Last week, sports writers Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro were featured in a PSA called “#MoreThanMean” regarding the abusive comments women in sports are subject to on social media. The PSA started off benign enough: a handful of men were recruited to read “mean tweets” in a form of entertainment made popular by Jimmy Kimmel. The first comments followed Kimmel’s light-hearted formula, delivered with some good-natured cringes and smiles. “I’d like to start a petition for a ban on all links to Julie DiCaro’s Twitter feed,” the first comment read. The second was similar: “Sarah Spain sounds like a nagging wife on TV today.”In our pursuit of strong leaders, we pass over the quiet introspection of truly strong men.
The tone quickly changed, though, when the men—who had never seen these tweets before—were tasked with reading increasingly abusive comments. They struggled to give voice to tweets like “One of the players should beat you to death with his hockey stick like the whore you are,” and “This is why we don’t hire any females unless we need our c**** sucked or our food cooked.” “Hopefully this skank Julie DiCaro is Bill Cosby’s next victim,” another said. “That would be classic.”
And it just keeps getting worse: “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” one Twitter user expressed to Spain. “I hope you get raped again,” another wished for DiCaro. One man, gazing at his phone with a mixture of discomfort and regret, admitted, “I’m having trouble looking at you when I’m saying these things.” Another said, “I’m not sure I can even say that.” The point was clear—but in case viewers missed it, the video ended with an explicit message—“We wouldn’t say it to their faces. So let’s not type it,” accompanied by the #morethanmean hashtag.
That’s the best way to sum up the problem with “criticism” like this—it is indeed more than mean. Comments like “I hope you get raped” aren’t just insensitive—they’re abusive. I have written about sexism in sports before, as well as the abuse to which women in sports are subject—but it bears repeating. This problem is real. Though it has been addressed, it has not been eradicated. It is indicative of a larger cultural problem, exposed by comments that are not only personally antagonistic or abusive in nature, but also misogynistic. Such a response betrays deep-seated sexism; it exemplifies a disregard for woman’s intrinsic value and skepticism toward her functional worth. It is destructive, disgusting, and altogether intolerable.
But it is not a problem beyond hope of redemption.
Don’t get me wrong—the PSA highlighted many reasons to despair. Hearing a human being wish rape and death upon another is rightfully alarming. But lurking in the shadows of this exercise were also awkward, unsure glimmers of hope; the brave voices of women who were willing to shed light on such a prevalent and personal issue, and the aghast faces of the men encountering the abuse for the first time, are first steps toward a solution.
These men did not epitomize the sort of machismo some circles of evangelical culture equate with godly masculinity. There was no chest pounding, no guttural battle cries. Instead, they embodied a quiet, convicted discomfort. They acted on a firm and sure knowledge that what they were reading was unacceptable. They meekly apologized, utterly unwilling to participate. They denounced what many others won’t even acknowledge as problematic. In fact, they didn’t just denounce it—they made direct, personal apologies to the women who had, for so long, been harmed by these comments. They acknowledged that Spain and DiCaro are not only harassed daily, but are also chastised to quietly accept the abuse as mere “trolling” (as if that makes death and rape threats more palatable).
Here, uncomfortably obvious in a four-and-a-half minute PSA, was evidence that abusive comments are more than just mean. Alongside it, though, there was also evidence that men—real men—were willing to repent for such attitudes. They looked up through hooded eyes at the victims of harassment and humbly apologized. Though they weren’t to blame, they felt compelled to mend the jagged rift between their fellow men and the women God created alongside them: “I’m sorry on behalf of other people everywhere that you’ve had to deal with this.”
I’m not a man, but from my outsider’s perspective, sports culture does not seem to laud such humane meekness as a masculine quality worth emulating. Rather, it tends to promote a louder, brash version of masculinity—one that doesn’t spare room for the sensitivity it requires to humbly champion a woman’s right to protection and security. It does not encourage men to advocate for a woman’s right to be seen as a holistic, complex human being. In our pursuit of strong leaders, we pass over the quiet introspection of truly strong men.
I’m hopeful that this will change. I’m hopeful that the firm decrying of abuse toward women will be celebrated in men. I’m hopeful that humble attempts at reconciliation will be seen as strong and bold. And I’m hopeful that these things will help light the way forward to a safer, more peaceful world. After all, protecting the vulnerable is a universal mandate—one that requires meekness and humility held in humble surety.