Power and Preferential Treatment

espn sexual harassment erin - Google Search 2016-03-12 17-01-26

I am not the biggest sports fan. But any Michigander worth their weight should be a Detroit fan. (Well, ok. I’m mostly a fair-weather Lions fan, but come on. It’s agony otherwise.) But a few years ago, I surprisingly turned into a fairly serious football fan. It started when I joined a fantasy football league, which I did as a way to share a hobby with my husband, and before long I was running a couple of leagues.

The key to my newfound love was winning. I never knew I had such a competitive edge until I had the chance to be successfully competitive. And the key to my winning was Peyton Manning. His was one of the few names I recognized, so I drafted him right away, and every year after, he was my QB. (When I first started I didn’t even know what a quarterback was. It was bad.)

He gave me a love for a (ok, yes, very problematic) sport that I didn’t know I could have, and it was just something fun and stress-free that I could do. I became such a fan of both football and Peyton that on our 10th anniversary trip, we watched the sports channels debating which team he would transfer to, and on our drive home we listened to his press conference on the radio, where he picked the Broncos.

So of course I watched his press conference on Monday, where he announced his retirement. I might have even cried a little bit.

And when I saw the female reporter raise her hand, and I saw how visibly nervous she was, and how her voice shook, I knew what she was going to say. And she did. It was fantastically brave. At a celebratory press conference, she asked Peyton about allegations of sexual assault from his college days that have recently resurfaced.

And I really wanted to hear what he had to say. But surprise, ESPN apparently didn’t agree. They instantaneously cut to a blue screen and came back a few seconds later with a  jumpy screen and audible difficulties, so we couldn’t hear his response. Classy.

I was disappointed when I read later what he had said, which was essentially a non-statement, brushing it off. I think it’s possible to come out say ‘I did something horrible when I was 19 and I’m so sorry. Hopefully I’ve matured into a better human being since then.’ Doing something that offensive, even criminal, doesn’t erase your football skills or the good deeds you’ve done since. But it does mean the decent thing to do is to be honest about it. And then make restitution, obviously and take whatever punishment you have coming. I think this leaves an ugly, disappointing tarnish on his legacy.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how that situation was handled. That blue screen, and compare it to another screen, also ESPN’s doing. This one lasted much longer – a tv interview with Oprah.

ESPN reporter Erin Andrews has been in the news again lately because her lawsuit was finally settled, and she was awarded $55 million for being secretly videotaped naked and having the tape all over the internet. Coming out of her trial was the fact that before she was allowed to go back to work for ESPN, she was required to do an on-air interview about her victimization. She was forced to talk about her story on TV, when she wanted nothing more than for it all to disappear. What a way to be a supportive work environment.

The way those two situations were handled just struck me, especially in light of Women’s History Month and the various discussions going around about the worth and importance of women. Lindsay Jones, the reporter who asked the question at the press conference, and Erin Andrews have both been treated shamefully by ESPN and other sports outlets and people on Twitter. I instinctively want to think that once someone becomes ‘professional’, or famous, that they won’t have to deal with that lack of respect. But we see over and over again that that’s not the case. (See Kesha and Kelly Clarkson’s accounts of working with Dr. Luke. See also this set of interviews.) And I would wager we all know someone who has situations related to these. Situations of power and disrespect and invasions of privacy, of stalking and unbelieved sexual assault.

And I get how hard it is when our faves have disturbing skeletons in their closets But we have got to stand up for women. We have got to question and hold accountable industries and companies and people that are so destructive to our humanity. We have got to expect better out of ourselves and each other. We are worth it! It’s not ok to cut away from a journalist doing her job. It’s not ok re-victimize a woman. It’s not ok to ruin a woman’s career and write about it in your biography!  

And it all just makes me wonder. Who do we give preference to? Whose questions do we ignore and shutdown and why? And who do we victimize? Who do we protect, and who do we demand air their humiliations?

Power protects power. It demands obedience from the unwilling. And it’s so easy to get caught up in its trap. But we should always, always, always check ourselves. Because when it comes down to it, the question is, who are we standing up for and who are we protecting?

Caris Adel

Caris Adel

Writer at Caris Adel
Caris is passionate about justice, history, and how they intertwine (or so often don't, as the case may be). She is pursuing a degree in American Studies and Public History, and while she can often be found with a book in her face and a coffee in hand, she also spends some of her time homeschooling her 5 kids.
Caris Adel

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  • “We have got to question and hold accountable industries and companies and people that are so destructive to our humanity. We have got to expect better out of ourselves and each other. We are worth it!” This is so true, Caris. We need to be aware of what the consequences are of our actions and who we believe and support, so we don’t get sucked up into the power/control trap. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!