I’ve been following the work of Julie DiCaro for a long time, because she knows a lot about two of the subjects that I’m most interested in—sports (she’s an anchor at 670 The Score and a columnist for Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron) and domestic violence and family law (she was a lawyer before her career in sports journalism, and she once worked at the same DV-focused clinic my wife does now).
So I was quick to hear this morning of a video she shot with ESPN Radio host and SportsCenter reporter Sarah Spain—herself a longtime Chicago sports journalist and who, like DiCaro, often deals with the treatment of women in sports and sports media in her work—for Just Not Sports. The site recruited men to read “mean tweets” to them, literally in their presence. Those mean tweets turned out to be a sampling of the harassment they receive online every day. It’s deeply uncomfortable to watch; it spread like wildfire across the internet today.
I talked with DiCaro about the video, the taxonomy of trolls, and the problems with doing business and living one’s life in a space that many don’t seem to view as real.
How did the collaboration between you and Sarah Spain come about?
The guys over at Just Not Sports are the one who set the whole thing in motion. They contacted me and Sarah. I gave them names of a bunch of other women that I thought would be good for it. But I think a lot of people were worried about what the backlash would be, so in the end, Sarah and I were the only ones who agreed to do it.
How much did the guys in the video know about it going in?
They didn’t know. They thought they were doing sort of a Jimmy Kimmel, mean-tweet thing, where they were going to read mean tweets to local reporters. That was as much as they knew going in. They had no idea what the project was going to be.
How has the reaction been?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive, but I’ve noticed that in the last couple hours, those guys were starting… well, immediately, there were those guys who were like, “Guys get it too. When are we going to get the ones for men?” Those guys showed up right away. Then there started to be the guys who are saying things like, “Oh, there they go, using this to get attention again.” Stuff like that, saying that we instigate fights. But for every troll comment, there’s been a hundred positive ones.
This is something you write about a lot. What have you learned about the motivations of the men who do this?
I think there are different motivations. When people say “don’t feed the trolls,” I think the mistake they make is thinking that all trolls are similar. One thing I’ve learned is that really, that’s not the case. There’s guys who see a pack forming, saying crappy things about a woman, because they think it’s funny. There are guys who say things just to get attention. I had a guy, one time, who when I called him out, was like, “I was just joking, sorry, I was bored.” So, your way of dealing with boredom is by harassing me online? That’s great.
But then there are these guys who feel you’re a fake, a phony, a fraud, and you’re in a position you don’t deserve to be in, and you’re receiving attention you don’t deserve. Their mission is to take you down. Those are the trolls you can’t ignore. They don’t go away.
I have a couple guys who have been harassing me for nine months over the Patrick Kane thing. I’ve blocked them; they can still see all my tweets, they quote my tweets, they know everything I do, everything I say. They’re convinced I don’t deserve to be in the position I have at my job, that I don’t deserve the attention I’m getting for this issue, and they want to ruin my reputation. That’s a very different motivation than the guys who say stupid things because they’re idiots.
That’s the important thing. Trolls aren’t the same. They don’t all want the same things.
The last of those sounds like jealousy. That they want to be the expert.
There’s a lot of people who would love to quit their jobs and work in sports. I was one of them. It’s natural to see people in a position you’d like to be in yourself, and say, oh God, he’s an idiot, I could do so much better. That’s one thing; it’s a natural human reaction.
But to take it one step further, and to decide, I don’t like the way you cover the Patrick Kane case and try to destroy your reputation every chance I get, is something much different. I don’t really know what drives that. That’s the question Twitter has to get a handle on. These guys don’t necessarily send you tweets that say “I hope you get raped,” or “I want to kill you.” They send you sort of the just-this-side-of-the-line tweets, all day, every day, for nine months. You suck, you’re horrible, you’re terrible, I know you made up your sources, I know that you’re a liar, no one listens to you, your boss should fire you.
