Sexual Harassment in a Culture of Misogyny
By David J. Leonard
At least once year, the media highlights the issue of sexual harassment within the sport world. Often focusing on an athlete harassing a member of the media or someone within the organization, the narrative plays upon sensationalism, often depicting sexual harassment as the result of the confluence of highly sexualized male athletes, products of the über-masculine world of words, with an increasingly integrated sports world. In other words, the media coverage often reduces sexual harassment to tawdry tales involving athletes, seemingly leaving readers to believe that had women remained outside of these “male spaces,” sexual harassment would decline proportionally. Erasing power, legitimizing male privilege, all while denying the frequency of sexual harassment at every level of sporting culture and society at large, the media discourse surrounding sexual harassment often fails in documenting this societal evil.
At the start of the 2011 NBA season (and at its conclusion with a settlement), one story received ample coverage without much analysis and discussion. A former employee of the Golden State Warriors filed a lawsuit against Monta Ellis and the team for alleged sexual harassment. The AP Story described the lawsuit and the allegations as follows:
A former Golden State Warriors employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against star guard Monta Ellis on Wednesday, alleging Ellis sent her unwanted texts that included a photo of his genitals. In her lawsuit, which also names the team, Erika Ross Smith alleges Ellis began sending her several dozen explicit messages, sometimes several times a day, starting in November 2010 through January while she worked for the team’s community relations department.The messages included lines such as, “I want to be with you,” and “Hey Sexy,” and periodically asked her what she was wearing or doing, according to the lawsuit.
Sensationalistic, a series of headlines without much analysis, context, and examination, the spectacle here did little to address to problem of sexual harassment within the NBA and throughout society. The allegations against Ellis and the Warriors are not the only instance of reported sexual harassment. One week prior, Warren Glover, a former NBA security official, alleged that he was fired from his position with the NBA, one that he had held for ten years, because of his efforts to expose sexual harassment in the league office:
A former N.B.A. security official says that he repeatedly warned his superiors that women in the office were being sexually harassed or discriminated against, but that his concerns were ignored and that he was ultimately fired for his actions on the women’s behalf. He is suing the league for lost wages and damages.
These two instances, as well as the 2007 case involving Isiah Thomas, contribute to a narrative of the NBA as having a sexual harassment problem. Reinforcing the image of sport as a space of heightened sexism, where sexual harassment is rampant because of sport (macho) culture, the media discourse isolates the injustices, thereby comforting the rest of society. In other words, rather than using these moments to confront sexism and sexual harassment found in the NBA and society at large, such discourse isolates it to sports/NBA culture, thereby reinforcing a pacifying narrative of hypersexual black ballers (the Glover case works a bit different) preying on women.
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