone new, a pretty blonde named Blair; Alex encouraged him to propose. From roughly then on, Ryan would be a married man in his mid-20s as far as his colleagues at the websites he wrote for and the women he harassed until this week knew.
Another woman, who asked to be anonymous and to whom I will refer as “Sarah,” told me that last year Ryan coerced her into sending nude pictures.
Ryan began mentioning Sarah on Twitter in mid-2015, and, as was typical for him, began direct messaging her shortly thereafter. He told her he was married to Blair and had two children—but, Sarah said, Ryan would say he was getting drunk and then “get aggressively horny,” even though she told him she was only on Twitter to talk about hockey with friends.
Within a couple of months, she said, Ryan told Sarah he was in love with her, and became very possessive.
When Sarah began dating someone in late 2016, Ryan was furious. On one apparently drunken tear on August 27, 2016, Ryan wrote to Sarah that “I want to make you feel my pain.” The incessant messaging led one of Sarah’s friends to block Ryan from Sarah’s phone. At that point, Ryan began contacting Sarah through two other Twitter accounts.
“As time went on, he got much hornier and drunker,” Sarah told me.
Sarah said that she worried Ryan would hurt himself, and that “it got to the point where I felt like I had to send him pics when he’d ask.”
The person Sarah was dating while Ryan was harassing her told me he found it unsettling that Ryan would DM and tweet about cheating on his wife and staying up all night getting drunk and playing Xbox, ignoring his responsibilities as a parent.
“If you’re going to make up an entire false identity, why would you make yourself into a shitty person?” he asked.
Around this time, Ryan began getting opportunities to write about baseball. First he became a contributor for BP South Side, Baseball Prospectus’s White Sox-focused site.
Ryan got his start writing recaps of White Sox games in September 2016. There was nothing unusual about this. A lot of writers for hyper-specific outlets—particularly sabermetrics-inclined sites—come to know editors and get opportunities simply as a result of being active on baseball Twitter and presenting a base of knowledge and a willingness to work for cheap or for free. Since site editors are pulled in a million directions while usually also juggling full-time jobs themselves, it’s not universally standard for them to vet their new writers. Additionally, plenty of online sportswriters rely on pseudonyms or general semi-anonymity so as to not have their work interfere with their careers. The names on the byline can be negotiable if needed—at the end of the day, it’s just baseball. Realistically, no one would have any reason to suspect that a person with an extensive online history dating back years and a semi-sizable following for their musings about South Side baseball would be a catfish.
In any event, Ryan’s White Sox recaps were strong enough that the site offered opportunities to write more original pieces, including a two-part piece on the White Sox rebuild. In February 2017, Ryan also got in some reps at BP Wrigleyville.
Baseball Prospectus’s local sites work as small standalone sites. The editors are given a small budget and can distribute it to writers as they see fit; most writers work for free or for up to about $100 per month. The business is mostly run on passion and intellect, which I thought offered a pretty simple explanation for how Ryan passed through without much notice: He must have been writing for free. One source, however, said Ryan was a paid contributor to BP, which raises a question: What did Becca Schultz do with the checks made out to a fraudulent name? Are those checks just sitting in a drawer somewhere uncashed?
When I asked Becca about this, she said that she did not get paid for her posts at Beyond the Box Score, but she had given BP her actual social security number, and because the tax info was legitimate and Becca and Ryan shared a last name, her bank cashed the checks for her.
(Stephen Reichert, VP and general counsel at Baseball Prospectus, did not get back to me by the time of publication.)
In December 2016, Ryan began writing a few pieces for Medium-based site RO Baseball. I spoke with New Mexico-based writer Cameron Goeldner, who worked with Ryan at RO. Goeldner said he “never noticed anything amiss” about Ryan and that they were friendly, but not particularly close. Goeldner was one of the people who discovered that Ryan is Becca.
Ryan went on a podcast with RO in February of this year, a bold move for someone faking their entire identity. On the episode, Ryan’s voice is higher in tone, but again, no one thought too much of it.
In June of this year, Ryan got the opportunity to contribute to SB Nation’s Beyond the Box Score, a site similar to Baseball Prospectus, but without the proprietary statistics. You might find a piece on Dallas Keuchel painting the edges of the strike zone there, or a piece comparing new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler to Chip Kelly. Ryan wrote 18 pieces for BtBS; most of them were fairly straightforward, definitely good enough to pass muster.
People who worked with Ryan at all three outlets told me the same thing: He talked about his wife and kids pretty freely. His elaborate backstory—the family, the pharmacology school—didn’t raise an eyebrow in an ecosystem where dermatologists and so many attorneys can moonlight as some of the industry’s leading minds.
I spoke to Becca over Gchat on Thursday. (She said over text message that she had lost her voice the evening prior.) She admitted she had done what she was accused of to the women I spoke with.
