In the past year, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailles and Bill O’Reilly have all been “outed” for sexual harassment. We’ve seen major stories break about figures in politics, business and entertainment; yet there’s been no Harvey Weinstein for the sports world. Sadly, I doubt it’s because there isn’t one.
This, of course, is not to say there haven’t been any major sexual harassment cases. In June, several women filed a sexual harassment suit against Joe Pisarcik
, former CEO of the NFL Alumni Association. In July, Jamie Horowitz
, former head of programming at Fox Sports, was fired over sexual harassment claims. In August, the girls softball team at Auburn
filed a Title IX complaint alleging that former head coach Clint Myers’ son was allowed to sexually harass several of them repeatedly.
And that’s just what happened over the summer. If you Google sexual harassment cases against athletes, you’ll get hundred of results. And maybe some of these are frivolous, but even if only 2% of them were credible, it would still be a disturbingly high number — and we all know it’s more than 2%.
There is a sexual harassment problem in the athletic community; just ask any female reporter who covers sports. One has only to read this Sports Illustrated
piece from 2015 to understand how regularly these women are harassed. For instance, this reporter’s story:
“One agent was fixated on me giving him a number of how many penises I had seen in locker rooms through the years and how they compared… I also recall trying to build a relationship with a team executive who I was pretty sure was a source for other reporters… he kept changing the subject away from work to my personal life and whether or not I was dating anyone. When he put his hand on my back, that was my cue to leave…”
Or this story:
Once, an NFL player told her that it was cool she was married because so was he. There was also the time a source offered to let her sleep in his hotel room during a championship game. Then there was the time the Division I basketball coach hit on her.
Or this one:
While covering hockey, one west coast-based sports television reporter recalled a player skating by during a practice to say, “Nice lip gloss, it’ll look good on my c— tonight.”
So it’s clearly an issue in sports. And it’s a problem in every industry, because it’s a problem with men in general – myself included. Growing up, there were many occasions where I acted inappropriately towards women, and I have a lot of regrets about my behavior as a teenager. And I’m sure there are other guys like me out there, who are uncomfortable addressing this topic because it makes them feel like a hypocrite. Because it’s hard to admit you may have been part of the problem. But we have to get used to that feeling, because it’s clear we need to do better.
The days when “goosing” your secretary was considered a good joke are not as far removed as we may think. It was 1996, Chris Rock went on Saturday Night Live and got huge laughs doing a bit where he essentially said that most forms of sexual harassment were OK. If you don’t remember the bit, it went like this [via SNLtranscripts.org]:
What’s the difference between sexual harrassment and just being an idiot? I mean, if my father didn’t harrass my mother, I wouldn’t be here! I mean, I understand some sexual harrassment.. if a man is your boss and says, “Hey, sleep with me, or you’re fired.” That’s sexual harrassment. And that’s the only thing that’s sexual harrassment! Everything else falls under “Just trying to get laid.”
To be fair, a lot of Chris Rock’s humor is in the delivery, but the content of the joke is still troubling. The paraphrase Adam Burke of NPR’s ‘Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me‘: “The fact we have to differentiate between “regular gross” straight male behavior and “hire a lawyer” behavior is a problem in and of itself.”
And it may seem strange on paper, but Chris Rock got a lot of laughs when he did that joke, because that was the prevailing attitude at the time. It was 1996, the same year Miramax released it’s first Academy Award winning film, and the same year Cosby began it’s first season on CBS. That same year, William Morris assistant Kelly Johnson was allegedly assaulted by Bill Cosby, and Ashley Judd and Judith Godrèche had their first run-ins with Harvey Weinstein. It all happened in 1996 and it took another 20 years before people started talking about it.
At the same time that we were trying to teach young men how to behave, we turned a blind eye and catered to misconduct at the highest levels. To borrow a phrase from President Trump: “when you’re a star, they let you do it”.
Well, we’re just now beginning to send a clear and cohesive message that these things are not OK. And, if it makes anyone uncomfortable, you better get used to it, because this is just the beginning. More names will be named, and more facts are going to come out, and it won’t be long until it reaches the “Big 4”. Because, while the NFL and the NBA and the NHL and the MLB haven’t had their Weinsteins yet, we all know it’s coming.
[UPDATE: The 1996 accusations against Weinstein have been updated, as the incident between Gwyneth Paltrow and Harvey Weinstein took place before the release of “Emma” (Miramax, 1996).]