It takes a lot of gall to write in public, unsolicited, to imply that you think your voice is something people need to hear. I’ve always had plenty of gall but have never been comfortable putting my writing into the world. It feels obscene, completely self-indulgent. Why would anyone care what I think? Who even asked me?
But here I am anyway, trying to process the Washington Post’s thoroughly reported story on a culture of sexual harassment in the Washington NFL team. One quote really stuck with me:
“And we all tolerated it because we knew if we complained — and they reminded us of this — there were 1,000 people out there who would take our job in a heartbeat.”
When your dream job is the same as everyone else’s dream job, you can never forget that you’re replaceable. In addition to the former team employee, two reporters went on the record, which is incredibly brave. They run a very real risk of being shut out by the teams they cover, making it more difficult for them to do their jobs.
For much of my career, I’ve had the rare privilege of being taken seriously as a young woman trying to do sports. I’ll always appreciate Robert Cessna and Robert Premeaux Jr. at the Bryan-College Station Eagle for treating me exactly the way they’d treated the male sports copy editors who came before and after me. I didn’t understand at the time what a gift that was.
But I’ve still had enough run-ins with gross men in sports to recognize the pit in your stomach that comes with realizing your colleague doesn’t think you belong there. Sometime’s they’ll offer to buy you a drink and talk shop, only to reveal ulterior motives once you’re there. Other times they’ll make an inappropriate joke that you hope means you’re one of the guys, but it doesn’t. They’re testing you to see how much you’ll tolerate. Nothing stings quite like the realization that the man you thought was a potential mentor couldn’t care less about your work or your career. They don’t see you as a full person, with feelings and dreams and a family that worries about you. They see you as something to fuck.
Or, sometimes they think of you as something not to fuck. To be candid, being fat has probably spared me a lot of grief. Certainly, nobody’s encouraged me to wear tight clothes to entice customers. But that’s just the other side of the same coin: in the workplace, these men are constantly evaluating whether they want to fuck the women they work with, and then acting accordingly. For every woman who wonders if she was hired for her looks rather than her talent, there’s another woman who wonders if she missed out on an opportunity because she didn’t look a certain way. Either way you’re objectified and undermined.
It’s scary to even imply that men have been inappropriate.
You worry that you did something to invite it. It’s a feeling I can never shake. And you start to play devil’s advocate with yourself, to do opposition research on yourself.
What about the times I was a little too receptive to a player’s or writer’s advances? Once or twice I was genuinely interested, other times I was uncomfortable rejecting someone who could directly or indirectly affect my career. But you didn’t shut things down immediately, that little opposition voice in my head hisses, so you forfeit your right to complain later. I would never say that to another human but I say it to myself all the time.
What about my weaknesses as a sports journalist? I’ve never been a beat writer. I’m not an X’s and O’s person. I’m a storyline person, a coaches and players person, a person who stays up until 2 a.m. to watch Hawaii. I know how to write, how to edit, how to decide which stories are most important, how to turn a 2,000-word Washington Post story into a tiny info box for Express. But I don’t know more about Air Raid offenses than you do, and I wonder every day if that makes me a fraud.
Being a sports editor — not a sports copy editor but a real sports editor — made me feel like I was legit. To the world I was still a nobody, and that’s fine, even preferable. But for the first time in my life I felt like I really was the person I said I was.
Now I’m some girl with a newsletter competing for positions in an industry that’s lost thousands of jobs just this year. And my will to fight is waning.
So what’s the point? I enjoy a montage of overcoming adversity set to Rachel Platten’s cloying and ubiquitous “Fight Song” as much as anyone, but at what point should I just take my ball and go home? I’ve been asking myself that a lot. I don’t wanna be a fighter, I wanna be an editor.
Here’s what I do know
We need men to step in.
I’ve been inspired by college athletes who’ve recognized their power and used it to force change. It was only a few weeks ago that Ole Miss linebacker MoMo Sanogo, along with other athletes, successfully lobbied for a change to the Mississippi state flag.
It would be cool to see players in the Washington organization and other teams refuse to play until a real change is made, but I’m not sure that’s realistic. So here are my extremely doable, kind of obvious, bare minimum requests for men working in sports — either for teams or for publications:
Stop making excuses for guys you know are abusive or creepy. Stop associating with them, stop retweeting them, stop supporting their work, stop sending the message that it’s easy to get away with treating people poorly.
Speak up when you hear or see something that’s out of line. Even when it’s coming from someone who outranks you. Think about the risks those reporters took by going on the record and do your part.
Think about the way you talk to your friends about women, particularly women you work with. What kind of environment are you contributing to when you text your bestie about a co-worker’s boobs?
I don’t have a good ending for this newsletter because I don’t know if this is the day I quit trying, or if tomorrow’s that day, or if I’ve got a few more weeks or months in me. So, here’s a picture of Lavender.