“I wanted to be a sportswriter,” she said, “but I was young and thought that the only way people would notice me is if I was the stereotypical guy. So I chose a name that was similar enough to mine, and I went with it. It was fine and probably would’ve been over a year or two later if I hadn’t ‘met’ Alex. I was young and had no idea what to do, so I just acted like I thought a man would do. That slowly led me down a path to some things that I was very uncomfortable doing but didn’t even realize were happening. At the time I still probably had the valid excuse that I was young. But things started to get serious, and I had no clue how to dig myself out of the hole I was in.”
By that point, Becca says, she had enough Twitter followers that she felt like she couldn’t “just disappear.”
“I tried a few times to just slowly back away, but I always came back,” she said. “Those couple times I came back are the biggest regrets of my life, because that was probably the best and only way I had out until now.”
By the time Becca graduated from high school, she had been performing as Ryan for five years. She told me that she “was in so far that I didn’t know what were my thoughts and what were ‘his’ especially online.”
Starting a couple of years ago, Becca became more and more frustrated that she could not just switch back to her real identity and maintain the opportunities and friendships she’d earned fraudulently. It led to a fierce internal conflict.
“At this point I knew there was never going to be a way for me to just leave,” Becca said. “And I think that was bearing on me for the past year or more. I felt more depression and anxiety in the past year than ever before. And I reached out to so many women to just gain traction and have someone convince me I wasn’t a horrible person. But instead they were trying to convince Ryan, who truly had become a horrible person.
“So in the end I felt trapped in this situation, knowing that the only way out was something like this exploding in my face. And I just lived with the anxiety of that happening for months. I feel somewhat relieved despite this being the most stressful couple days of my life.”
Another woman I spoke with, Melissa, said that over the last four months Ryan just told her over and over how depressed he was. Melissa told me they met on Twitter about nine months ago, and that when she first received a DM from Ryan she didn’t feel threatened or weirded out because he mentioned his wife and children in the initial message. After a while, it wasn’t so pleasant.
“About four months ago he began to text me quite often,” Melissa said, “under the guise of having issues with anxiety and depression, and quite frankly at times sounded borderline suicidal which worried me and kept me engaged out of concern.
“When I wouldn’t answer his texts, he often times took to liking my tweets or jumping in my mentions, I noticed a few times that he had started conversations with people I talk to, as if he was sort of inserting himself into my life even when I wasn’t talking to him. I don’t know if real Ryan struggles with these issues or if it was just a ploy for attention they knew they could get from me by pretending but it felt all very manipulative.”
Erin, whose tweet about Ryan blew up Wednesday night, told me that she had a close platonic relationship with Ryan that began in January. Around the end of March, Erin began dating someone, and that’s when she saw Ryan become very possessive and upset that Erin wasn’t around to talk to him at his beck and call.
“That’s when I started learning a lot more about past interactions that Ryan’d had with women,” Erin said. “Without even knowing anything was shady about Ryan, I had set up really strong boundaries in the beginning because to me I was talking to a married man, so I was like, ‘I’m not attracted to you, I’m not gonna flirt with you, and if you ever flirt with me, I’m going to track down your wife and I’m gonna tell her everything.’”
Erin began to distance herself from Ryan, and he began periodically sending her money over Venmo unsolicited.
Erin sent me a screenshot of a text message Becca sent her as Ryan of the people whose photos he used as “Ryan” and “Blair” together at a school dance in high school. Becca habitually distributed photos of these people as evidence of the life she’d created for Ryan.
A couple of months ago, Ryan began tweeting about being unsure if he still wanted to write about baseball.
Becca told me she doesn’t aspire to do it full-time, but she is still very interested in writing about baseball as a side gig.
For the last year and a half of Becca’s time as Ryan, she used a photo of someone she appears to have gone to high school with in Missouri.
The photos people saw of Ryan’s children were actually his niece and nephew—throughout the eight years Becca posed as Ryan she sent photos and videos of them to the women she tried to seduce.
The story of Becca/Ryan and the women she harassed and abused is upsetting in the way that most catfishing stories are: The pain she inflicted upon these people for years is real, and so is the pain she clearly feels as a person who masked her identity for the entirety of her teenage years. The people who discovered Ryan was not actually Ryan recognize the paradox, and, despite their own twisted interactions with Ryan, recognize a responsibility to treat this story sensitively.
Becca told me that she plans “to apologize to the community for the abuse, lying, and manipulation in the very near future. I expect backlash, but my only hope is that my family and friends in real life are not affected by the choices that I made.” On Thursday afternoon, she reactivated the @rschultzy20 account, and tweeted an explanation to the account’s followers, then deactivated the account again.
“I think another reason I held onto Ryan was so long was that it worked,” she had told me a few hours earlier. “It took some time, but I really was a writer. And at one point I was too selfish to let that go.”