I Just Want To Talk About Hockey

Early last week, a male sports blogger wrote an article on an SB Nation site dedicated to an NBA team. One of his readers did not agree with his analysis apparently. From what I can gather from the writer’s Twitter timeline, the reader created multiple accounts to harass him and other men who contribute on to that site. He was also harassed on Twitter from what I can see.

The day following those incidents, of which I was not aware at the time, I was conversing with another woman on Twitter and she sent me a link for an article. The article was unrelated to the NBA story so I have to think it was not part of the reason I came up on this unhappy fan’s radar. The only thing I can come up with is that the reader searched Twitter for SB Nation.  I have SB Nation in my bio since I write for Second City Hockey, so I suppose this made me an easily identifiable target.

I do not follow the writer of the NBA article on Twitter nor do I belong to the section of SB Nation for which he writes.  As a writer for Second City Hockey, my focus is on hockey and the use of advanced statistics to analyze the game. I do not write about basketball, although I am a fan of the sport.

I’ve only been on Twitter for about a year. I only started writing about hockey in November of 2013 and was asked to write for Second City Hockey after my first blog article. My use of advanced stats has occasionally elicited some “watch the game you nerd” type of messages. Some have been a bit harshly worded, but easy to ignore. I had never even blocked anyone on Twitter until midway through the Winter Olympics when someone decided to prove that Phil Kessel is a better hockey player than Patrick Kane by being a misogynist. The funny thing about that was that I was not even making that point or its converse and during the conversation the guy asked me to prove his point using stats. It was bizarre and I ended up blocking him after he told me to get back in the kitchen.

I’ve dealt with unbelievable misogyny in the past having grown up a “tom boy” on the farm, playing sports, working on cars, being good at science, going to law school and to a great extent while practicing law. I’ve had judges scream mercilessly at me in front of a jury during a trial and later admit to doing so to see if I would cry. I didn’t and I won the trial. I’ve had male attorneys move lecterns so I couldn’t get behind them when trying cases very late in pregnancy. I was told on several occasions by named partners in firms I have worked for in the past that I should handle specific clients’ cases, client dinners and the like because the client’s decision makers thought I was attractive. You can take my word for it that I was told specific details of what made me attractive by the men with their names on the door of the firm. I have had male attorneys, clients and opposing parties openly question my ability based solely upon my gender. I proved them wrong by doing my job very well. Many of them admitted to me afterward that they were wrong and apologized. Some of them did not, but after I had beaten them in court, I did not really care.

The common thing in all of this is that not once did any of those people ever turn their misogyny into threats of physical violence. That is likely because most of those encounters were face to face and the other person was not emboldened by the lack of physical proximity. This is what made what happened recently so disturbing to me. Once the unhappy fan who had been harassing the NBA writer found me on Twitter, he sent me an aggressive and sexually explicit message. I had no idea of what was happening with regard to the NBA article so I thought it was a random spam bot.

He sent me another explicit message using the NBA writer’s name as his Twitter name. I blocked and reported it as abusive using the form Twitter provides, which I had never done before. Much to my surprise, the same guy made a new account and his messages increased in their aggressive and explicit nature. I took some screen shots and kept blocking and reporting the accounts. He started using Twitter handles made up solely to insult me as he created new accounts. The messages started including threats of sexual violence toward me and finally toward my children as well. While trying to screen shot one tweet, four or five more would pour in from him. I kept blocking and reporting these accounts and tweets.

Many people who know me on Twitter tried to help. A few of them did some digging and discovered the source of the situation. It appeared that this unhappy fan was trying to get the NBA writer in trouble by harassing me on Twitter using the writer’s name. Several people suggested that I report this situation to the police and at that point, my harasser stopped sending me messages.  I thought it was over with, but then he started back up again. The second wave of harassment was short lived thankfully and only involved two additional accounts made to carry it out. At one point the person told me that if I didn’t want to be harassed and “bullied” online, I should stay off of my computer. That reasoning is completely ridiculous, but I would not expect a person like that to understand why.

