It's Beyond Time to Change the Treatment of Women Reporters

The actions of Jared Porter, the Mets former general manager, represent a much bigger problem within sports.
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The Mets just fired general manager Jared Porter for sexual harassment after he sent a slew of unwanted and inappropriate texts to a reporter. There are a lot of words in that sentence that might catch your attention. I want to focus today on the last one.

A reporter attends games in a professional capacity, to provide some mixture of information, insight, analysis and entertainment. Porter viewed her as a possible sexual partner, which means he made a huge and offensive assumption before he ever sent a text. It’s an assumption people in sports make in locker rooms and more private settings all the time, and it makes the daily grind of the job significantly harder for women than men.

According to ESPN, Porter met the woman he harassed only once, in an elevator at Yankee Stadium in June 2016. They exchanged business cards. Somehow, he did not see her as a person trying to cover baseball, but somebody who might want to join him in his hotel bed. Porter’s actions after that were extreme, and the Mets were obviously correct to fire him immediately. But his initial assumption—that a woman with a media credential was there for different reasons than a man with a media credential—is far too common.

This is the lesson that franchises should share with their employees today. “Don’t send dozens of harassing texts” is the easy lesson. The harder one is that everybody from general managers to players to interns should show women and nonbinary reporters the same professional respect as they do men.

The woman that Porter harassed did not work for Porter, but he held power over her and he used it. Reporters need sources. No executive is obligated to be anybody’s source, but it is sick that a man could earn Porter’s trust through accurate and careful reporting and a woman was made to feel like she had to earn it sexually. The fact that she was a foreign journalist shifts the power dynamic even more; she was, literally, on his turf.

Women journalists are forced to deal with Porter’s assumption constantly. Male journalists notice it unless they choose not to. Sometimes the suggestions are overt, as conversations shift from “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” to “Why don’t we go somewhere and get a drink?” At other times, the insinuation is more subtle; as I walked into the LSU locker room with a group of reporters after the 2020 national championship game, somebody called out that there were now women in the locker room, as though this was somehow unusual or a cause for concern. It was neither.

Most sportswriters focus on a single team or at least a single sport; I bounce around, which means that every time I walk into a press box, there are women there who know more about the event than I do. But who do you think has to prove themselves more? When Cam Newton said, “It's funny to hear a female talk about routes,” a few years ago, it stung women reporters all over the country. Most have heard some version of that comment, or at least felt that same condescending attitude. Quite a few could tell you far more about receiver routes than—for example—I can.

When I started in this business, in the 1990s, it was common for newspapers to assign the few women on their sports staffs to cover fringe sports, or to ask them to write features, preferably soft ones. Some newspapers employed women to write columns, but the columns were expected to be soft features—the implication being that sure, women could write about sports, but their opinions were not as valued and their head shots appeared in the newspaper at least partly so the paper could remind its readers that it did indeed employ a woman sportswriter.

Progress has been made. Not enough, but some. Mina Kimes, one of the reporters on the Porter story, shares her opinions about football on ESPN on a daily basis. It is much more common to hear women sharing intelligent, informed analysis than it was 25 years ago. (Perhaps true advancement will be when more women make their living as intellectually dishonest contrarians and trolls, but for now, that seems to remain a male domain.) The sheer number of women covering sports now should, at least, help them feel like they are not alone. But they still have to deal with comments, looks and unfounded accusations about why they are there. Every woman I have ever worked alongside has stories she would rather not tell.

Two decades ago, Porter probably would have kept his job as Mets general manager. We can say this because two decades ago, Steve Phillips kept his job as Mets general manager. In 1998, a Mets employee described sexual harassment by Phillips. He acknowledged an affair with her. He took a leave of absence that lasted all of eight days and kept his job; the Mets’ primary concern, at that time, seemed to be whether Phillips was OK.

Phillips was eventually fired for baseball reasons, and he revived his professional life as a prominent broadcaster at ESPN until he was fired again, this time for sleeping with a production assistant. This week, reporting from Phillips’s old network helped oust the GM of his old team. The situations are not exactly the same, of course—and maybe if the bumbling Wilpon family still owned the Mets, Porter would have been allowed to take eight days off. But new owner Steve Cohen was right to fire Porter immediately. The person overseeing a large operation needs to know how to treat people. Porter has shown he does not. Good for Cohen for seeing it immediately.

I just hope that around sports, people see this situation and think beyond the texts. Remember the reporter, too. Picture the two of them in that elevator. One of them was there to uphold professional standards, and the other was Jared Porter.