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Major League Baseball maintains its violence against women

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Jared Porter’s hiring and subsequent firing shows how much further the sport has to go

MLB: Game Two-Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, ESPN reported that now-former New York Mets general manager Jared Porter sent unsolicited, explicit text messages and pictures to a woman reporter in 2016. Of those messages, over 60 were unanswered — one of which included a picture of his “erect, naked penis”. Porter’s appalling behavior is hardly an aberration; it’s emblematic of a culture that has been cultivated for over 100 years. Major League Baseball has a long-standing issue of choosing violence against women, and clearly, it hasn’t gotten any better.

I choose those words carefully. Baseball itself isn’t the problem. We, of course, all love the game of baseball. I grew to love the game because I laid on the couch with my dad watching the Mariners, and then later played some second base myself. The problem exists, rather, in MLB as an entity. It has always been an unsafe space for women, and especially hazardous for women of color and non-binary folx.

These are calculated choices by MLB and its employees. Violence doesn’t always manifest itself physically. Oftentimes, violence is psychological, leveraging power imbalances to abuse people on lower rungs of the ladder. Porter used his status as a general manager to prey on someone who not only felt pressured to interact with him because of her job, but also had a limited grasp of English and American social cues.

The Mariners are no stranger to misconduct against women. Dr. Lorena Martin was hired as their Director of High Performance in 2017, before being fired less than a year later. Following her firing, she took to social media to detail several instances of discrimination coming from high-ranking members of the Mariners organization, including general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais, and director of player development Andy McKay. Several of these instances were explicitly related to Martin’s status as a woman of color, and she asserts that she “told team owners John Stanton and Buck Ferguson, CEO Kevin Mather and various human resources officials and staffers of mistreatment months before her dismissal,” but was placed on leave as a result.

Perhaps more topical to the conversation is that the Mariners have had a situation not dissimilar to the one perpetrated by Jared Porter. A Seattle Times investigation found multiple Mariners executives to have engaged in several instances of sexual harassment. After the 2009 allegations against Kevin Mather, Chuck Armstrong was tasked with overseeing the Mariners’ human resources department. One year later, Armstrong also received complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, but was “allowed to continue overseeing the HR department for another 2 12 years until his retirement.”

The Mariners issued settlements to all three women, who all left the organization. The executives — Mather, Armstrong, and Aylward — all remain unscathed, and two eventually received promotions, while Mather went so far as to say that he was proud of the team’s culture.

On the surface, MLB wants to give the public a sense of progress. After all, in November, Kim Ng made history as the first woman to hold the title of general manager in MLB. The reality of Ng’s experiences doesn’t lend itself to be described as progress, though. Ng has been overqualified for her position for over twenty years — she was the Yankees’ assistant general manager in 1998 — and, to add insult to injury, Ng has been turned down for general manager positions by at least five teams since 2005. This is all despite a robust résumé that included being vice president of the Dodgers.

It’s disingenuous to call this progress when MLB teams have been passing on Ng for male candidates with less decorated résumés. But also, outside of her delayed hiring as a general manager, Ng has hardly been unsusceptible to mistreatment. Mets scout Bill Singer was fired for his racist comments made towards Ng. Rather than take responsibility for his comments, Singer opted to cite his Atkins diet and alcohol consumption as culpable.

In some ways, it feels like we’re on the precipice of change. On one hand, Ng is in her rightful place as a general manager, and women like Alyssa Nakken are finally being awarded on-the-field roles for ball clubs at the major league level. On the other hand, there is perhaps no irony as sick as Nakken’s team being managed by Gabe Kapler — who knowingly withheld information of an instance of two of his players’ involvement in the assault and videotaping of a 17-year-old girl. While Nakken remains the only woman in an on-field MLB role, the Red Sox recently hired Bianca Smith as a minor league hitting coach, making her the first Black woman to coach in professional baseball. It’s a start, but wholly dissatisfying.

It’s difficult to reconcile supporting a product that is so contrary to one’s values. Time and time again, MLB has had the opportunity to stand behind women, people of color, and non-binary folx, and yet has offered minimal punishments, platitudes, and faux support at every turn. The Mets may have swiftly fired Porter, but it took both his (eventual) full admission of his wrongdoings and the reporter leaving her job for these details to come to light. It all makes you wonder: why didn’t the Mariners take similar action against their team executives as handily as the Mets?

Jared Porter got into baseball in 2004. Kim Ng began her work in baseball in 1991. Both became general managers in 2020. This morning, the Mets fired a man who should never have been in a position of power to begin with, while the Mariners organization continues to employ and prominently feature a man accused of workplace harassment. Action today does not remedy inaction in the past.