Handling Harassment

It’s the story that refuses to die. A full 20 years after Peyton Manning was accused of sexual harassment by a female athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee, people are talking about it like it was yesterday. I already knew what a vast majority of sports media and fans discovered in the last month. It wasn’t a secret. It’s a long and drawn out saga full of conflicting accounts, multiple lawsuits, settlements, court documents, a book, and now, new articles, opinions, and a social media explosion. The convoluted tale leaves more questions than answers. I don’t know exactly what happened inside the UT training room in 1996. Manning can only be judged in the court of public opinion. While it’s unwise to judge what I don’t know, one aspect of the narrative resonates with me.

At the very least, Manning’s accuser, Dr. Jamie Naughright, was repeatedly harassed at UT largely because she was a female in a male-dominated industry. The accusation against Manning was only one part of her experience in Knoxville. Her statement of facts to the court in 2003 details other instances of harassment such as offensive names directed at her by a superior and the way her complaints were ignored and stifled. It’s worth repeating this is HER side of the story from court documents filed by her attorney. But I have no trouble believing these things happened. I can feel my own indignation and frustration on her behalf. Naughright made the choice to fight back against fellow colleagues and athletes at Tennessee, and her career suffered because of it. She paid a steep price for speaking up. That’s why I didn’t.

When I set my heart on a career in sports radio in high school and started pursuing my dream in college, no one warned me about the challenges of being a female in a “man’s world.” I knew there were very few women in the business, but it didn’t bother me. A tomboy when I was young, I had always been comfortable around guys, and I could certainly hold my own whether we were talking sports or playing them. As I began working in radio, I did what came naturally to me. I tried to be “one of the guys.” I laughed at jokes I didn’t think were funny, and I used coarse language I’m not proud of. I chimed in because I desperately wanted to blend in. It didn’t work. Women in sports radio stuck out like a sore thumb 15 years ago. Despite my best attempts, I was always the odd one out. But that was only part of the challenge.

At some point early in my career, I made a conscious decision to keep the harassment to myself. I shared it with Mom and my closest girlfriends, but I decided I’d rather “tough it out” than risk getting blackballed or ostracized any further. I told myself as long as I wasn’t in danger–Mom hammered home all the precautions to take–I could survive any type of verbal harassment. I wanted the career more than I wanted to expose how I was treated in the workplace. Even if bosses or managers took me seriously, I would be labeled a “problem” or “bitch” or “troublemaker” and hurt my chances of getting and keeping jobs. In some cases, my superiors were the ones doing the harassing, so complaining would’ve been pointless.

For the first decade of my journey, it was a line I heard over and over: “The newsroom is like a locker room.” At one previous job, it was a used as a punchline or held up as a badge of honor. Sadly, I’ve covered teams in actual locker rooms far more professional than some of the places I’ve worked. The pseudo-locker room atmosphere equaled getting hit on non-stop. When I was younger, I told myself it was flattering or complimentary. But it got old, especially when it was a lot of married men looking for a cheap thrills. I would get propositioned by guys I barely knew. One broadcaster much higher up the totem pole emailed my company account from HIS company account to ask if I wanted to have sex for fun. Instead of being taken seriously as a journalist and being appreciated for my brains and work ethic, my value was often tied to my appearance. One over-zealous colleague followed me in his SUV as I walked across a dark, empty parking lot after my shift at 3am to suggest we “hang out.” My heart was racing in that moment.

The locker room atmosphere meant constant jokes about sex and stories about sex. While they didn’t necessarily offend me, hearing them from a bunch of men when I was the only woman often made me uncomfortable. And I frequently turned into a target. In the early 2000s, the owner of my radio station attempted to embarrass me in a room full of people by loudly ridiculing my sexual abstinence. I can still remember the acute humiliation, but what could I do? He was the one who signed my paychecks. In some of my newsrooms, I had to work in front of pictures of mostly naked women or log into computers with similar screensavers. Derogatory and disgusting nicknames, vulgar language that made me cringe, inappropriate and insulting comments, emails or texts with nasty photos–I navigated all of it for years. But outside of venting to people I trusted, I did very little to protest.

I’m not sharing these stories from my past to garner sympathy. I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me. It was my own choice to keep quiet, my own decision not to fight back. I wanted the career more than I wanted it to stop. I’m not recommending the same course of action for other women in my position. I don’t have foolproof methods to handle every situation. But I want people facing similar challenges to know they aren’t alone. Looking back, there are many things I would do differently. I also know my experiences made me stronger, smarter, tougher, wiser, more determined, and more professional than the ones who harassed me. Plus I bypassed most of them on the food chain a long time ago.

