Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Standing in Sad Sisterhood, with Regret

I wasn't as young as Skyler. I wasn't working directly for any MLS team, even as an intern. 

While trying to gather player comments for a post-game story, I knew the instant I was told to leave the locker room by a player that it was happening because I was female and that was wrong. I had supportive reporter colleagues around me, even if they were somewhat confused because they didn't speak Spanish. I stood my ground and did my job, even if that meant getting quotes while other players joked and catcalled and Ezra Hendrickson had to tell them to settle down. Upon returning to the pressbox, I sent in my article and then wrote an email directly to the league about the incident. 

I didn't want to go public about it, but felt I had to explain what had already been mentioned, and so I did in blog form. Like Skyler, I received a lot of comments appalled that anyone tried to prevent me from doing my job in peace, but of course, the words that stay in my head over a decade later are the ones of condemnation and shame. They still make me angry and frustrated. I was doing my job. 

But there is also still some lingering regret. In my email to MLS higher-ups (Director of Communications, League Executives) I mentioned specifically how the league needed to have some kind of transition training for players & staff who arrive from other countries and need to learn what's culturally acceptable in the US. The bullshit of that is that other players whooping at me in the locker room that night were American. In other words, players across the league needed sexual harassment avoidance training. I wish I'd insisted on that, maybe on threat of suing otherwise.  

The month after the incident, I was in the press room at the MLS All-Star Game in Colorado when MLS Commissioner Don Garber approached me after his public press conference. He apologized, saying that he was told what happened, that he was appalled and that it shouldn't have happened. I was caught off-guard, and mumbled something like, "Thanks," and "Yeah, it shouldn't have." I was embarrassed. I'd worked hard at my job for years and didn't want to be known for a locker room scene. 

Thing is, Garber's apology didn't really change anything, and certainly not for Skyler. I wish now I'd pulled out my recorder immediately and asked Garber if he'd commit on the record to league-wide sensitivity training for all staff and players, with a clear chain of reporting and accountability if anyone fell short. What was he going to do to make sure that what shouldn't have happened wouldn't happen again? Instead, I just hoped the league had learned a lesson and would do better. 

Maybe pushing Garber to do more to address the issue all those years ago wouldn't have changed anything for Skyler, who was in a different situation than mine in many ways. But I wish I had done more, regardless. Instead, all I can offer now is that I'm appalled at what happened to her. It shouldn't have happened.