LOS ANGELES — He was an executive of a sports league. He seemed old to me, but I was young then, just starting out in a business in which women were rare and their presence was generally unwelcome.
I had already learned I would be barred from entering locker rooms to get interviews after games, which put me at a significant professional disadvantage. Competing on deadline against male sportswriters who had access to athletes after games seemed impossible under those circumstances. Would my career end before it could begin?
The executive complimented my work, which gave me confidence. He sent me notes and small, inexpensive gifts. He said we could have a relationship that would benefit me. All these years later I don't remember the specific language he used. I do remember becoming confused and then frightened. I told no one. I started avoiding him at news conferences and other events. I thought that's the way things worked in sportswriting.
I made it clear several times I wasn't interested in anything but a professional relationship. He didn't accept that at first. At some point the letters came less frequently and they stopped when I left for a job in another city.
Every woman who has worked in sports journalism has a story or two or 12 about being propositioned or harassed or being made the target of someone's egotistical delusion that his job makes him desirable beyond being the source of a news tip or a quote. Women who have pursued careers in fields dominated by men or have asserted their intelligence in board rooms, operating rooms or other settings undoubtedly have similar tales. They too know reporting these incidents to a superior is difficult and too often leads to a suggestion that maybe they brought this on themselves or needed to develop a sense of humor.
A player on a baseball team I covered would repeatedly call my hotel room in the middle of the night during trips and would mumble or breathe heavily. This was in pre-cell phone days, when a hotel operator had to connect calls, and when I tried to find out where the calls were coming from, the operator would tell me they had originated from the bar or another room in the hotel. After getting more than a few of those all-hours calls, I told a club official and asked him to put a stop to the calls. That official told me, essentially, that boys will be boys and I had to expect that kind of treatment if I wanted to work in a man's world.
That player did it because he could get away with it, because it gave him a sense of power and he got some kind of gratification from it. That's the motivation for harassment and bullying. When it's not about money it's about power, especially for those who are intoxicated with the clout that comes with a job title.
That's what it was about for Jared Porter, who was driven by the dangerous combination of entitlement and stupidity.
He had been the general manager of the New York Mets for about a month when he was fired Tuesday after his bosses learned he had sent unsolicited and sexually explicit text messages and lewd photos to a female reporter while he was the Chicago Cubs' director of professional scouting.
ESPN reported the story — which included a history of more than 60 texts Porter had sent her — but did not publish it for more than four years because the woman feared her career as a baseball correspondent would be damaged if she came forward. The woman, who requested anonymity, left sportswriting and returned to her home country.
"My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else," she told ESPN via an interpreter. "Obviously, he's in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry."
According to ESPN, Porter's harassment of the reporter began after they met in an elevator at Yankee Stadium in 2016 and exchanged business cards. Soon afterward, Porter texted her. She believed he could help her career and she accepted his messages for a while. After he sent lewd pictures she stopped responding to his texts. He apologized eventually, but the damage was done; the stress of the situation led her to return home and switch professions. She's not alone in giving up a fight that often feels exhausting and dispiriting.
It was easier, in the days before email trails and recoverable texts, to get away with tawdry behavior like this. Porter risked his reputation and his career and left evidence to prove his unconscionable behavior. He forfeited the right to have that job or any other in Major League Baseball.
Sandy Alderson, the Mets' president, said this sordid bit of Porter's history didn't come up when he interviewed Porter for the job. The Cubs too said they were unaware of it, even though the woman had made contact with a Cubs employee to discuss what had happened. The employee confirmed that to ESPN.
Before Porter was hired by the Mets he was a finalist for the Angels' GM job, which went to Perry Minasian. The Angels, if inadvertently, avoided the embarrassment of hiring a guy who turned out to be a creep. Think about it: Porter, an admitted harasser, got several interviews with the Angels, but Kim Ng — who paid her dues as an assistant GM of the New York Yankees and Dodgers and with nearly a decade's experience as a senior vice president of Major League Baseball — wasn't in the final mix.
Unlike other teams this offseason, the Miami Marlins weren't afraid to go outside the good ol' boy network that nurtures people like Porter in order to hire Ng, who is the first female general manager in Major League Baseball. She should not be the last. Young women and minorities who see her will want to be her and will follow her studious path.
Reporting is built on connections. Information is our currency. Porter was in a position to provide information to a reporter but dictated terms that would gratify him and degrade her. No one should feel entitled to act this way. That it has always been done isn't a valid excuse. It's time to end that cycle. No one subjected to misbehavior in the workplace should have to feel they must go along with something they know is wrong to get along in their career.
As a young journalist I was taught to never make myself the story, so I've rarely discussed problems I've encountered at work. I have what most people consider a dream job. They don't want to hear about the challenges. It was and still is my dream job too, and I'm uncomfortable writing this column. But I also thought the harassment female journalists endured decades ago would have vanished by now, and clearly it has not.