In 2016, the climate is vastly different. Companies educate employees about workplace harassment because they fear whistle-blowers or lawsuits. Employee rights are now a top priority. Beyond that, I don’t hesitate to stand up for myself. I remind men I’m in the room if their language or stories make me uncomfortable, and I tolerate very little harassment on social media. I don’t care who likes me or dislikes me because of it. I no longer need to fit in. I’m proud of the fact that I never will. Being different, being unique, being unconventional is a huge part of my success. It shapes who I am. It took some time and heartache, but I finally recognized that standing out instead of blending in can be my greatest asset.

 

 

 

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29 Responses to “Handling Harassment”

  1. Raymond Williams Says:

    Amy, you are the consumate professional. I do feel bad that you had to deal with the harrassment. They say, God never puts more on you than you can bear. He must believe you are one tough lady. In my church, we believe in sharing our life experiences, good and bad, because we never know if our trials and tribulations will help another person. God bless you, Amy Lawrence for being transparent.

  2. Lauren Ursillo Says:

    Wow. I’m disgusted that you had to go through that. But very glad that things are a bit different now, if not perfect. ❤

  3. Tammy Garner Says:

    Thank you Godly Sister!

  4. Amy, you are amazing, smart, talented, driven, empowered and successful…a true model to us all. I have similar stories and I do feel better knowing I am not alone. You have a wonderful career that you built all by yourself, being strong in your own power. You should be proud. I am honored to call you a colleague. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing this with us you are one courageous lady! #radiosisters

  5. Kasey Payne Says:

    It’s sad that you and all other women have to go through things such as this. I only get to listen to your show briefly in the mornings as I drive to work. You are always a professional and have a very good show. Keep up the great work!!!!

  6. Thank you Amy for sharing so much about your past experiences – I’m guessing it wasn’t easy. It’s great how you’ve done things your way, and left so many of those creeps in the dust! Your show is great and I wish you blessings and all the best!

  7. Some of the things I have heard in broadcast newsrooms would or should not be tolerated in other workplaces. I used to joke that I am going to do this “until I grow up.” Sadly, some people haven’t evolved from their knuckles dragging the ground. You have my empathy and always remember, “Success is the best revenge.” Thanks for staying true to yourself and maintaining your integrity!

  8. Thank you for sharing your heart, Amy. I’m sad for the brokenness and ashamed for my gender and my culture for condoning and promulgating it. God didn’t make us this way. Thank you for your encouragement for standing for what’s right and good and Godly.

  9. Bravo Amy Lawrence. Well said. I feel you. Remember, we are protected and highly favored. #psalm91

  10. Lyle Pohly Says:

    Amy, I’m a new listener in NE Ohio (92.3 The Fan) and can only say “WOW…well said!” I was drawn to After Hours by your humor and through knowledge of sports but am now a devoted listener knowing your journey and history. As a fellow follower of Jesus… AMEN! 1 Peter 3:8-9

  11. Amy L…..TY for your message. My alarm goes off at 2am now as it used to for the weekend shows. It takes lotsa guts to write your message, as much as it took to live it. So many guys who were bullies not only didn’t go further, they retracted. Bullying can be very quiet, loud, sarcastic and/or just plain dumb.
    You deliver my fav info on sports….always real, to the point and never dumb. Your fun info about life, the job, others, yourself, and Penny is also real but loaded with reality even if stuff was dumb, or silly or just crazy.
    I’m very proud of your current position in life and very respectful of what it took you to get there.
    Best stuff on radio! I was a ‘BZ listener many years ago.
    Can’t wait til you’re the next Johnny Most!
    P

  12. Excellent piece, Amy. I hate that it has to be said, but I remain hopeful that these sorts of articles will spur thoughtful reflection and action by those in a position to stop (or at least reduce) the frequency of these incidents. Keep on keeping on….

  13. Well written…glad you shared this story. You are one smart, brave and thoughtful human.

  14. While not surprising, it is very unfortunate you had to deal with such things so early in your career. Hopefully, like you said, now the tables are turned and employees can feel more inclined to come forward without fear of being made into outcasts for speaking up. I love your show, keep up the great work Amy!

  15. Jonathan Says:

    Making your feelings known and public, is courageous and I admire you for it. Your feelings will help to inform others and make us think about how we treat one another whether male or female. I would love to hear your thoughts on men covering a woman’s locker room. Does that happen and what is that experience like from a female player’s perspective? Thank You!

  16. Congratulations Amy on having the courage to tell the truth. It will help the women who will follow you. I love your show and listen often.

