By Jessica Quiroli
For all the things that have changed in America in recent years, sports media hasn't changed much. Women’s presence in the industry is still a thing. We continue to be judged on what we do, our looks, our manner and certainly how we dress.
In the age of #MeToo, though, a changing of the guard can be seen. Sports media hasn't yet had its defining moment in the movement, but issues are being discussed more openly, and that's incredibly important.
Sexist behaviors and attitudes are being analyzed on a whole new level, although it can be argued that women in media have been discussing those behaviors and attitudes for years. We did so privately, fearfully and, at times, self-loathingly, questioning how we might have contributed to our own abuse because, for so long, we were told we were responsible in some way for men’s actions. Athletes were largely given a free pass.
Abuse of women sports reporters became a national topic in 2008 when Erin Andrews, then with ESPN, was stalked and sexually assaulted, via peephole, by a man who filmed her naked in her hotel room before an assignment. Since then, organizations such as the Association of Women in Sports Media, as well as social media, have created more opportunities for women in sports to network, increase their profile, connect emotionally with other women in similar situations and, crucially, to finally be heard by the masses.
Now, when we talk on Twitter or Facebook, or on sports panels (though those still lack a strong female presence) about our experiences, we’re no longer screaming into a void. We’re connecting. We’re having more of an impact.
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Six years ago, Major League Baseball implemented a media dress code. The action sparked a long-overdue conversation about sexist attitudes toward women in sports media. It also created confusion and a large amount of outrage.
Male reporters were directed not to wear flip-flops for "health reasons," per trainers consulted, but female media members were barred from wearing shorts skirts and halter tops. Surely those bans were not instituted for "health reasons."
Now that we’re in the age of #MeToo, when increasing numbers of women — and men — are stepping forward to report sexual trauma and harassment, those distinctions take on a new meaning — or maybe we women are just being more honest in our reactions to how we are policed.
A workplace dress code isn’t a problem, per se, but in the context of professional sports, the message it transmits can be. MLB’s dress code failed to resolve ongoing issues for women in media. The ban on short skirts felt particularly insulting: Were we expected to measure the length? Who would be observing us, and who would be deciding whether the skirt was to MLB's liking? Women, it seemed, were being directed to be good girls while men were given light-hearted directives.
Jane McManus wrote about the double standards at the time for espnW:
"Look at it from one woman's point of view. She saw a player drop his towel right in front of her like an aggressive dare, but didn't want to report it to MLB. Like a lot of young women, she feared that reporting the incident would make her a pariah in the locker room and destroy her ability to do a job she loves.
Instead, the league instituted a policy to hold her responsible for wearing a skirt that doesn't go down to her knee, but does not address the problem of inappropriate player behavior.
'I'm glad they're telling me how to behave,' she said wryly."
Full disclosure: I was that unidentified woman.
Later in the story, McManus referenced another unnamed source who felt anxiety about her attire but noticed that male reporters didn’t make adjustments during hot weather. She was worried about people noticing her bare arms.
McManus also asked male and female baseball reporters whether they thought about the dress code while dressing. The women interviewed said "Yes"; the men she spoke to said "No."
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Women throughout the history of sports media have been subjected to all manner of verbal and physical abuse. There has been an attitude, usually unspoken but nonetheless clear, in press boxes and sports departments that "This is where men go."
The reactions to the Andrews case were eye-opening: They revealed a collective negative attitude toward women in general, and women in sports in particular.
Andrews was forced to relive her humiliation and pain as she began her legal battle against her stalker, Michael David Barrett. The "she deserved it" line of attack made the rounds. Sometimes it was blatant; other times, it surfaced during casual chats among reporters.
One woman, while sitting in the Phillies' press cafeteria, asked, "Who even does naked squats?" as if that were the issue, as if we had any right to ask such an absurd question. The subtext was: "She deserved it."
Two years before MLB's dress code went into effect, NFL reporter Ines Sainz riled up the masses when she wore what was perceived as too-revealing attire to a Jets practice and was hassled by players. Many reporters, particularly women, wondered privately if baseball's new rules for attire were a response to Sainz and perhaps a criticism of Andrews, a kind of pre-emptive response before anything else happened. In many ways, though, they were a response to what had been a source of debate about women in baseball.
A lot of baseball fans, in particular men, and male reporters shrugged at the new guidelines. They didn't get how itchy they made us because of what we had been experiencing for too long. We had been waiting for players to be punished for blatantly abusing us, and yet there we were, talking about our damn clothes. What might have seemed like an overreaction to our male colleagues was a boiling point for us.
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We female reporters are likely not adhering to all of baseball's guidelines, and no one has ever spoken out about being told they’re breaking the rules, so the media dress code's impact has probably been minimal at best, but something about it still stings.
As Twitter has emerged as a powerful platform for survivors of sexual assault, physical abuse and sexual harassment, many of us have described our own experiences in raw, emotional detail. In light of those disclosures, baseball's media dress code has become more than just something that's absurdly unimportant or an act of misplaced attention; it's now a sign of a time that has passed, but also a time from which we haven't moved forward.
We’re still harassed. We're still underrepresented and overlooked by editors. We still speak in our private spaces about our frustrations and how we are treated differently than our male colleagues.
In other words, we're no longer checking the length of our skirts. We're digging in, as we always have, and trying to get the job done. MLB hasn't shown a willingness to fully commit to changing the boys' club mentality. As the #MeToo revolution marches on, we women in baseball, and all other sports, are forcing change as decisively as possible.