It’s been more than four decades since sportswriter Melissa Ludkte successfully sued Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball for the right to enter major league clubhouses — something she was banned from doing during the World Series in 1977. As the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals get ready to play Game 3 of the 2019 World Series on Friday, women reporters have become fixtures in professional locker rooms. But that doesn’t mean the job has become any easier.
While a new generation of athletes is more professional than their predecessors, any woman covering sports can tell you a litany of stories, heard and experienced, about bad behavior by men in team clubhouses. Women reporters know which athletes to avoid and which athletes have a history of singling out and humiliating female reporters. It’s part of the job.
Women reporters know which athletes to avoid and which athletes have a history of singling out and humiliating female reporters. It’s part of the job.
What’s not part of the job is being verbally assaulted by members of a team’s front office, which is what makes Astros Assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s attack on a group of women reporters so galling. The actions of Taubman, who was fired Thursday, highlighted not only the enduring issue of sexism in sports journalism, but also the way teams view female reporters who speak out about violence against women.
While the Astros celebrated punching their ticket to the World Series, Taubman reportedly yelled “I’m soooo glad we got Osuna! I’m so f-----g glad we got Osuna!” at three women reporters in the clubhouse, one of whom was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet. Last season, Houston picked up pitcher Roberto Osuna on the cheap, capitalizing on his 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s Joint Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse. The move was criticized by fans in Houston and around the league, but Osuna has been an undeniable asset for the Astros, leading the American League in saves in 2019.
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Taubman’s comments about Osuna were not simply a reflection of his record, however. Houston reporter Chandler Rome reported on Twitter that Taubman had complained about one of the reporters tweeting out the number to a domestic violence hotline on more than one occasion. And in the aftermath of Taubman’s outburst, both he and the Astros issued a series of gaslighting statements, first claiming the incident didn’t happen, and then suggesting that Taubman’s intent was simply to express his gratitude to Osuna, not to taunt a reporter who just so happened to publicly support domestic violence outreach.
Baseball journalists and fans across the nation were rightly infuriated by Taubman’s conduct and the Astros’ subsequent attempts to smear Sports Illustrated’s Steph Apstein, who initially reported the event. Firing Taubman was a step, but Houston, via General Manager Jeff Luhnow, continued to insist Thursday that there is no culture problem within his organization.
Luhnow talked about how hard the Taubman incident had been on him, then went on to tell reporters that he had not reached out to Apstein to apologize in person, claiming he hadn’t had time. Apstein was sitting among the reporters directly in front of him. Luhnow’s continual state of denial led some fans to speculate that Taubman’s ouster was more likely a product of MLB pressure than any cultural awakening on the part of the Astros.
If all this outrages you, it should.
By and large, most professional sports teams operate under a “one and done rule.” Once an athlete with a history of harming women has served his suspension, reporters are expected to stop drawing attention to said athlete’s history of bad behavior — at least until he gets in trouble again. Any attempt to continue the conversation risks the wrath of the team’s front office. After a team “addresses” allegations of violence in what is always a predictably useless press conference, everyone is expected to move on and not bring it up again.
Once an athlete with a history of harming women has served his suspension, reporters are expected to stop drawing attention to said athlete’s history of bad behavior.
But when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault, it’s often the women covering the team who find it the most difficult to move on. Female reporters who continue to discuss an athlete’s violent history are deluged with offensive tweets and emails from fans who don’t want to have to think too hard about the guys they’re rooting for. What’s more, female reporters who don’t back down can find themselves on the outs with the front office, even if it’s never revealed publicly.
Making matters worse, women are still an extreme minority when it comes to covering professional sports, making them easy targets for guys like Brandon Taubman. It’s hard to believe that there weren’t male reporters in Houston’s clubhouse who had been similarly critical of Osuna’s past, yet Taubman singled out a woman with a domestic violence prevention bracelet. It’s probably worth noting that while at least one male reporter came forward to corroborate Apstein’s account, to date there haven’t been any accounts of male reporters defending their female colleagues in the moment.
Like professional sports leagues, sports reporting has a misogyny problem. Further, it has a problem with men believing women. Brandon Taubman’s actions certainly do not bolster the efficacy of the league’s mandatory domestic violence training. And they speak volumes about the culture inside Houston’s organization. If picking up Roberto Osuna at the trade deadline in 2018 didn’t send the message that domestic violence isn’t a deal-breaker for the Astros, Taubman’s behavior — and the team’s initial defense of it — did.
I would bet that every woman in sports media who has been outspoken about social justice, and violence against women in particular, has been warned that continuing to speak out will hurt her career, limit her access to a team, or earn her a reputation as “difficult.”
Yet when players, teams and front office executives continue to deny our humanity, how can we remain silent? Why shouldn’t we talk about domestic violence every time Roberto Osuna pitches? After all, there is far more at stake for women in abusive relationships than the outcome of a baseball game. Women who have persevered in a male-dominated industry, building up their audience and their platform, deserve the right to use it.
Of course, Houston is far from the only team whose supposed dedication to raising awareness about domestic violence rings hollow. No matter how many times team owners and presidents and general managers tell us they “take the matter seriously,” the actions of teams across the league belie their words. Believe women, unless what they say hurts the team.