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Monday night’s report from ESPN’s Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan that freshly minted New York Mets general manager Jared Porter sent unsolicited, explicit text messages to a female MLB reporter in 2016 drew a flood of response on Twitter from those in sports media.
The story of Porter’s behavior — the Mets announced on Tuesday morning that he’d been fired — was particularly familiar to women in the business, nearly all of us with memories of what we’ve endured and continue to endure in pursuit of doing our jobs.
In this case, justice has been served, even if it came several years after the fact. Porter is unemployed, the position he called his “dream job” no longer his after his despicable behavior came to light, and the victim brave enough to speak out in the hopes that no one else would have to endure his twisted idea of courting.
But the woman to whom he sent those persistent and gross text messages to has left journalism, which isn’t really justice at all. A foreign correspondent who had moved to the United States to cover MLB when she met Porter in 2016, she has since moved back to her home country and now works in finance.
And she’s not alone in leaving the business instead of subjecting herself to the unwanted advances of men in all levels of sports, from the front office to the players, from coaches to athletic directors.
That’s the part that is most discomfiting in this. Porter, who rose from Red Sox intern to MLB general manager, may get another job in baseball in a year or two, because there always seems to be a path to salvation for men who do terrible things.
Yet the woman Porter targeted, who moved to a new country in pursuit of her sports reporting career, will not be returning to reporting on baseball.
Can she really be blamed for her decision?
The answer, of course, is no. Women in sports media deal with varying degrees of harassment and discomfort and push through, but others choose not to do that, because there’s little appeal in it. We all try to make choices that are best for ourselves and well-being.
Women across all industries know that stepping forward comes with a price. Throughout history, and through all ages of our lives, girls and women are the ones blamed in these situations. It’s why, we’re told, girls aren’t allowed to wear certain things to school, because if they show too much shoulder they’ll distract the boys.
(A little hint for the ignorant: It rarely, if ever, matters what we wear.)
In sports media, we know that stepping forward could mean the loss of sources or having to leave a beat we’ve reported on for years, so you put up with a team general manager asking to go back to your hotel room with you, smiling and firmly telling him no and hoping it doesn’t go any further.
You reason with yourself — It wasn’t really that bad, right? If you say something, then what? Do you want to endure the potential fallout? Are you ready to change jobs?
We come up with a script in approaching players and others to ask for their phone number, phone numbers we need to do our jobs: If something explosive happens during the closed part of practice, for example, you need people who were there to confirm and explain or deny the rumor. But a woman asking a man for his phone number, even for professional reasons, is awkward at best and rife with negative possibilities at worst, so you do your best to make it clear it’s for work purposes.
In locker rooms, which are uncomfortable for everyone, we have to comport ourselves a certain way because that environment is fraught too.
All of it a minefield, but for many of us it’s the only job we’ve ever wanted, so we adapt.
The answer, because we’ve seen this response before, is not for women to only cover women’s sports. For one thing, few media companies are investing in women’s sports coverage like they should, and let’s be honest, while each woman coaching men is a barrier broken, there are still many men coaching and running women’s sports, so it’s not like there isn’t the potential for harassment.
We should be able to cover what we want, and do it without fear of having some buffoon target us with an incessant string of increasingly inappropriate text messages or uncomfortable, unnecessary hugs, or whatever other thing is foisted on us while we’re trying to do our job.
The answer, if you’re a man who knows of this behavior from a peer or sees a colleague experience it, is to speak up, believe her, and help her.
The answer is for women to be treated with respect. If as a straight man you wouldn’t send a picture of your genitals to a male reporter unsolicited, don’t do it to us. If you wouldn’t comment about a male reporter’s body shape, don’t do it to us.
Is that really that hard?
For Jared Porter and others, it apparently is.
As women in sports media, we’re tired of it.
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