Ashley Judd Is Far From Alone - Most Women Who Talk About Sports on Twitter Face Abuse

I write professionally about American football, and I tweet a lot on a variety of football-related topics. So I get that many male National Football League fans who don’t know that I’ve been covering the league for almost a decade might assume that I have no clue what a Cover 3 defensive scheme is. I don’t get being told “my face looks like a football” after tweeting a joke about the Jacksonville Jaguars possibly moving to London, getting called a “cunt” in response to football analysis or receiving the most untempting sexual invitations imaginable.

Being told to “go put on an apron” when opining on a bad pass interference call is actually kind of comical; being told to suck someone’s dick is flat out abuse.

When it comes to women writing about sports, the harassment is not only there, it comes with a special brand of archaic machismo and frequent and disgusting trolling. While sexism gotten much better for us within the industry, women in sports often still need a very thick skin when it comes to interacting with the public.

And famous women have it much worse than me. In the midst of the Ray Rice scandal, ESPN’s Michelle Beadle criticized colleague Stephen A Smith after his asinine suggestion that women tend to provoke domestic violence. The response she received was so hate-filled and misogynist even by the standards of harassment in sports journalism that Beadle’s frightening mentions made news of their own.

If you’re a woman talking about sports on social media, the only way to avoid harassment is to fake your gender. If Kentucky fan “Judd Ashton” – with a bio picture of Wildcat head coach John Calipari – suggested that Arkansas was playing dirty last weekend he might be told he’s a moron or to fuck off, but he would never receive the sexually-charged threats that people directed at Ashley Judd for doing so.

Like Curt Schilling – who took on two Twitter trolls after they sent sexually inappropriate tweets to his daughter – Judd should be wildly applauded for also seeking some kind of social media justice. But while we wait to see the success of Judd’s pending litigation, here’s a suggestion that may help stem the troubling tide of harassment: stop retweeting your harassers.

I get that we all want to expose our trolls for the anonymous losers they are, and I so understand the temptation to provide our followers – particularly our non-trolly male followers – a glimpse into our sometimes treacherous experience online and in sports. But trolls are aren’t there to gain followers or add insight to an intellectual conversation – they are cockroaches desperate for attention, and I can’t think of an easier way to crush them ignoring them.

Ultimately, though, the responsibility needs to come down to Twitter to police their own platform. It is impossible to believe that a company with a reported revenue of $479m in the last quarter alone can’t concoct some software that identifies serial harassers and deletes their accounts or keeps us from seeing them. Twitter’s block function is a nice tool but it’s like a restraining order: something bad has to happen before you know you need it – and once you’ve seen the harassment, it’s mission accomplished for your harasser. 


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