Warning: This article references graphic language.
The men in the video, average and unsuspecting, had no idea that the mean tweets they were asked to read would be so mean. They were not written by them but by others, so they didn’t know they would include words that start with B and C, that they’d be about death threats, beatings and rape.
They didn’t know they’d make people cry.
Recruited to appear in a now viral #MoreThanMean PSA video about the harassment faced by women in sports media by a blog called Just Not Sports, the men were simply told they’d be reading aloud mean tweets to Chicago reporters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro.
The men chuckle at first as they sit on stools in a brick-covered loft, directly across from the two women, rambling off mostly benign insults.
“Julie DiCaro is a run of the mill mediocre beat writer,” the men read from one tweet. “Not atrocious, not good, just sorta … there.”
“I’m actually not a beat writer at all,” DiCaro says, laughing. “But okay.”
Another guy reads a tweet labeling Spain a “scrub muffin.”
“I don’t even know what a scrub muffin is,” another reader remarks.
“I don’t either,” Spain admits.
“I love muffins,” says the smirking reader.
It almost felt like a segment of Jimmy Kimmel’s comedic “Mean Tweets.” That’s what the men thought, too, one of the video’s creators told Forbes.
Not even a minute into the more than four-minute clip, the tone shifts entirely. The background music turns less peppy. The tweets get dark. The men, no longer chipper, start to sweat, fidget and apologize.
“One of the players should beat you to death with their hockey stick … like the w—- you are … c—,” came the next message.
Then another: “This is why we don’t hire any females unless we need our c—- sucked or our food cooked.”
And another: “Hopefully this skank Julie DiCaro is Bill Cosby’s next victim. That would be classic.”
These, to Spain: “I hope your boyfriend beats you” and “Sarah Spain is a b—- I would hate-f—.”
Perhaps most disturbing and deeply personal of them all, evident by the readers’ uncomfortable reaction, was this one for DiCaro: “I hope you get raped again.”
“Again,” they wrote, because when DiCaro was on a spring break trip to Cancun in college, she was raped by an Army officer on the beach. She was drunk. So was he. She told no one.
Then in 2013, she wrote a first-person essay about the rape, recounting her fear and her shame. She explained how she returned to college, then attended law school. She became a public defender, she wrote, often fighting for men accused of the same crime she never reported. Eventually, she left law to write about sports and joined a sisterhood of female reporters who face daily a barrage of harassment and vitriol from the darkest corners of social media.
Spain, who works for ESPN, joined it, too.
Before the PSA, both women had spoken extensively about the hatred they face for simply doing their jobs, often from male sports fans who resort to harmful, threatening posts on forums such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and the comment sections on blogs when they disagree with an opinion on subjects as mundane as batting lineups.
Spain, who was a heptathlete at Cornell University, is the co-host of “espnW Presents: The Trifecta with Spain, Jane & Kate” on ESPN Radio, host of the “That’s What She Said” podcast, an espnW columnist and a SportsCenter reporter.
In 2011, DiCaro founded the Aerys Sports Network, a sports blog network written by women. She currently works for 670 The Score, a sports radio station, and writes for Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron.
Last year, DiCaro wrote about the problem for SI:
Make no mistake, these tweets are not meant to express disagreement. They are calculated to destroy, demean, and denigrate the women they target in a public forum. And even in their choice of hateful language, these men provide hints of their own warped value system. Because it’s not enough for such fragile men, threatened by the changing world around them, to simply tell a woman she’s wrong, or even that she’s stupid. These comments attempt to cut much deeper, striking women at what misogynists see as their most valuable characteristics: appearance, sexual purity, sweetness and submissiveness. In the world these men inhabit, a world that increasingly exists only in their own troubled minds, the worst possible thing a woman can be is a fat, slutty c[—.] (Dashes substituted by The Post.)
In the dozens of interviews that have followed since the video was posted on YouTube on Monday with the hashtag #MoreThanMean, Spain and DiCaro spoke further about the importance of the PSA message.
“People don’t believe women,” Spain told the Daily Dot. “But in this clip, instead of just hearing women read the tweets or talking about it, you’re seeing the men say it and you’re seeing their reaction. You’re seeing the power of it. The emotions of the guys are what draw so much feeling out of the clip. You need to see it emotionally affect the men.”
In the video, one man said he was having trouble looking Spain in the eye when he read the nasty tweets. Another asked whether he had to read them all, specifically the one wishing for DiCaro to be raped again. Another man said that after reading the tweets he felt as though he should go apologize to his mother.
DiCaro and Spain said they hoped the PSA would give people pause, perhaps encourage them to think before they type, and put pressure on social media sites to better regulate online bullying and harassment.
The PSA was the idea of three guys who run the podcast Just Not Sports, a mostly lighthearted take on all the things sports figures enjoy, outside of the actual games with which they’re famously associated.
“Women in sports have been speaking out about this topic very courageously for a long time. We are absolutely not the beginning of this issue,” said Brad Burke, one of the podcast founders and an award-winning brand sports content developer, to Forbes. “But what we wanted to do was reinvigorate the news cycle with a fresh perspective on it.”
Burke is a friend of Spain’s fiance, who also works in sports media.
Online, reaction to the video has been both uplifting and infuriating.
Erin Andrews, the Fox sportscaster who was secretly filmed while undressing in her hotel room in 2008, tweeted the video and said it brought her to tears. Actor Jared Leto shared the clip, too, urging his followers to take a stand. Male and female sports journalists joined in solidarity with Spain and DiCaro.
— Erin Andrews (@ErinAndrews) April 27, 2016
Then there were the people who missed the point.
— Sarah Spain (@SarahSpain) April 28, 2016
At least this happened.