When I was growing up, my mom had one rule when it came time to buy us new shoes: we had to show her that we could run in them. And I mean really run. I remember feeling so embarrassed when I had to sprint in circles around the small Stride Rite that we used to go to in Brookline; it got easier when they built the giant New Balance store and I had more room to move around in.
I presume that my mother had this rule to make sure that she was getting the most bang for her buck, but it’s a rule I’ve since imposed for myself as an adult woman. Money is a factor, especially now that it’s my own expense, but it’s really because I know that as a young woman, I need to be able to protect myself. And one day, God forbid, that might include needing to run as fast as I can. It’s why you’ll almost never see me in heels, and you can bet I’m only wearing ones that passed the running test.
I’m sharing this anecdote because the Jared Porter story that broke Monday night reminded me of all the things women have to deal with just to… be women. In sports. And in general.
If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, chances are, you already know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the kind of picture Porter sent to a female reporter in 2016, according to ESPN.
Sports is an industry that already makes women feel unwelcome because of their gender. You’re already presumed to know less, that you’re trying to sleep with athletes, that you only want to get famous. That’s the automatic presumption if you’re a woman trying to be in sports, before we even talk about dick pics.
Porter is an even higher position of power now than he was in 2016. And it can’t go on. He should be fired.
If you’re a man, let me clue you in to what this experience feels like, so you can fully grasp why Porter can never be in a power position again.
First, getting an unsolicited dick pic is jarring, because as the first word would suggest, we did not ask for it. It makes you want to throw your phone as far away from yourself as possible.
Then, it’s upsetting. You think, “Did they assume I’d like this? That I’d be into it? What kind of vibe do I give off that men think it’s okay to send me these out of the blue?” Yes, women often blame themselves for something we did not ask for. And again, often from someone we don’t even know. But society conditions women to think that how we act, dress, look, smell, sound, anything we do might be the reason that men behave disgustingly, when the reality is that men are taught that they don’t have to control their urges and desires because there are often no consequences for their behavior. Because again, our existence implicitly begs for male attention.
Receiving unsolicited photos of genitals is gross. Whenever it happened to me, I felt dirty, like I wanted to take a scalding hot shower to scrub the incident off, though that couldn’t cleanse my memory. You feel like you’ve done something wrong. It’s unsettling, because it makes you not want to be you. Because being you is somehow a provocation.
So, this brings us to Porter, who became GM of the Mets in mid-December (as in, a month ago) and is reportedly married, though he claimed to be unmarried at the time of the incident. He thought that a woman who had ignored over 60 texts from him would want to see his privates. Not only could he not take a hint that she wasn’t interested, he opted to escalate. Porter decided that what he wanted was more important than what she wanted. And he thought that he would be able to get away with it, because it’s almost always women who get slut-shamed for the unwanted actions of men.
Now the Mets have a decision to make. And to most rational people with a moral compass, it’s a simple one: fire Porter. But because this is a man’s world and a multi-billion-dollar business, they’re actually going to ‘weigh their options’ and wonder if the safety of women is worth it. That was clear from Sandy Alderson’s tactical statement to ESPN, which claimed that Porter is remorseful, has apologized, and has learned his lesson. This PR move is pretty easy to refute, though. The woman in question says that she never felt like he was truly sorry. Porter made this apology via text, which must have been an upsetting reminder in and of itself. And he has not suffered any consequences for these actions until now. Instead, he was promoted to one of the most powerful positions in professional sports. That’s the opposite of learning a lesson; he got away with it for years.
We need to recognize the mental trauma that Porter inflicted on this woman. The fact that she hid from him when he discovered that they were both at the same ballpark, and turned down future work opportunities out of fear she’d run into him, shows how much his actions impacted her. This woman – who felt she had to remain anonymous to preserve her reputation (which says everything about what it’s like to be a woman in sports) – is no longer in the industry, and says that Porter was the “tipping point” for her. And as long as Porter remains employed in sports, women are not safe here.
There are so many conversations about bringing more women into sports, but think about how many women have left the industry because of incidents like this, while the men involved have been able to stay and continue to rise through the ranks, their lives unblemished by their misdeeds. Sports aren’t even protecting the women currently working in them and enjoying them.
When someone asks me what it’s like to be building a career in sports, I’m not really sure how to answer them. I question my decision sometimes, even though I know sexism exists in most industries, having experienced it before I made the career-change. I love sports, but I’ve already become jaded. I know almost every woman in sports has at least one uncomfortable story to share; I’ve heard too many already. And on nights like tonight, I’m just angry and tired.
Women reporting on the Mets should not be forced to choose between speaking to the team’s general manager and not getting the information they need to do their job. Women in sports should not have to choose between succeeding and feeling safe.
If the New York Mets care about women at all, they will fire Jared Porter. Today. Full stop.
Photo: Patrick Breen