In what she described as an “achingly personal piece,” former sports journalist Kat O’Brien said in an essay published over the weekend that she had been raped at the age of 22 by a Major League Baseball player while on the job.
O’Brien, whose career as a baseball writer included reporting for both the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Newsday, said she was coming forward with her story almost two decades later in light of recent news about the sexual harassment female journalists in sports media continue to endure, specifically after Jared Porter, the former general manager of the New York Mets, was fired in January after it was publicized that he had sent sexually explicit photographs and texts to a female reporter in 2016 when he was working for the Chicago Cubs.
“I hadn’t been a sports reporter in 11 years, but as I read accounts of other women’s experiences with sexual harassment, the full force of my own assault hit me,” O’Brien wrote in the New York Times essay published on Sunday. “And with it came the relief that I actually hadn’t invited it, hadn’t done anything wrong at all, something I had never once considered.”
To this day, O’Brien wrote, an “uncomfortable strain of harassment persists” for women who work in rooms dominated by men, including in sports locker rooms. She elected to not name the player who assaulted her because it would only open her “up to the possibility of having dirt thrown on my reputation.”
“[E]ven all these years later and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, a former professional athlete wields considerable power,” O’Brien wrote. “I hope I can help bring about systemic change rather than seek unlikely-to-come justice for one horrible act.”
I wrote an achingly personal piece that the @nytimes published today on being raped by an @mlb player while I was a sports reporter, and as importantly, on the corrosive atmosphere of sexual harassment that female sports journalists face daily.https://t.co/TylQ0mduNt 1/— Kat O'Brien (@OBrien_Kat) June 20, 2021
By divulging the event that irrevocably altered the course of her life, O’Brien said she hoped it would help other women to feel comfortable “speaking up when something is inappropriate.”
“And I also hope more people working in these spaces will bring change, whether in big ways, as an executive empowered to hire more inclusively, or in small ways, speaking up when someone jokes that a woman slept her way to a job or a story,” she wrote.
In her essay, O’Brien described the assault and the devastating aftermath that she said followed her for years.
She recounted how she turned down job opportunities and avoided applying for jobs in the cities of teams that the unnamed athlete played for. More than six years after the assault and into her career as a baseball writer — first covering the Texas Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and later the New York Yankees for Newsday — O’Brien described a culture in the MLB that tolerated sexual harassment.
“The smaller daily assaults came and went,” O’Brien wrote, recalling a number of experiences with sexual harassment during her career — from being told by a fellow sports reporter that he heard a false rumor she had gotten a job covering the Rangers through sleeping with a team executive to a baseball player asking “what sexual positions I liked” during a road series.
“A professional athlete raping a reporter isn’t a sports story,” O’Brien wrote. “It’s a story about power in our society, and how men wield it against women.”
O’Brien also shared how her experience speaking up now has made her realize that the trauma from the attack had “at times weighed me down and limited my choices in life.”
“I didn’t pursue jobs that were more in the public eye because I feared it might lead to my story coming out,” O’Brien wrote. “I love sports, I was good at my job. And the sports industry loses out when talented women question whether it’s worth it to work in an industry that brings with it so much harassment.”
After sharing her story, O’Brien was met with a wave of support, including from the Association for Women in Sports Media, who wrote in a tweet that they saluted O’Brien for the “immense courage, poise, and leadership she displayed while recounting her experience.”
In response to the outreach, O’Brien said what she “really hope[s] to see is change.”
“In an entire industry, not just [one] person,” she tweeted.
I have many hundreds of messages on Twitter and beyond, and haven’t seen even a fraction of them, let alone had time to respond to people close to me, let alone to all people.— Kat O'Brien (@OBrien_Kat) June 20, 2021
So sorry if I miss your message, but thank you for the messages, overwhelmingly supportive ❤️🙏🏼 https://t.co/QQxYTExN1H
She's giving voice to the sexism, harassment, and even violence every woman in sports experiences to some degree.— Melissa Segura (@MelissaDSegura) June 20, 2021
Don't be fooled: This isn't a story about baseball or sports. It's a story about professional cultures that make women choose between their dreams and their dignity