One morning, I received a private message on Twitter.
It was a from a girl, a really young girl, who’d been making her way in the business and wanted to ask me a question. She’d been dealing with sexist harassment from the staff of the baseball team she worked for. She didn’t know what to do.
A couple of years later, I stood in front of a class of college students and a girl raised her hand. She asked me, “How do I handle players being disrespectful to me? They think it’s ok.”
In 2016, a woman who’d been working in the business for years contacted me. She wanted to know what to do about a player who’d made sexually explicit remarks to her as she tried doing her job.
Rewind, to a day I looked down on the field of a one minor league team, and saw something puzzling that I forgot about until later. Two girls stood on the dugout steps, post-game. I didn’t need post-game interviews after that day’s contest. But they did. When I returned the next day, I did need the usual post-game quotes, and so I stood to follow the other, male, writers down to the clubhouse. A PR assistant stopped me. He told me that no women were allowed in the clubhouse. A very heated argument followed, and, long story short, I was in the clubhouse ten minutes later, received several concerned phone calls, and never heard “No women allowed” from that team again.
But I think about those girls, standing on the steps. I wish they’d felt they had someone to turn to. I wish I’d been there, to fight on their behalf in that moment. Did they continue in baseball? Have they been subjected to that same sexism and ILLEGAL actions? How many other girls have felt alone, disrespected, humiliated, harassed, and abused?
That question drives me, and it’s driven my career focus. It is what drove the group called “Pitchslapped.”
A few months ago, I reached out to four women in baseball that I thought would be great to participate in a baseball business chat. I’d been frustrated by the lack of women included on sports panels that include mostly male baseball reporters. I tend to switch to how to solve something pretty quickly, because otherwise I just get depressed. So, instead of silently seething, I decided we should just start creating our own virtual sports panels. How else can we solve not being invited? We invite ourselves. So me, Jarah Wright, Jessica Kleinschmidt, Melissa Couto, and Melanie Newman came together for the Facebook chat. It went well, we had fun, and we kept chatting privately when it was over. Then we kept chatting, days after.
Then, one night, I received a private Twitter message.
It was from a woman switching careers, trying to make her way into a baseball career. She was writing for a site that was giving her some experience. But she was feeling discouraged and attacked. She asked me if I’d been judged by other women in the business. “Oh, hell yeah,” I told her. She said she was being mocked and lied about, and she just needed to reach out to someone who might understand and could offer advice. I was suddenly inspired by an idea. I asked the other women if they minded me adding another woman in baseball who was in need of support and encouragement. They were all in. In the days ahead, I started adding more women I knew. Then I began tweeting a public invitation. The group grew and the energy was amazing.
I’d thought for years about ways to help women in the industry, and now it was happening in an organic, beautiful, impactful way. We began organizing more Twitter chats, continuing our fight against all male panels. The joy and excitement wasn’t just mine. We shared in the growth. We supported each other’s efforts. I promoted it as a network for women in baseball media, but invited other women in sports media. It was also a social group, of course. We talked about the game, without the injection of male judgment. We began to share private experiences that weren’t baseball-related. Some women discussed their struggle with depression. Others discussed frustration about work outside of sports. Others just checked in to share a funny story or something difficult about their day. We were growing, but in a way that felt beneficial and special.
I admit that the wheels began to fall off. I stopped checking in with the other founding members about who to add. I left the door wide open, because I wanted the group to be a place where all were welcome. But that led to issues I couldn’t have predicted. Some were more open with their politics, and there were private complaints about that. There were also moments where, because it had a social component, personalities just clashed. Of course that’s going to happen. And anytime anyone discussed it outside of the chat, I cooled the fires. We’re going to run into issues. Whether it’s a business or a book club, sometimes you’re going to disagree and step on some toes. No big deal.
But after frustrations hit a breaking point about one particular conversation, I saw an opportunity to hit the re-set button. I was excited to try and move the group into a different platform. I chose Linkedin, thinking about the presentation options there for projects, as well as topical chats. When I made the announcement in the group, the response was almost entirely negative. I was shocked, as were the original members. I was also definitely confused. This was why we began. To grow, connect as women in baseball, and create a network we could draw from and learn from. I went forward with it, adding members who said they’d give it a shot. I kept it moving and developing the new platform. I still didn’t get what the problem was. But in the next 48 hours, the group effectively ended.
To say I was sad or frustrated doesn’t cover it. It had been such a source of pride for all of us. Members had repeatedly said how much the group was helping them. Those moments had been incredibly meaningful for me. I was dealing with the sadness of that, and trying to right the ship.
Then, the next morning, I logged onto Twitter.
