Jones, who has been covering the league for 13 years, is friends with both women, and the story hit her viscerally as she thought of them. But she also thought of all the other stories she has heard over the years and her own experiences, and as she texted her network of female sports reporters, she found many women were thinking about that, too.
“Rhiannon and Nora were so brave, like the other women,” Jones said in an interview Friday. “It was remarkable that 15 women went on the record. At the same time, I feel like it could have been 50, just given what it’s like working in and around sports.”
She added, “Many of us, me included, have not been that brave.”
Some of the most vocal and public reactions to The Post’s story came from women across sports media — many of whom saw themselves in it. The outpouring has come from reporters such as Jones and NFL Network’s Lindsay Rhodes, who wrote on Twitter on Thursday night, “The truth is that most of us have found ourselves awkwardly laughing off inappropriate comments; bending over backwards to make comfortable a man who just made us uncomfortable.”
In interviews Friday, several female sports reporters recalled some of their own experiences. Jane McManus, a longtime writer at ESPN who now runs Marist College’s Center for Sports Communication, said she often pulled young female reporters aside when she was covering the NFL and warned them about certain agents and team employees who could be dangerous. A team source, she said, once called to tell her he was wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
Joan Niesen, a former Sports Illustrated writer, said she thought about the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and a restaurant called Prime 47, where Walker was the target of unwanted advances from Alex Santos, who at the time was Washington’s pro personnel director. Niesen had been there; she was once badgered by an NFL assistant coach to join him at his lake house.
She recalled group text messages during combine week among female reporters, who were checking up on one another and detailing the many uncomfortable situations they found themselves in.
Marly Rivera, a baseball reporter for ESPN, said a group of players early in her career used to show her porn on their cellphones in the clubhouse, expressly to make her uncomfortable.
The costs, these women explained, were more than just dealing with bad behavior on a personal level. That was certainly difficult, but the unwanted advances from the men they cover also affected how they do their jobs and made it harder to compete for stories and, ultimately, stay in the profession.
“As women, how do you ask for a phone number and make it clear that you’re asking for professional reasons and not because you want this to turn into a 3 a.m. booty call?” USA Today columnist Nancy Armour said. “Every single woman who covers sports has had that thought.”
A few years ago, Rivera began asking players for their email addresses. “They can’t mistake why you’re asking for their email,” she said.
On Friday, Walker published a powerful first-person essay in which she detailed her pain and the effects of the harassment. She wrote how Santos had come up to her at Prime 47 and told her she “wore the f---” out of her jeans. The exchange was traumatizing, she wrote, for many reasons, including that she could no longer use Santos as a source in her reporting.
“[In] one 25-minute interaction, I was petrified that the work I’d done that season and those two months was in jeopardy,” Walker wrote. “So I played nice. I straddled a line of being forceful and resolute, and not doing anything to possibly p--- him off, even though he was making me feel like s--- in that moment.”
Women have been battling for equality in sports media for decades. In 1978, Sports Illustrated’s Melissa Ludtke won a lawsuit against Major League Baseball for access to the clubhouse after she was not allowed in during the 1977 World Series. Baseball’s commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, had said a female presence in the clubhouse undermined the integrity of the game.
There has been progress since then, but women are still a rarity on the sports beat. According to data supplied by the Associated Press Sports Editors, a 2018 report by Richard Lapchick of the University of Central Florida found that men make up the vast majority of sports departments, including 90 percent of sports editors, 70 percent of assistant sports editors, more than 80 percent of sports columnists and nearly 90 percent of reporters.
In October, an ugly incident occurred when a member of the Houston Astros’ front office, Brandon Taubman, screamed the name of a pitcher at a group of women in the clubhouse as the team celebrated clinching the American League pennant. The pitcher, Roberto Osuna, had been acquired while he was serving a suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. Taubman was later fired.
“There’s just a toxic masculinity that we deal with all the time,” said Rivera, who witnessed the exchange. “For me, as I’ve grown in this business, I have developed a really thick skin, and I think that’s a negative because I’ve normalized it.”
After The Post’s story was published, several professional sportswriting groups issued a statement Friday supporting Walker, Princiotti and the other women who spoke to the newspaper. It read in part: “Women reporters are repeatedly subjected to demeaning behavior on the job and in the workplace and misogynistic attacks on the internet. This needs to stop.” It was signed by the president of the Associated Press Sports Editors and the heads of sports task forces from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Another wrinkle to The Post’s story was the way it was discussed by reporters before publication. Numerous local and national reporters teased the story was coming and guessed wildly at its content, predicting it might include sex parties or drug abuse. “You saw [everyone] floating what it could be, men posting popcorn emojis,” Armour said. “And when you saw what it was [about], people had been ‘rubbernecking’ at someone’s very personal pain. It felt very gross.”
Armour, who has covered sports for 25 years, said there have been some improvements in the wider sports culture, particularly when it comes to how players interact with female reporters. “This generation of athletes in their 20s and 30s have grown up being covered by women — Rachel Nichols, Doris Burke,” Armour said. “Seeing women in sports media is not foreign or shocking to them, and they don’t view sports as their personal sanctum — whereas athletes two or three decades ago, they did.”
Well-meaning male colleagues in sports journalism have a role to play in improving the culture, Armour said. While she appreciated that several of her male colleagues expressed their “horror” at the details of The Post’s story, the most important thing they can do is make sure women aren’t the only ones fighting abusive behavior.
“You don’t want to call attention to yourself; women will try to find a way around it,” Armour said. “If a male colleague steps in and has your back, that means something. If you’re a man and are horrified at what went on, step in.”
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