I had a peculiar experience during the first MLS game I worked as a member of the press. Minutes before the game was about to start, I decided to pop down to the restroom, and on my way, ran into a person who is fairly prominent in American soccer circles. He did not ignore me, or say hello with a polite nod like most would, but instead looked me up and down in the universal code for "undressing me with his eyes."
I was creeped out, and I looked away and got out of his view as quickly as I could. It's something that any female over the age of 12 has experienced, and yet there's a difference between getting that look when you're at the club with a bunch of friends for support (it's still creepy! But usually you can give off zero signs you're into it and retreat into a private dance circle with your pals) and when you're at work, alone in a florescent-lit corridor with someone who apparently thinks you're a piece of meat.
I bring this up to discuss a point about abuse of women who work in sports -- it comes in various forms, and tends to be considerably different than the abuse men who work in sports experience.
On Tuesday, a video circulated featuring a group of men saying mean tweets aloud to sportswriters Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain. The men in the video did not write the tweets, and their emotional reactions about threats to rape the women or to ask their boyfriends to beat them up drove home the truly vile things sportswriters in general are told were powerful. All public figures, regardless of gender, have to deal with abuse at times. When you're a woman working in sports, the kind of abuse you receive is often more violent and more personal.
I'm fortunate that I've been working at this for several years now and have not received the barrage DiCaro, Spain and countless other prominent women receive. Thank goodness for that. In part, I imagine it's because there are fewer hatemongers in American soccer social media (a myth? No idea) and it's also because I'm much smaller time. I've gotten mean things sent to me on social media, but not to the degree and severity they experience on a daily basis.
One of the contradictions of being a high-profile woman in sports appears to be the correlation between said profile and the abuse you receive. The better known you are (basically, the more successful you become), the more garbage you have to take.
And while sexual harassment is not as visceral as violent threats to one's person, it's also something others have to deal with regularly, too.
While the prominent man who "undressed me with his eyes" was an in-person encounter, one that has since not been repeated, thankfully, I get unwanted attention online quite a bit.
Usually, it goes something like this: A guy slides into my Twitter DMs. I haven't opened my DMs for the world because of this, but direct messages are often a valuable resource for a writer. You get to discuss information, sourcing on a story, shoot the shit with someone or blow off some steam that you don't want to be public. DMs are useful!
Except, like I was saying, a guy slides into your DMs and appears to have no real direction in talking about anything meaningful. The script is so obvious I can see it a mile away now, but I'm sure these dudes think they're playing it real cool. After sending you 50 messages about the weather or whatever dumb quotidian things that come to mind, and you respond out of politeness or maybe because you think this person just needs someone to talk to, they then ramp up the intensity and begin talking about backrubs and asking where they should send the photos of their genitalia that you did not request.
I turned off Facebook chat for like 3 years because of this.
Maybe some men working in sports get sexually harassed too, I don't know. If they do, then they should speak up so we can see how big this problem is.
The point is, I love to talk about soccer. I work in this industry because I love soccer. However, I do not want to be sexually harassed online. That's not what I signed up for. Having to deal with creeps is a distraction that can take me away from my work at times.
Truthfully, I've been afraid to write all this down for a long time. I'm not entirely sure why. On some level, I have it pretty good, and if getting regular dick pics and dick pic offers is my lot, then it could certainly be worse, I realize.
There's also the fear that it sets off and gets worse. Maybe if people want to mess with me, they'll just do it more, since they know it's something I'm dealing with.
And there's the fear of retribution. Most of the dummies who slide into my DMs are nobodies, frankly, and I will say for the record that my co-workers at various companies I'm with have always been absolutely professional with me. But the prominent man I mention at the top of the story no longer works in the job he had on that day he creeped me out, but has a job with a pretty powerful organization. I know what I experienced, but I can't objectively prove it, years later. Would it be worth anything to "out" him? Nope, it wouldn't.
Sarah Spain, in her follow-up article to the video that got many people talking this week, explained the fine line between women in sports having to ignore what they're told for the sake of their sanity, and speaking up enough so that practices can change. People who harass others online are often fueled by the attention, it's true, but saying and doing nothing often reinforces the status quo and doesn't change anything.
The same goes for sexual harassment. People are just trying to do their jobs, and we need to give everyone the respect to do those jobs competently, without harassment in any form.
Above all, there are men who complain about women, whether in sports or other industries, who regularly bring up their gender. "Why do you have to make it about men vs. women? You're singling yourself out for a problem that isn't as big a deal as you say it is."
Maybe because being questioned simply because of our gender, or sexually harassed or threatened with violence on a regular basis while we try to do our jobs marks us as "other" from the male-dominated norm. If we didn't have to deal with this all the time, we wouldn't need to bring it up. Stop these patterns and we'll probably pipe down about the challenges we have to deal with as women in sports.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!