What you are about to read came from the firsthand experience of a female working in the sports industry. It may be shocking or it may seem all too familiar. It may make you angry or it may make you proud. But these are real stories, from real women, who aren't always comfortable sharing their identity, but they believe their stories can help others. If you have a story to share via Courtside Confidential, email us at email@example.com.
I was 25 years old, working as a manager in the sports industry. While my leadership was mainly female - rare, I know - most of the people I had to “manage” were men, and many of them were older than me. I walked around my place of work with the same confidence that I had been born with (which was sometimes a strength, but I was often seen as maybe a bit too confident). I adhered to the dress code, which was either suit pants and a jacket or a skirt and a jacket, with, of course, some really great heels, because why not? And on this day specifically, I was in my element, preparing for one of the biggest clients I had ever worked and feeling pretty good about it.
I had to make a stop to one of the parts of the building in which some of the more “casual” employees worked to finalize details. There were about 15 other people within viewing distance and earshot of where I stood. At that moment, I was approached by a man who we will call Eddie. Eddie and I only worked together when his department was executing something for my clients, and when he would save the sports section for me in the lunch room as we crossed paths there each day. He was old enough to be my father and at least a foot taller and 250 pounds heavier than me. I barely knew his name, which I admit now may have been part of the problem with how I was perceived by my coworkers at the time.
As I stood there talking with a few members of the department about today’s client, I suddenly felt my personal space shrinking and getting really dark. The next thing I remember was Eddie’s disgusting breath on my neck and an extremely unwelcome hand on my butt. I literally couldn’t believe what was happening. He then whispered in my ear, “I’ve never seen you look that good in a skirt before.”
And there it was. The exact moment when I became a statistic. In that moment, I froze. I’d like to tell you that I slapped his hand away, screamed some put-together, empowered set of words that told him to go **** himself, but in a really professional way. But I did none of those things. I froze. I think I slumped away from him and nervously laughed awkwardly. And when I looked around this large, very populated room, I could tell that at least five or six people totally knew exactly what happened…and did not say a word. I think I walked out with confidence, or at least I hope I did, in the midst of what I can only explain as utter embarrassment met with extremely pissed off mixed with being personally insulted in a way that stunned me.
I went straight to HR. Luckily for me, I was very close with the HR professional and basically flew into her (which also made it easier) office and closed the door. With my body shaking with nervousness - and I think a little bit of shock - I began to cry and explain what had transpired. Despite her being my close friend, she impressively maintained her professionalism and I think asked me how I’d like to handle “it.” To her and my place of work’s defense, this was before the #MeToo movement, before #TimesUp and before most organizations had a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment.
At the time, I was so mortified for my personal pride but also my reputation at work that I just started to think about what solution would make it all go away. In addition to that, I think I remember Eddie talking about his teenage daughter at home and I knew that his job didn’t pay much, with it being in the more hourly/physical labor category. With all that rushing through my mind, I spit out something like, “I don’t want him to lose his job or anything. I just want him to stay away from me.”
Now-a-days, it’s hazy what happened next. I’m sure that my manager and the director of our organization spoke to me about it afterwards, although I don’t remember specifically. I just know that years later, I wished that I and the organization had handled it differently. Eddie did not lose his job (although in a fit of karma, he later had to quit after an on-the-job injury), and I don’t know if it was because I said I didn’t want him to, or if my place of work just didn’t find it egregious enough to warrant firing him. I’m sure now, given our current social climate, things would have been different.
I am angry though. Angry at myself for thinking of his well-being before mine, and potentially other women’s that could have been harassed by him in the future, or the past, for that matter. I am angry at management for either taking the recommendation of a startled and victimized young employee or for just not thinking that firing him was the right thing. It shouldn’t have mattered whether or not I wanted him to lose his job. It was either a fireable offense or it wasn’t. Making that decision is too much for someone that had just been through that.
And lastly, of course, I am mad at him for embarrassing me. For violating me. For forcing me to appear vulnerable in a place that I had worked so hard to appear strong, capable, and professional. For disrespecting me, when I battled every day to earn the respect of my coworkers as a young female.
And now, I just got mad at myself again, for being mad at myself. We do that too often when these things happen. When we are the survivor of a situation like that, we really need to give ourselves more credit, more leeway to not be perfect and more love. And I guess that’s where I want the story to end: with employers handling this type of situation better, (which I am confident they would have now) and with women giving themselves a break. Not their employers or their abusers. But themselves.