In wake of Porter scandal, MLB needs to create safer spaces for women

Mets president Sandy Alderson spoke about the order of events leading to the firing of GM Jared Porter after news of Porter’s inappropriate actions involving a reporter.

On Tuesday morning, many in the baseball world woke up to the news that the New York Mets had fired general manager Jared Porter.

And maybe, with that, many in the baseball world … woke up.

You don’t need to be told why the actions that led to Porter’s dismissal — as reported by ESPN’s Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan, Porter sent a series of inappropriate texts and images, including a photo of male genitalia, to a female reporter in 2016 while working as the Chicago Cubs’ director of professional scouting — are disgusting, wrong, predatory and an egregious abuse of the power he knew he wielded.

You probably also don’t need to be told that the journalist, a foreign correspondent who had moved in the U.S. to cover Major League Baseball, is not alone in her experience. It’s a sad truth that every time we see another story emerge of women who work in and around professional sports being mistreated and harassed while simply trying to do their jobs, we are reminded that these are far from isolated incidents.

Some of these incidents, we know about. Many others may never emerge due to fear of repercussion. There’s a reason the woman who spoke up was too afraid to do so earlier, with ESPN respecting and protecting its source until she was ready to come forward with her story — a story, we must note, that she did not choose for herself but was forced to be part of by Porter when he sent those texts, including a string of 62 that went unanswered, in 2016.

"My No. 1 motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else," the woman 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."

While this story is familiar to many, what happened immediately after its release by ESPN brought what marks perhaps the beginning of a new and hopeful chapter.

That the Mets took swift action on the heels of ESPN’s report, firing Porter with cause early Tuesday morning, points to progress.

The league is also launching an investigation into Porter’s actions. This is good. But it won’t change the fact that those actions already long ago resulted in a woman feeling unsafe to do her own job and, ultimately, leaving her career altogether.

The female reporter who came forward against Porter revealed that she avoided work opportunities where she knew she’d run into him and hid from the executive when their paths did cross. Reaching out to colleagues resulted in her being connected via a lawyer to a Cubs employee who, ultimately, made the situation even more difficult for her to navigate. (As a minority and a non-native English speaker, she faced even more obstacles.) She’s no longer working in the industry and, as ESPN reported, the situation with Porter was a contributing factor in that decision.

We cannot continue to let this happen. We can’t bring back the stories and insight and commentary this woman should have been able to share, but we can make the culture safer and better for other women working in the game, and for those with career aspirations propelling them into it.

What this latest case presents us with is a stark reminder that even while carving out space for themselves and others in the industry, so many women working in sports still feel isolated, exhausted and burdened by the Jared Porters of the world and the deeply ingrained societal and cultural norms that create the environment in which he thrived. It also sheds light on the fact that the transactional nature of the journalist-source relationship — one that is integral to a reporter’s career, and should be founded in mutual trust — can too easily be abused.

The long-standing power structures in an around professional sports, steeped in tradition and dominated by men, make it so. And without more women in newsrooms and positions of power to point this out, it’s no surprise that these blind spots go unchecked.

There are measures baseball — and all pro sports — can implement in an effort to change what we know can be a very toxic culture with women too often bearing the brunt of harm and consequence:

Hire more women. Consult women. Listen to women.

The talent pipeline for executives and scouts and personnel has long been too narrow — we know this by now — and bringing in voices diverse in gender, race and background will only make teams better in myriad ways.

In that area, too, we are starting to see change. The importance of the Miami Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng as their new general manager back in November cannot be overstated. Nor can this month’s news of the Boston Red Sox bringing in Bianca Smith as a minor-league coach — the first Black woman to hold the position — or the San Francisco Giants making Alyssa Nakken the first full-time female MLB coach in league history last January.

Implementing measures like more diverse hiring practices, creating safer spaces for women and having women seated at the decision-makers’ tables will go a long way in ensuring that we see sustainable change, growth and diversity in the game, and create an all-around better environment for everyone working within and around it.

To really address the problem requires not just the right reaction when cases arise, but strong proactive strides to correct the course this sport and others have been on for far too long.

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