  17. I cannot believe how much this article resonates with me. I’ve been listening To you since ESPN radio when I was a teenager with my brother (no cable TV in our house!). I always loved having a female voice to listen to, since I’ve always been a sports fanatic. I recall a conversation with my third grade teacher about how I wasn’t going to START a football league for women, I was going to JOIN the NFL. So, I too, was a tomboy. From the time I was in middle school I always acted as one of the boys, and now as an adult I am experiencing what you have (albeit in a much more mild form) I’m in management and I can relate to the compromise between speaking up and being successful. Your words are encouraging and empowering. I regularly tune in to After Hours because you offer a fresh perspective- even though I don’t always agree! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  18. Having worked in a predominantly male sector of the investment business for many years, I truly understand what you’ve experienced and appreciate your candor and sharing with us. Love what you do and how you do it every time I listen!!!

  19. I was compelled to read this story. I hope you know that you have even more respect than i thought was possible. I’m way too shy and intimidated by you to call your show in person but if ever i was able to this would be the time. I dont always share the same opinion but your show continues to impress. And so do you.

  20. Hi Amy,

    I don’t know if you ventured out far enough from Superbowl City to get a feel for how San Francisco and Santa Clara are in general but I remember you saying that you could get used to working in the SF bay area.

    One more thing to consider is the way professional women are treated around here. There are very few glass ceilings. Companies are concerned about hiring an equitable percentage of women even in fields where it is difficult to find women with the relevant education or experience.

    The old boys club is pretty much a thing of the past. Business culture is different compared to the east coast, we invented casual Fridays but we don’t have them any more because every day is casual up to and including CEOs of large corporations.

    A weird and extreme example of this is that in San Francisco unisex bathrooms are becoming popular (big ones with stalls and urinals, not single seat type). I think the idea is to avoid causing embarrassment for anyone confused about which one to use.

    I’m not used to it and it is weird for me but those are the lengths that we go to for some sort of gender equality or something.

    Lastly, two of my favorite sports radio personalities are women, coincidentally only two women work on air on my station. They are Amy Lawrence and Kate T Scott. Kate is fantastic and has moved from radio only to radio and PAC12 network TV and I think she calls soccer games too. Her career trajectory matches her talent.

    Harassment kind of happens everywhere because people have dirty minds but around here the volume is turned way way down because a couple complaints to HR and you are out of a job.

    It sounds like you have gotten past the worst of it but if you are still dealing with it or any other woman needs to get out of a bad situation, look west.

  21. Jay Pierce Says:

    Amy I am sorry you had to deal with that. No woman should have to. I have always respected your ability to talk about sports. Have followed you for a long time. I know my opinion doesn’t really matter but I felt after reading this I had to comment. Continue to do the great work you do.

  22. Don Nolley Says:

    Amy – very well said! You are a shining example of class and dignity! We can all learn from you! Keep up the great work.

  23. As a father of 2 daughters, a fellow SU grad, and a fan of your show; it saddens me to learn that this behavior was tolerated in the recent past. Have you considered consulting an employment attorney to see if there is a statute of limitations on filing a complaint with the EEOC? No one should have to endure a hostile work environment.

  24. Thank you Amy for reminding me I made the same choice to keep silent as you did. I am stronger and happy that I am a strong woman now. Life is not fair, but now I know how to overcome obstacles. I confront the obstacles, go through them, and rise above them. It is not easy many times but I keep doing a little something every time until I can be proud of being successful in being a strong woman. Thank you for your strength, intelligence, goofy sense of humor, and most of all, being a unique Amy Lawrence.janettfur@gmail.com Janet

  25. Wayne Shorter Says:

    Thanks for sharing this and God has put you where He wants you to be. You’re a diamond and keep dong what you do.

  26. Amy
    You, too, are courageous. No excuse for anything you or other sports journslists, female, have had to endure.

  27. Amy, its sad that you had to go thru all that. I have been a listener while DA was on the air and since you took over I have learned so much from you when it comes to sports. You are amazing and don’t let anyone bring you down. You are stronger and smarter now after your past experiences.

  28. Love your honesty and your resilience!
    Your a breath of fresh air and a survivor as well
    I am a female in the sports world (coach and educator)
    I too have felt the wrath of prejudice from my male counterparts
    It would take pages and pages of examples but please know that I “get it” and understand completely.
    My only problem with you is your steady ranting about good looking men (Gerad Butler) for example!
    Quite unnecessary and inappropriate
    If your fellow male sports host claimed their love for Good Looking females on the air you should find that disrespectful as that happens all the time
    Just some food for thought
    Thank you!

  29. Alberta J Says:

    Wow! You are strong and talented and loyal to your dreams. I will share your last statement with younger women I know and meet because they need to know that “standing out instead of blending in can be (their) greatest asset.” Thanks, Amy for your honesty and courage.

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