I was standing near a woman in sports media who was the first female sports reporter I admired. I was a little awestruck, unsure what to say or do. A friend and colleague suggested I ask her for the interview I’d long wanted. The friend nudged me over and I went for it.
The conversation went well. She gave me her e-mail and I waited just two days to contact her.
And then I waited. After a few days, I tried again. No response. A few weeks later, I was covering a game the same place she was, and she saw me. She looked at me disdainfully, and then switched to ignoring me as she breezed by.
“Did you see that?” I asked my friend.
“Yeah. That was really weird.”
The shock wore off and the raw emotions of embarrassment, confusion and anger surfaced. I got over the embarrassment, I’m still slightly confused, but now when I think about it I’m passively disgusted, if that’s a thing. I feel a tinge of anger, but more than that it's just shaking my head, shrugging and thinking a few choice words when I see her.
I don’t know her reasoning for the blatant snub. But I knew from then on, no female baseball reporter would ever feel that way about me if I could help it; not that behaving like a mean-spirited jerk was an option before that….oh, there’s the passive disgust. It also clarified just how big the impact of female mentors in sports is. That moment mattered to me. Hopefully she’s embarrassed to think of how badly that hurt another person, but she’s likely forgotten all about it. I haven’t. And women in baseball have to call on each other and literally enter the door with the expectation that we can count on each other.
I see the same sneaky snarky behavior on social media. The cliquey vibe some female baseball writers and bloggers give off. Some have candidly told me they’ve had to curb judgments of each other. Those judgments can be rough. You know what I mean. The kind of judgments classified as sexism when they come from men. I see women talking about how tough it all is, then the same women not being inclusive or encouraging. They tweet about injustice, confront the bullying jack asses that harass women, and by the same turn, they turn their noses up to other women in the business they deem unworthy. One female blogger privately revealed the harassment she gets from female baseball fans, demeaning her work, her interest and her motivation. Someone once tweeted me that my interest in covering minor league baseball was probably all the prime flesh I got to stare at. That person was a girl.
I tend to keep a tight lid on things. I don’t think we need to share everything, which many people consider abnormal. But from a professional standpoint, I’m mindful of tone and wording. But after all the stories other women in the industry have revealed, about the harassment they receive from men and women, after all the stories about women not getting fair treatment in the clubhouse, press box and newsroom, and after all the tweets and Facebook conversations about the hideous ways men discuss our bodies and abilities as women in sports media, I’d just like to ask those unkind, unprofessional, selfish, judgmental women: What the F**K is wrong with you?
Men rip us apart. They demean our lives, our work, our bodies, and we’re not raising flags and supporting the hell out of one another? If you don’t hold out your hand, smile and say, ‘Hi SO AND SO, I’m ME and if you need help, let me know,’ you are as much a part of the problem in women in baseball (and all sports) media being held back, as the dude who talks about how dumb and hot we look, and how he can’t listen to a woman report sports news.
Have I left the other part out? I think I have. Are you shutting out women you think are too pretty to be taken seriously? You know what I’m talking about. Deal with that BS right now. I see you out there. I saw you when Erin Andrews got sexually violated via peep hole. I read what WOMEN said. I had a conversation with another female baseball writer and she had absolutely no sympathy for Erin. She sat there, with male baseball writers, going along with the boys questioning Erin’s private habits and how the way she dresses or speaks or breathes had earned her some abuse. The woman got some good laughs asking why Andrews was doing squats in the nude, as if that was any of our business.
Last year, when Andrews made a mistake reporting on college football, reading through the Twitter commentary was painfully disappointing. Women were just as quick to question her capabilities as a sports reporter and demeaned her appearance. It was women who were the worst of all.
I can deal with it, but do you know who I think of when I hear and read that garbage? I think of young girls aspiring to be baseball reporters and writers; girls who play sports and read about sports, and decide that they want to do the thing they love: watch sports and write about them. Had a female intern been sitting at the table during the Erin Andrews conversation, I would’ve been ashamed that I didn’t stand up and say something. And I didn’t. I would’ve encouraged her not to feel discouraged by such harsh, frightening attitudes toward women in sports media. I would’ve had to tell her that women can be their own worst enemy and have had to fight so hard for respect from men they don’t even like, that sometimes they trade their principles and heart for a place at the boys table.
The flip side is that I’ve tried to help girls in the industry that turned into very bad experiences. One who, upon me saying I was happy she didn’t get harassed in the clubhouse, sniffed, ‘I’m sure they made comments after I left.’ Well, ok. As if by saying I was glad she wasn't sexually harassed in the clubhouse meant I was implying I didn't find her attractive. There was a girl who asked for help, so I connected her with a coach via e-mail, and advised her to avoid standing in the training room area after a staff member complained about her conduct. I approached her one day, and caught her pulling a face at me to another new young male reporter who hated any time I tried to help him which, by the way, his editor asked me to do. In today’s press box, no one likes being the kid. I freaking loved it. I miss it. And I wish I’d had a few women welcoming me into the fold.
The moments where women have been cool and supportive, tweets I’ve received from sports reporters such as Andrews or Michelle Beadle, or other women in the minor leagues, and, of course, female sports fans, have been awesome. I’m reminded, often when I need it the most that we have each other’s backs, understand one another, and want to see all women in this industry shine.
And if we aren’t helping and encouraging each other, we have ZERO right to complain and moan about men treating us horribly. I see women supporting SOME women in baseball (getting specific, since that’s my lane), and others they shun. There’s a whole lot of judging going on and it’s not all men, so let’s stop pretending.
To any female baseball writers out there, don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. Don’t tweet rants against sexism, then treat certain women like the problem. The idea is old as time, and is rampant in sports media: some women deserve to be treated poorly or ignored. If you adapt that idea, if you aren’t friendly, welcoming, encouraging, and social with every female sports reporter that reaches out and shows a desire to be seen and heard, if you aren’t curious to know her, while engaging with those women in the industry you deem acceptable, you’re contributing to the sexist attitudes we’ve been breaking through for years.
Now is the time to insist HARD on this. We’re bombarded daily with messages about ourselves that are harmful and hurtful. As tough women, or veterans of the business, we can handle a lot, but there are plenty of girls coming up the pike that don’t have that confidence. And even veterans get the blues sometimes. We too hear and see the discouraging attitudes that still exist. We read enough of that social media abuse, that it’s hard not to be affected at some point.
When deciding to write this, I realized again how all my mentors in baseball have been men. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’m incredibly grateful for those guys that showed me the ropes, encouraged me and set an example. But when women had the opportunity to do the same, I was left with a void. That void served as a guide moving forward, to do as much as I could to uplift other women in the industry. In today’s constant stream of opinions for all to absorb, we have to do more. We have to go further. Lay out that welcome mat, send an e-mail, tweet support for a story from a new female writer, call attention to female baseball (all sports) writers with retweets and link sharing. Invite them into topical chats. Find ways to open the door to them. Keep in mind, too, that we never stop learning. As veterans, we can have valuable conversations with less experienced writers who can open our eyes to something we hadn’t thought of or known about before.
Desperation, image obsession and the uncertainty of this business can exhaust our goodness and fearlessness. We can fall into a trap, knowing that there are only so many slots open for women in sports, and we can easily resent each other, and shut each other down, because we want that slot. But that will never create the kind of industry we hope for. That will never result in a more stable social media environment. No slot we fill will ever be our deserving place if we don’t invite other women to the table. If we aren’t kick-ass, kind, celebratory warriors for each other as women in sports media, we will never be a true success. And we have to hold ourselves accountable for being part of the problem and, instead, chose to be a powerful part of the solution.