Behind the Peabody-winning #MoreThanMean video and its almost-scrapped launch

Sunday May 7th, 2017

A moving attack on misogynistic troll culture, the video’s simple message about civility online is painfully conveyed by the damage the vicious tweets do not only to the women forced to hear them, but also to the unsuspecting men who read them face-to-face with the female reporters and who are literally confronted with the immediacy of violence and sexism.

So said the Peabody Awards last week when honoring the Just Not Sports group (Brad Burke, Adam Woullard, Joe Reed, Gareth Hughes; One Tree Forest Films and director Chad Cooper shot the video). The Chicago-based podcast—the members work in public relations and film—were awarded a Peabody last week for their remarkable video featuring ESPN’s Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro, a Chicago-based update anchor and host for 670TheScore, listening to men reading harassing and threatening tweets they had received online. The video cost just $300.00 to produce.

Last week I asked Burke to send over some thoughts on what it was like to learn he and his friends had won a Peabody for its #MoreThanMean campaign.

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The weirdest thing about #MoreThanMean is how I almost scrapped it the day before we launched.

We finally had a cut that captured the painful and awkward tension on screen. It was ready. So I emailed the piece to a national sports reporter and told her if she wanted to break it first, it was all hers.

She passed.

I sent it to another reporter. They declined more publicly, with a crack about me on Twitter.

I panicked. In an era when well-meaning social commentary can be tone deaf (ask Kendall Jenner) I feared our piece had badly missed the mark. There had to be some fatal flaw I wasn’t seeing.

I told Just Not Sports producer Joe Reed, the youngest of our group in his mid-20s, we should hold back. He shrugged it off. “All we’re doing is asking people not to call women c-nts,” he told me. “It’s not exactly a hot take.”

A few hours later, the video was generating headlines across the world. Good advice, kid.

Going viral was a blur of non-stop notifications and interview requests. I had to pass on “Outside the Lines,” heartbreakingly, because I was stuck at my day job. And then, after three sleepless days, my constantly-buzzing phone went silent. What kicked #MoreThanMean off the trending list? The NFL draft. And a kid wearing a gas-mask bong. Go figure.

Of course, there would have been no media frenzy had it not been for Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, the only two reporters who agreed to show up for this social experiment. Neither could say confidently it would go anywhere; our podcast was new, our budget was non-existent. Both knew full well, however, that their own harassment would worsen tenfold. “Don’t feed the trolls” is cliché for a reason.

People tell us—mostly through cowardly, anonymous comments—that #MoreThanMean proves women in sports “just can’t take harassment.” Nah, man, watch it again. Julie and Sarah handled every taunt and threat with poise. Unlike the men reading the tweets, the women’s hands don’t shake. They don’t squirm in their seat. They don’t break eye contact. They proved women can probably deal with whatever harassment you throw at them. They just shouldn’t have to.

They still do, though. I’m realistic about the impact we had. The hardcore trolls still disparage and threaten women, and 2016 proved to be one of the worst years for public discourse.

That doesn’t deflate me—not at all. #MoreThanMean wasn’t the solution, it was a signal to think differently about the problem. Teachers used the video in class. High school coaches showed it to men’s teams. And scores of male sports fans told us they stopped scrolling past abuse, and started reporting it. It’s not the end. But it’s a step forward.

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