Katie Gwinn Hewitt’s Returns "Home" To Temple University
Stephanie Apstein's Simple, Powerful Act of Journalistic Courage

A Baseball Story: Why All Heels on Deck is Ending

Since early 2018, a roster of incredible people have contributed outstanding baseball writing to the All Heels on Deck platform. Their work has been thoughtful, in-depth, at times fun, other times deeply serious and intimate. They've been paid, though not nearly enough, for presenting work that's uniquely they're own, and invaluable to the baseball community. There has also been illustrators and graphic designers who helped bring ideas to life. As a team, and as individuals, they deserved an audience. 

For the most part, they didn't get that well-deserved audience. 

The doors to All Heels on Deck will close next week. There are many reasons for that. But what my thoughts return to, the thought that makes my stomach knot, is that these amazing people didn't get read enough.

A few months ago, Sheryl Ring began writing her own column about the intersection of baseball and social issues. It was a dream project, very much in my personal wheelhouse, and certainly the kind of thing baseball readers want more of these days. In the aftermath of some of her writing for another publication, she was harassed so badly, she took a leave from writing and laid low. Her column, in it's early stages, would have to wait after just a few published pieces. That never quite developed. That was the beginning of the end in many ways. Not because of that, but at the same time she was facing a fallout, the sense that AHOD couldn't go on was creeping up on me. 

I announced the debut of a new baseball writing platform in December of 2017. The announcement was made after a short planning stage, but long after the idea has been in my mind. I'd been imagining creating a place that prioritized women, PoC and LGBTQ baseball writers for a long time. I also knew I wanted to pay them. I just didn't know how. So I worked out the details, and told some colleagues the idea for the name. Like Heels on The Field (my minor league baseball blog), it was fiercely feminist, independent, humorous and intended to challenge the sexist, patriarchal dominance of the sports industry. 

What no one in the business knew was that I'd had a baby. At the time I made the announcement, she was tiny and I was sleepless. During her multiple naps (hurray!) I worked on the website, the design, the plan for content, and contacted potential contributors. Every person I contacted was excited and wanted to be part of the debut, or at some point in the future. My own excitement was building. This was it. Motherhood and the most important thing I'd ever hope to contribute to the industry were happening at the same time. Ok, I was tired, nervous and completely new to both roles, but I got through that by focusing on what my heart told me, and digging in for strength I didn't know I had just as I had many times before. 

The response to the new, one of a kind site was met with a ton of support. I cherish the private messages I received from people I've respected for years. I'm especially grateful to the new connections I made with young women and members of the LGBTQ community who loved the platform, and many who wanted to know what they could do to contribute. 

But that positive response was a bit darkened, and quickly. A backlash, led by another woman in baseball media began almost immediately. I was riding high, but also ready to listen to helpful feedback. What could we create that was unique? How could we challenge the sexist garbage takes we'd read for years? What sorts of analysis, features and interviews were important to publish? What could I do to succeed at managing the business side, something I was ill-equipped to handle alone? I hoped for guidance, cameraderie and energetic debate. That is not what unfolded over the next couple of days. 

The attacking comments about the title that insisted I was creating something that was "dangerous" to women, and the petty mockery that was personal and cruel, and, honestly, typical of girls I went to school with who delighted on another girl's misery, weren't important enough to send me into hiding. I wasn't going to dismantle the project because of that kind of dialouge. I'd faced enough of that from men. The one that stayed with me the most was from Yankees fan and writer Amanda Rykoff. She didn't include my handle, but addressed my life and career, and what my set of beliefs are, without ever having a conversation with me.

Her tweet read: 

"Heels" is her brand- her blog, her Twitter hande, etc because she believes "heels"= feminine. It's always been problematic to me. I want to support this but I can't -- as conceptualized now."

In a few short sentences, she erased my years of work, based on a sexist idea that I'd mainly heard from men. Her perception of me was all that mattered, and, I realized, this was possibly true of other women in the industry. It wasn't the first time I'd been subjected to that kind of harmful erasure as a woman, both in the sports industry and in society, but it was so concise in delivery. So certain. I knew that no matter what I had done in my life and career, no matter how many women I'd helped in the industry, no matter how much sexual harrassment I'd faced in the clubhouse, the press box and from fans, despite many miles traveled and over a decade of nose to the the grind baseball writing,and writing about sexism in the industry, and, finally, creating a platform for undrepresented voices in baseball, I was not an acceptable woman and feminist.

Not only that, she was making an assumption, as men do, about the symbolism of "heels" as an indication of something about a woman. Never mind that the "brand" was one I'd built to give myself the confidence to do things I never imagined. I felt like a super hero or a character, someone that I'd hoped to be. A woman with no fear, a woman without a past of abuse, who could breeze past sexist bullshit. I can't tell you how far those "heels on the field" had been from the baseball world throughout my life. I'd overcome sexual abuse and assault, as well as relationship violence. I had pursued something no one believed in, and few encouraged. I was almost always alone in those minor league clubhouses and press boxes. In the major leagues, I felt like a child leaving middle school to transfer to the big scary high school. I felt small. The heels gave me a bit of magic power, like fairy dust sprinkled on my feminist brain, as I powered forward, dying to kick the shit out of the patriarachy. 

