Sometime in the next 24 hours, Major League Baseball will reach out to Betsy Bissen, the woman who Thursday accused Minnesota Twins star Miguel Sano of assaulting her two years ago at a mall in suburban Minneapolis. All 30 teams, and everyone at the league office, figured this moment was coming, that the reckoning redefining the treatment of women across America would sweep its way through a sporting culture filled with immature millionaires whose overgrown senses of entitlement are surpassed only by their capacity to make terrible decisions.
After posting her account of the assault on Twitter, Bissen told Yahoo Sports she would speak with investigators from the league and tell her story of the incident in which she said Sano grabbed her wrist and tried to kiss her multiple times after an autograph session. Sano fired back with a full-throated denial, saying in a statement “it never happened,” and followed with boilerplate spin that endeavored to soften his tone: “I have the utmost respect for women.”
This was a perfect example of that terrible decision-making, because while Sano might have a lot of things, the utmost respect for women is not one of them, according to five people, including teammates, ex-teammates and confidants, with whom he has spent time. Though none accused Sano of sexual assault or could confirm Bissen’s account of the story, they characterized him as someone who saw the pursuit of women as sport. Getting in trouble for it “was only a matter of time,” said one person familiar with Sano, whom he called “a ticking time bomb.”
It went off with Bissen’s post on Twitter. She said she had carried the story for years, working both as a photographer who occasionally shot Twins games and at Fan HQ, the store where Sano and other athletes in the Twin Cities sign memorabilia at handsome rates. Following one 2015 session, she wrote, she walked with Sano, his former agent Rob Plummer and Shaun Hagglund, the owner of the store, to shop at an Apple Store. As Sano and Plummer were preparing to leave, Bissen said, Sano tried to pull her into a bathroom. Plummer told Yahoo Sports he was outside and didn’t hear anything. Hagglund did not return a message left at Fan HQ, where an employee said he was working Thursday.
Bissen said she had tired of reading stories about the 24-year-old Sano while holding in her truth. The #MeToo movement inspired her to write the story — which included an accusation that former Twins first-base coach Butch Davis had asked for her number, a charge he denied to both Minneapolis-area newspapers — and post it online. Without fear of losing a job at Fan HQ or the ability to shoot from the camera well at Target Field, Bissen said, “I have nothing to lose now.”
As praise and support descended on her Thursday, so too did a menagerie of those smearing and discounting her story. It was the typical divide that played out through so many other industries, where pervasive sexual misconduct has leapt to the forefront of the national consciousness. While baseball caught a glimpse of it via a Wall Street Journal story last week that alluded to numerous instances of impropriety by Bob Bowman, the former head of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, Bissen’s accusations toward Sano carried the heft of his status as an All-Star as well as her powerful words.
“He didn’t rape me,” she wrote, “but he sure did assault me.”
MLB faces what almost certainly will be a he-said, she-said case — and while its short history of punishing those involved in domestic disputes is strong, the league hasn’t adjudicated an incident quite like this. Police were not involved, as in the cases of Jose Reyes, Aroldis Chapman, Jeurys Familia and Hector Olivera. Derek Norris’ involved a former girlfriend – and while he initially denied her accusations that he choked her, Norris eventually accepted a month-long suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy.
The Sano case could be a standard bearer for the league. When investigators examine it, they’ll look to his past and see if there’s a pattern — if, perhaps, any prior incidents of mistreatment were reported. They’ll interview him in hopes of ferreting out a more detailed explanation of what happened. They’ll weigh the differences of his home country, the Dominican Republic, with the expectations of proper behavior in the U.S., particularly when it comes to treatment of women. And they’ll try to reconcile how his version of the story and hers so deeply diverge.
It’s a complicated case to consider, one rife with money and power and privilege, three of the defining characteristics for modern athletes. Challenging them brought Bissen admiration — and reminded her why so many women are hesitant to speak out about assault. The denial from Sano, the attacks from his fans, the league’s eventual involvement: All of it can weaponize an already-painful incident.
So Bissen did what she could. She locked her Twitter and Instagram accounts. And in the meantime she changed her avatar on both to two words that she felt went not only for her but the women across the country whose choices to speak out inspired others to tell their stories, too: BE BOLD
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