One time in college, I did a really, really dumb thing and got in a lot of hot water over it, especially on the Internet. Then I apologized for it. Most of the Internet stayed mad. So you could say I’m pretty familiar with what it’s like to have hundreds of strangers tweeting about what a terrible human being you are.
Recently, my (smart, funny, wonderful) friend Megan wrote a thing ahead of today’s Arizona-Washington State game. Then a guy wrote this response. And then the Internet blew up at my (smart, funny, wonderful) friend in a way that felt excruciatingly familiar to me, but with one key difference:
During my own moment of Internet infamy, I said sorry because I definitely had something to apologize for. And even though I refuse to say all of the criticism was valid (death threats and harassing my family are never valid, Internet), a lot of it was. I’m still trying to figure out why so many people in Pullman, Wash., think Megan has something to be sorry about. As far as I can tell, when she incurred the Internet’s wrath, it was because … she said she’s not a Washington State fan?
Really. A bunch of people got worked up because she made some jokes about their school’s team. Because in the history of sports and its fan bases, that has never ever happened before.
Come on, Internet.
A lot of the hundreds of tweets that were sent to her are laughably stupid, like the ones speculating she’s a GDI. That, apparently, is a real insult. Some of them are just ridiculous, like the idea she should be fired. (For the record, yes, I questioned the wiseness of publicly rooting for a team when you’re a sports journalist, but I quickly put that aside. Objectivity in the news is a wholly separate discussion from, “Hey, fire your employee because I didn’t like the thing she wrote about my school’s team.”) Still, a sizable fraction of the response reached a low that I should no longer be surprised by, but am every time I see it.
Megan can handle this because she’s tough. And I’m all for developing a thick skin as a writer or journalist. People will always disagree, and you’ll never get everybody in the world to love what you write.
However, not all Internet trolls are equally trollish. I’ve never really followed any sports, but doesn’t an all-in-good-fun jab like “your team sucks” usually get answered with just, like, “no, yours”? “You’re a bitch” sounds like overkill.
See, for every few fans who replied, “Go Cougs! Arizona’s going to lose!” there was someone who called her a slut. Or some other not-suited-for-print word that only ever seems to be used derogatorily about women and has absolutely zilch to do with anything she wrote. Or they suggested that women shouldn’t be allowed to write about sports when they’re on their periods. There was a really great gem of a tweet that suggested her post “reinforced the stereotype that women shouldn’t talk about sports.”
I don’t know. #WSUOverEverything, I guess, including civil discourse and gender equality.
If I were a scientist, I would do some kind of study on the response Megan’s blog post would have received if it had run with a male writer’s byline. I’m not a scientist, but I assume the findings would be bleak.
After all, people still think they can say things like, “The amount of women talking in sports to the amount of women who actually have something to say is one of the more disproportionate ratios I’ve ever seen in my frickin’ life.” The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport regularly reports that the industry’s gender hiring practices get failing grades. Some people think the dearth of women in sports media is actually getting worse. That’s not surprising, considering that even if a woman does break into the field, her beauty is her biggest asset as a sports journalist. Just because women are allowed access to the locker room now doesn’t mean everybody there knows they’re there to do a job.
And that’s a shame, because I know a lot of talented women who love reporting and photographing sports. And unlike the worst of the Twitter trolls, it appears a lot of people who are actually in sports journalism agree with me. Except because sports media is such a boys’ club, pretty much all of those people are men.
It’s undeniable that women in sports media (and media in general and science and tech and a lot of other fields) have come a long way. But it’s also painfully clear how far they have left.
I am not a fan of watching football. I only sometimes halfheartedly follow the score on Twitter because I feel somewhat obligated to as an Arizona alumna. It’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because I just don’t care. But today, when Arizona is playing Washington State, I’ll hope for some female journalists on the sidelines or in the press box. They’re who I’ll be rooting for.