I was nothing, according to her. And what I was creating deserved no notice, no chance. I read lots of talk from a circle of women in baseball who echoed her attitude, and made clear that as a woman, that didn't mean I was above criticism. Gender criticism is important. I have said that many times. Feminism is an idea. And not everyone agrees on the idea or how to execute. So, no, that was not a problem for me. The questions were valid, and I tried to answer them as best I could without revealing everything I knew would be in the debut. I stayed level-headed for the most part. I seeked guidance from Christina Kahrl. I heeded her advice, trying to stay completely up and open. 

So when the debut arrived, I figured that once those women read the incredible first few stories that included a personal essay by a trans writer, and another personal essay by a fully veiled Muslim Cubs fan, they would then continue their thoughts. We would resume the discussion. Pehaps they'd ask some tough questions, and, hopefully, a lot of praise on the writers. Once they read the work, what did they think? But, as I learned, that was never their intention. They weren't there to have a discussion in good faith. They didn't want read the work of undrepresented voices in baseball more than they wanted to see me fail. As Rykoff pointed out, I was problematic. What I accomplished, and what all of those writers were doing to change the industry, didn't matter. What mattered was perception. What mattered was hating me for what kind of woman they believed I was. Like many men in my life, and in our lives, they just wanted to silence me. Sidenote, one of the women in the herd writes for a site that I love. It's called Bitch. I hate that word, and refrain from using it to describe women. But Bitch Media also explained why they chose that name on their site. I have pitched them and regularly read their work. They too were questioned about that name. If you don't have a problem with a site that uses a word that is historically derogatory towards women, you can't really have such a huge problem with the word "heels" in the title. It's not hard to connect those dots back to what I said earlier in this piece. It was personal and rooted in feelings about me as a woman in sports media.

AHOD went forward, and nothing stopped the train as we progressed down the tracks. New subscribers were coming in daily. The energy was there for a short time. As the months went on, I tried and I tried and I tried. I raised funds, I endlessly promoted the site, the writers, the importance of the idea, and the unique and meaningful fact that I was paying people per story.

I also moved back home to Philadelphia, continued caring for my baby and myself, battling a lot of dark moments, confusion, utter exhaustion and isolation, mixed with wanting to hold her, comfort her, watch her grow every moment. I was afraid to be too far from her. I was overwhelmed to not have a moment to breathe. I wasn't alone. But I was alone a lot. 

After awhile, the train kept stalling. As a new mom with minimal help, adusting to a new life, and working through PPD, while trying to build and balance a business, and be an editor, I just wasn't able to create the platform I hoped. I didn't get the funding. I didn't get the subscribers. I can't pay writers what they're worth. I can't manage all of it alone. I have tried to reconfigure this juggling act many times since AHOD's inception. I have to move forward, but hopefully not forever. I want to bring this back. Open these doors again. Maybe someone will partner with me in the future. Maybe someone has a new idea we can work on together, in order to give this platform a new lease. I hope so. 

When I look back at the body of work that people contributed, it looks more like we worked on a lengthy project, a kind of experiment, or maybe a book together, rather than a blog or website. We dreamed our dreams out loud. I connected with people who taught me a lot about how important these moments are. Non binary people who asked, "Do I need to identify as one or the other, or anything at all?" The answer was, of course, no. You are you. Please come in. Teach us, tell us a story, whether it's personal or statistical analysis or a mashup of all sorts of ideas. Throw paint at the wall. Write the wild thing you think no one wants to read. Analyze a trade or a team in a way that other sites might not allow or find interesting. Bring your pain, your joy, your absurd thoughts, your silliness, your creativity, bring all of you. AHOD was home if you wanted to be there.

I don't want to say I failed. I just wish I could have made this last. I have to do what I've always done in my career and throughout my life. Take a moment, reasses, breathe, and ask for guidance. See where the next idea is.

And, ok, I won't say I failed, but I am sorry. Women, PoC and LGBTQ baseball writers need to be heard, and the industry must seek to include them without apology, without qualifying by saying, "Hey, we just want the best person for the job." Nope. Not going to work. Sports editors must be deliberate in changing the industry. They must put the idea of equality into action. Not with specialized programs or quota filling. Make diversity hiring a priority. Period.

AHOD will be live for a bit longer, with final wrap-up coming. And Patreon subscribers wil continue to receive content for awhile. They're separate, and I'll be addressing them that way.

This idea is now yours. What can you do with it? Where can you take it? How can you make this successful? How will you have impact? What can you create that will shift the balance, inspire and connect? Please do it. Don't hesitate. 

I leave you with the words of a poet Goddess from country outer space:

"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, so you might as well do what you want." Kacey Musgraves

Thank you readers, friends, colleagues, followers and subscribers. 

And fuck the patriarchy. 

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