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Part 1: The time I was sexually harassed at my "dream" job

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Hi friends,


Today’s topic is pretty personal, and despite the time that’s passed, writing this post was still really hard. When I first left the situation I’m about to describe, all I wanted to do was move on and forget about the entire experience, including the misogynistic comments, harassing behavior, and horrible interactions with HR. With time, I started to feel like I needed to do more to change the situation, especially for the women who would be coming after me. To do that, I had to talk about it.


Sadly, sexual harassment is far too common in the sports industry, in part because of the lopsided male to female ratio and “locker room” culture often associated with working in sports. Despite that, it’s not something that’s frequently discussed. I had a professor at Delaware who told all of his sport management students (essentially me and 30 guys) that women faced different challenges than men, that it might be more difficult to advance, there’d be fewer opportunities, and that I’d have to work harder. But he didn’t go so far as to touch on the sexual harassment piece. Most people don’t. For a while, I was reluctant to talk about it myself. I wasn’t even sure if I could or should call what I had experienced “sexual harassment”. I knew women who had gone through far worse than what I had endured, and it felt unfair for me to compare my situation to theirs, like I was somehow minimizing what they’d gone through.I’ve since realized that my experiences are valid, so today I’m sharing a little bit about what happened. And I really, really hope this isn’t something you can relate to…I hope you never have and never will have to deal with sexual harassment of any kind. For those of you who have, hopefully this serves as a reminder that, although it’s rarely talked about, you’re not alone.

Starting my dream job!

The "dream" job

I was 22 years old and starting my “dream" job at ESPN. I’d loved my 10-week internship the summer before, and although there’d been significant department turnover due to layoffs, I was as thrilled as someone could possibly be about moving to Bristol, CT. I didn’t even care (too much) about the overnight shifts, long hours, lack of consecutive off days, or the fact that I worked every possible holiday during my first year with the company (despite the promise that everyone would have either Thanksgiving or Christmas off). But slowly, that started to change, revealing a misogynistic

culture. It was little things at first, like how, in a department of 55 people who are expected to know and research every sport, only the three women were being assigned women’s leagues. For example, after being praised for my work on men’s college basketball all regular season, I was moved to cover the women’s NCAA Tournament (along with the other female researchers in the department, no males). When I questioned the trend to my manager, he openly admitted that I had been assigned to it because I was a woman, adding, “I have to be cognizant of the fact that women prefer women’s sports.” It was such a running joke in the department that one of my first interactions with a Charlotte-based coworker was him asking, “Do you enjoy having to work on women’s sports simply because of your gender?”


The blatant sexism

Unsurprisingly, given the type of culture this attitude created, the sexism soon progressed to more blatant comments. At the end of the college football season, I was asked to accompany a manager to a nearby store to pick up a cake to celebrate the team’s quality work. As we got in his car, he told me about how he’d just taken it to the shop for some repairs. “I get there, and they’ve got a female mechanic working on my car. A pretty good-looking one too. But still, I thought a mechanic was one of the few jobs that still belonged to men”. Not only was this an extremely inappropriate comment and outdated way of thinking, it displayed to me a larger bias. If a manager could think that way about a particular profession, it seemed likely to me that he could think that way about certain sports. Yet another manager questioned my love of Angels centerfielder Mike Trout, saying I must just like him “because you think he’s hot.”


The sexual comments

Worse than the work-related digs were the sexual innuendos and inappropriate comments that my 29-year-old direct manager made to me constantly. He frequently used our 1-on-1s to tell me about his dating/sex life or implore me to set him up with my “hot” roommate (his words). It was weird and gross and uncomfortable, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure what to do.

At first, I tried to be polite. I laughed off the comments about my roommate, joking that he didn’t have a chance because she had a boyfriend. I didn’t want to be rude, as he controlled my assignments (which he reminded me of on numerous occasions). Plus, we’d been friendly before he’d been promoted to my manager, and I wasn’t really sure where to draw the line without coming across as cold or uncaring. (And yes, I know it sounds ridiculous that I was the one worried about looking bad in this situation. But I was just out of college, this was my first job, and I desperately wanted to impress. Plus, I was worried about being labeled as a problem.) But he wouldn’t drop the subject, instead using a meeting designed to outline my yearly goals to tell me that one of those goals would be to “hook me and Lauren up” because “your performance review depends on it.” I was getting increasingly frustrated when I’d try to bring up work-related issues and he’d interject with a story about his latest date or try to talk to me about his sex life.