Something unexpected emerged that shocked me far beyond the group members being upset about the platform switch. People were tweeting about the name of the group. The tweets were coming fast. I was being mocked for a name that was suddenly being accused of celebrating…domestic violence? This was an issue I had covered for several years. An issue I’d devoted my life and career to since I came forward with my own story of abuse. That story was just one of many I’ve experienced. And this is the first time I’ve admitted that publicly. While I won’t say more than that, imagine how out of my body I felt in that moment. I can’t tell you how many people tweeted in the months prior how much they loved the name, which, by the way, I didn’t come up with. But there I was defending myself. Over and over and over and over. I was mocked, ridiculed, shamed for hours.
To recap: For an entire day, a Twitter mob verbally abused me, a survivor of violence, all in the name of their concern for… abuse.
The uproar is still a shock to me. The name had been loved by so many, I never thought about anyone having a problem with it. It was a play on a word that I’d hated all my life. It mocked the sexist garbage-y element of the word. I’d seen an acapella group use it, though I didn’t know that until later, and I hoped they weren’t annoyed we’d used it. I’d also seen fans of the show “Pitch” calling each other “Pitches.” Funny enough, I told women in the group that any derogatory language toward women wasn’t permitted. There were few rules. But that was one of them and I wouldn’t budge on it.
That incident snowballed and buried me. So much emerged that horrified me. I wept when someone mocked my support for No More. I lay on my yoga mat and sobbed after reading a colleague and friend, also a survivor of domestic violence, reprimand me for the name. In that same exchange, I was shamed for blocking people tweeting me criticism of the name.
That last one inspired my desire to write this.
As a woman who’d been abused, it was hard for me to believe that a fellow survivor was publicly shaming me for protecting myself. I found that to be, as I told him, “the grand irony.” I reserve that right, as a person, a woman, a Twitter user, and a survivor of violence, to protect my well-being as I see fit. There was no conversation with these people. It was just one abusive, mean-spirited, vicious, critical comment after another. Because abuse is bad, right?
In the midst of that, one of the members joined in the attacks, claiming she’d always been against the name. I watched as this woman, who’d received so much support through the group, tear it down. Then announce her own idea to, hey, have a group for women in sports media. Great idea. I spent the next few days met with silence by women I’d wrapped my arms around with support, women I’d also felt inspired by and grateful to have as my own sounding board. They did not go the plate for me. They didn’t defend the name or me, or the women that had approved their admittance into our private, professional circle. They watched me being gutted, and said and did nothing. Important to add, that the male violence survivor reached out to me privately and our discussion was positive and helpful. I thank him for that.
I didn’t set out to write a hit piece, but a plea. I also consider this a reaffirmation of my promise, and a reminder of where this all began.
But, first, the plea:
Do. Not. Do. This. To. Each. Other.
Do not tear other women down, not for any reason. I wrote about this on this blog in the past, and I’ll say it again. We need each other. We are each other’s greatest champion. If you find yourself critical fo women, check yourself as to why. I have had to do this. As women, we have such incredible power and that power is growing. We’re speaking out about injustice and inequality, and we’re being heard more than we ever were before. Be responsible for how you relate to one another on social media. Do everything you can, as much of the time as you can, however you can, to uplift other women in sports media, and in the world.
Beyond that, please re-think how you speak to another person on Twitter or Facebook. I am endlessly considering my words, and I’ve deleted drafts many times that I thought sounded too critical. A message to our fellow humans should contain something of the positive. If we’re speaking to someone we dislike or even loathe, find the positive way of reaching others who might be hurt by those who are being affected by that person. Or just say something, anything that can be of good to you or others. I saw nothing like that on that day. I saw snickering and shaming. I saw supposed friends joining into a bullying mob, instead of opting for private message, particularly that member. The mob mentality was strong that day. And in many ways, it won.
I’ll continue to find ways of helping women in the industry and in the world, whether it’s in baseball, or in the fight against domestic and sexual violence. I encourage you, whoever you are reading this, to do so as well. But don’t just talk about feminism and sexual violence, and add “feminist” to your Twitter bio. Walk it fully. Embed those ideals into your spirit, words, and actions every day. How were you a feminist by shaming a woman who’d created something positive for other women, by degrading her in a public forum? How can we talk about safe spaces, and then make a woman feel she’s alone in a fight? How can we more fully support each other? As an aside, I’ve become defiant about not criticizing women in the industry for dating players or coaches. I mention this because of the reason: I realized there’s a loud, big enough mob criticizing women’s every action in sports. That club doesn’t need one more member, and certainly not more women in the mix. Don’t join that club, ladies. Stay on the, well, sidelines.
After that day, I was thinking constantly, obsessively, about how I could’ve done things differently. I reverted to that victim of abuse mindset: what had I done to cause this? I was outraged by the way members turned on me and the other original members. I spent the last few days shocked out of my skull, a bundle of raw nerves.
And then I sat down at my desk and I thought about those two young girls, standing on the dugout steps, on the outside. And then I remembered why this all matters.