I did get an email from Twitter that basically told me to call the police if I felt the threats of violence were “credible” which, I understand, is a way to cover the company from liability. I do not expect Twitter to fight all of my battles for me, but it would be nice to have a policy that would have prevented this person from creating so many accounts in such a short time frame.  I will not be holding my breath for this to happen.

Several days have passed and now that I’ve had a little time to collect my thoughts, the whole situation is bothersome on an even larger scale. This is just a small piece of a much larger puzzle. The logical explanation for me being chosen as a victim of this harassment is that I write about sports on the same collective network as the person who angered this individual. I assume it was a man who was harassing me due to some of the details of the sexual threats but there is no way to be sure. I do not know if he chose me because I am a woman or not. I lean toward that answering being yes. The insults this person lobbed at the NBA writer involved questioning his sexual orientation. The threats of physical and sexual violence sent to me specifically drew upon the fact that I am a woman and also targeted my children.  The threats also involved racist comments about how when this person was “done with me” he would leave me to be gang raped by specific ethnic groups. Of course, he identified these groups with slurs and insulting language. He covered all of his bigoted bases to be sure.

Even keeping in mind that this person was trying to get someone else in trouble, his creativity and the ease with which he sent these threats at such rapid fire pace leads me to think they are not far off from things he would normally think or say. The fact that he immediately resorted to sexual messages and threats of sexual violence is a sad commentary on how he perceives women in the sports world and in general.

I know that I am not the first woman to experience this sort of treatment in life or online. This is my first online experience with this kind of vitriol being focused on me with such intensity, so I hope you will  excuse my lack of sophistication in how to deal with such attacks. I was not prepared to just ignore it or pretend it did not happen. I was not prepared for the way it made me feel. I had a fleeting moment of feeling that I was not safe, but it passed fairly quickly. The feelings that are taking longer to pass are embarrassment, humiliation, vulnerability and anger.

I interact with men and women when talking about sports all the time. It is a very rare occasion that I sense my gender has anything at all to do with the response I get in those conversations. The lack of gender involvement in those interactions made it particularly embarrassing and humiliating when it was suddenly put in the spotlight. I know that the people I interact with on Twitter would not even think of judging me based upon that but it is embarrassing and humiliating nonetheless. The men I interact with may be the subject of attacks but I have not seen them threatened with sexual violence. (This excludes those men who are attacked based upon their sexuality of course.)

The sexual nature of this harassment is what led to the anger I am feeling. I want to write about hockey. I want to talk about sports with other people. I want to argue my point and support it with facts. I want to be proven wrong by someone who knows more than I do. I want someone else to prove a point and show me how I misjudged a situation or misread or misused a stat. I do not want to be targeted for attacks based upon some person’s antiquated view of what parts of the world women are allowed to tread into. I do not want to feel a bit anxious when I open my Twitter account because some completely unstable person may do this kind of thing again. I will continue to write and talk about hockey and sports in general. I am sure this kind of attack will happen again. I hope I am more prepared for it when it does but I do not think I will be able to just ignore it.

I am tired of seeing other women treated this way whenever they open their mouths.  I am tired of seeing smart women who demand to be treated fairly held out as an example of a “hysterical woman” “outraging” over what some men consider funny or not a big deal. Whether it is a bad joke or the lack of women’s sized jerseys available online or just a misunderstanding, I am tired of seeing the men who are called out over their behavior make fun of the women calling them out and then posting every response from a woman who did not think it was a big deal.  This kind of behavior only reinforces these stereotypes and makes women think twice before voicing their opinions. I am tired of people calling these guys “internet trolls” and acting like that is an acceptable thing to be. I am tired of seeing people that say they support women’s involvement in sports and sports writing also supporting the men who make us feel that we are not welcome in their club.

Lastly, I am tired of having to get this angry about things like this, because damn it, I just want to talk about hockey.