Although with time it’s gotten easier to rehash some of these details, I’m still not comfortable sharing one of the comments he made about my then-boyfriend (now husband). Just know that it was horrible, sexual, and so out of the blue, as it came in response to something completely unrelated that I had said about college football. While I had put up with a lot to that point, I was incredibly uncomfortable and immediately told him to stop. He laughed and said, “Oh come on”, at which point I repeated that I didn’t like that type of humor or language and was really upset by the comment. He told me I needed to lighten up and continued to reference the “joke” for months, including in multiple emails that he sent to me.


The harassment

I wish I could say it stopped with the comments. While in the research room, he would routinely come up behind me and rub my shoulders, no matter how often I shifted away or asked him to stop. He’d send heart emojis over our work instant messaging app and tell me how much he loved me or asked me to reassure him that we were “still friends” if I didn’t respond to his messages quickly enough or was too short with my replies.


Then, during a rare off night, he arranged for a large group of younger employees from our department to meet at his house to go to West Hartford for dinner and trivia. On the drive back, he told me in front of several other coworkers that I had to come in when we got back because he wanted to go over my annual performance review. I insisted that I could just go over it with him the next day (you know, at work.) He was relentless, continuing to pester me, saying he was off the next few days and to just come in, it would take five minutes. When we got to his house, I repeated that I’d rather just do it at the office, even if it had to wait a few days, but again he pleaded. Finally, I agreed and stepped inside as everyone else left. I waited in the entryway of his house, which he shared with two other coworkers. Then he told me to follow him upstairs because he’d left his laptop in his bedroom. At this point, I wanted nothing more than to leave. I was so uncomfortable, my heart felt like it was going to explode, I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to cry. I told him no, I’d wait down there. But he kept insisting, yelling to me from upstairs in his bedroom while both of his roommates slept downstairs. Still, I refused. I was about to leave when he finally agreed to bring the laptop down. But as he said that he emerged from the room wearing just his underwear. It’s still hard to even type that. I was shocked and so upset, I think I said something about having to leave, but I don’t really know. I just remember running out the door, getting to my car and speeding home as quickly as I could, crying the whole way. And then I didn’t tell anyone. Because it was my fault. I was young and stupid and should’ve just stuck to my initial “no” and not gone into his house. It didn’t matter that he was my manager or that he’d continually pressured me in front of other colleagues. In my head, it was entirely on me. I was so ashamed.


For a while, I did absolutely nothing about the toxic situation that I found myself living in, even as my physical and mental health suffered. I reasoned that maybe this is what people meant when they talked about how hard it was to be a woman in sports. Maybe I wasn’t tough enough. After all, I was the one who put myself in this situation right? I’d gone over to my manager’s house. I had pretended to smile and nod when he told me about his dates during our meetings, worried my assignments would suffer otherwise. Later, it became clear that it wasn’t just me. This same manager made horribly inappropriate comments and behaved in a similar way toward one of my best friends, and one of the only other women, in the department, to the point where we were both looking to leave a company that we used to tell anyone, and everyone had been our “dream” organization. The toxicity permeated my daily life. It got to the point where I dreaded going to work. For four months, I was throwing up multiple times each day and no matter how many doctors I went to, no one could provide an explanation.


The scariest part was that while I was in the middle of it, so much of what was happening became normalized. Not the getting sick every day, obviously. But so many “small” things that I became desensitized too and just ignored. I didn’t even realize until I’d talk to Sam or tell other friends stories and just gloss over a relatively concerning occurrence or detail, only to have them stop me mid-sentence, pointing out that what I had described was a major red flag. “What do you mean your manager rubs your shoulders whenever he walks by you? Meghan, that’s not okay!” But to me, that was nothing compared to the “more serious” things that were going on every day.


For the sake of length, I’ll stop there for now. Next week’s blog will pick up where we left off today and detail how I tried, on several occasions, to voice those concerns to management. I’ll get into how I was threatened with retaliation, accused of lying, and generally brushed aside, plus the anxiety that came with leaving my “dream job.”


But in the meantime, no matter what you’re going through, there’s a place for you in this industry. You can and will find the right fit, a positive culture, and people who support you. Remember, you’re awesome and you belong here.



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1件のコメント


Despina Evangelopoulos
Despina Evangelopoulos
2023年9月06日

I think way too much of what you detailed has been normalized, like you mentioned, and we need more people pointing out and stopping bad behavior. Thanks for sharing Meghan!

いいね!
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