They seem sort of harmless in and of themselves, which is how Twitter looks at them. But when you have five or six people sending you that stuff for literally 12 hours a day, every day, for nine months, it gets to be a lot. If someone was doing that to you on the street, they’d be arrested for harassment. But Twitter lets it go on; they don’t have a good way to get these guys out of your life. I’ve been living with them for the past nine months, even though I’ve blocked them. Twitter needs to get a handle on that issue. The bottom line is that blocking doesn’t really work; they still haven’t figured out how to make blocking effective. I go to these guys’ accounts and look at them from time to time, and they’re just quoting my tweets and commenting on everything I do and say, even though I’ve blocked them. It’s a real problem.
When you moved from law to journalism—and you did domestic violence law—were you surprised at the atmosphere?
No. I already had blogs do this to me even before Twitter and Facebook was a thing. I started blogging back in 2006, and there were sites back then that would write entire pieces on how horrible I was, make horrible comments on my looks and my intelligence.
It didn’t strike me as being all that different, until I wrote about my own rape, and I related it to the Jameis Winston case. That’s when the bad stuff really kicked off. Up until that point, it wasn’t that much different than the blogs.
That’s astonishing that it got worse. I guess… if you’re willing to do that, you would target someone seemingly more vulnerable… I don’t know.
Wow. I had no idea that changed things for you.
There’s a group of guys out there—and women too, I’ve gotten this from women as well—who look at their sports team as something they need to defend, and heaven help anyone who comes in and is going to criticize, and say something bad about their team.
Sitting behind the keyboard, to a lot of people, is like a game. I hear people say all the time, “Twitter’s not real life.” It is real life, especially if you work in an industry where you have to be online everyday. I can’t do my job without Twitter. There’s too much breaking news, I have to get people to read my writing, there’s all kinds of things to do.
A lot of people look at is a game, or a fun place where they can have an alternate personality that does and says whatever they want. People need to understand that it is real life for a lot of us; it is our life every single day.
One of the things I go back and forth about in my head is, does social media create something that hadn’t been there in these people? Or is it revealing something really ugly?
One of the most disturbing things to me is a lot of the guys who say these kinds of things post it next to their actual name, with a picture of them holding their daughter, or with their young girlfriend. That’s the kind of stuff that really worries me—they can walk around looking like normal people, and they have that in them.
Does it help you at all to have a background working in domestic-violence law to process seeing all this?
When people say an celebrity’s accuser is out for money, and that women can make up lies about you at any time and get you thrown in jail, knowing the extent to which that’s not true, it probably makes it more frustrating for me, just to see those ignorant opinions out there all the time.
I know you get this question all the time, but how do you deal with this day in and day out?
I’ve got a really understanding boss in Mitch Rosen at 670 The Score, who’s great about checking in on my well-being all the time. I’ve also got a group of women who, we just sit there and text each other all day. We all work in sports, and say, “Can you believe what this guy said to me?” We pick each other up throughout the day. And I have a really understanding husband who is an amazing feminist, and who believes these issues are important, and who’s there to take my phone away if it’s getting to be too much. He’s really supportive. If it wasn’t for having such an amazing support system …
It worries me about journalists starting out who don’t have that.
There’s something to be said for age and confidence. If this had happened to me when I was 22, I think I would have completely fallen apart. As you get older, you get a little stronger, a little more willing to fight for what you want. But working in sports reporting doesn’t seem like something you should have to fight for. At least not every single day. Not that you ever stop trying to improve, but getting to the point where every day is a struggle, it seems like that shouldn’t be the case any more.
It’s interesting—I remember growing up, and reading about… I’m forgetting her name, she was a reporter for the Boston Globe [Lisa Olson, the Boston Herald], and she went public about harassment she received in the locker room. And it seems like that’s improved a great deal; players have become much more professional. But now it’s the audience that’s the problem.
Yeah, I agree. And a lot of them fall along the same political lines—you notice that a lot of them are big fans of the same candidate this time around, if you know what I mean.
It feels like this is a dying breed of men who can’t handle the fact that women have infiltrated yet one more bastion of maleness that they want to keep from themselves. But, you know, I grew up watching the Bears on my dad’s lap, and I grew up at Wrigley Field watching the Cubs, and they don’t get to keep it all to themselves anymore.