What happened when I became the story

Everyone was writing about me.

Deadspin. The Associated Press. The News and Observer.

I’m a writer. I should be able to write about myself, to control my story, to stand up for myself through a medium that I use every day to convey my thoughts.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. It’s not, not even a little bit.

I’m a writer because I like telling stories — other people’s stories. I’m not in this to be the star. Don’t put me in a lede. I’m not your kicker. I’m a writer, and I want to write about the kickass things that you’re doing and make you laugh, make you cry, make you think.

But then today happened.

Suddenly, I was fielding emails with interview requests and answering questions from colleagues about exactly what happened as they wrote columns on the exchange, and then I knew that I had to sit down and write about the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable: me.

So what happened exactly?

I asked a question about the emotional maturation of a UNC football player to coach Larry Fedora at the ACC Kickoff. It was a pretty generic question, one to help me gather information on the player in preparation for a long-form feature later in the season.

In his own words, this is what Fedora said:

“It’s not just him, it’s every kid. These kids come to college and they’re 17, 18 years old and when they leave, they’re a man. There’s a big. For a woman, you don’t realize it, there’s a huge growing process for a young man from 17 to 21, 22 years old. It really is. Those guys, Des made a mistake. He faced the consequences of that mistake. He learned from that mistake and he became a better person because of it. That’s the way I look at all 120 guys that are under me. These, they’re young men, they’re going to make mistakes. I’ve got to hold them accountable for those mistakes. They’ve got to face the consequences, and then they grow from it. The great thing about being part of something, a team, is you don’t have to make all the mistakes. You can learn from Johnny’s mistakes and you can see the consequences of his mistakes and say, you know what, I don’t want to do that. But yeah, when they leave the University of North Carolina, I believe that they have to be full grown men and be able to take on the world. So it’s a learning experience.”

Fedora said 202 words in his answer, but after three sentences, I didn’t hear much of them. My head was spinning and I just kept hearing ‘for a woman’ over and over and over in my head. My heart was racing and I was seething. I knew that I had to say something, but what? And when?

I needed the answer for my story, so I let him finish his thought and then calmly — or at least my best impersonation of calm — said, “To your point, women also mature from 17 to 22. I’d like to think I’m still not 17 here.”

That’s where it could’ve ended. But it didn’t. So Fedora, using the same excuse that I’ve heard men use dozens of times, said, “I’ve got three daughters, but I haven’t gotten to that point.”

I heard: I have daughters, therefore I couldn’t have said what it sounded like I was saying.

Maybe that isn’t what he meant, but all I know is how I felt when it was said: embarrassed, enraged, and confused.

I know that as a young woman, I’m a minority in this field, but it’s never really bothered me. I like sports, I like telling stories and I like doing my job. The fact that I’m a woman while most of my colleagues are men rarely, if ever, interferes with or modifies those three facts.

As a college student getting started in journalism, I said I wanted to make Deadspin. The prospect of gaining that kind of notoriety seemed like it would be awesome, an instant career and Twitter follower boost. I joked that it was on my career bucket list. But after being the subject of a Deadspin story, I can tell you that it isn’t what I thought it would be.

About a month ago, I told my friend Dijana Kunovac that I was fortunate to have not faced too much sexism — accidentally or on purpose — at work. My mentions weren’t a scary place, and at worst, sometimes men tweeted at me to eat more salads. I know, it looks pretty horrible written out, but I have a thick skin and I do really love a good salad, so it didn’t bother me that much.

But today I took a stand for myself and tweeted out an exchange between me and Fedora and all of a sudden my mentions were that scary, scary place.

The majority of tweets were supportive and full of #girlpower. But some of them weren’t. Some of them said they didn’t see anything wrong with what Fedora said. Some of them said that I was being too sensitive. Some said I shouldn’t ask stupid questions. More than one of them said that I was just making the story about myself and trying to further my own career. Some came up with creative ways to combine the words ‘woman’ and ‘complaining.’ Good one, guys.

People keep apologizing to me. They’re sorry that it happened. Sorry that he said it. Sorry that I had to go through this.

Usually my default answer is ‘It’s ok,’ and I’ve nearly said it dozens of times today.

But it’s not ok. I shouldn’t feel like this under any circumstances and neither should any woman trying to do their job.

A lot of people have praised my courage for not backing down. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that. And yeah, I’m proud that I stood up for myself, but I’m also disappointed that I didn’t say something sooner. I wish I could’ve interjected as soon as he said those seven words and squashed it, and this narrative, right then.

When I sent the tweet, I felt empowered for standing up for myself, and for women who get mansplained to on a daily basis. But now, hours after the fact, I feel silly. It’s distracted me from my work today, kept me from feeling as productive as I usually feel during these events. I know that I shouldn’t feel this way, and I don’t want to feel this way, but that’s my default. Why did I have to cause a stir? Why did I turn the focus of the story on me?

But the more I think about it, I know why I tweeted it and I know why it’s a story.

That feeling, when I felt so singled out in a crowd of people, when I’m just trying to be one of many doing my job is unacceptable.

When Kevin Best, the SID, texted and then called to find out where I was later in the afternoon, before the Deadspin story hit, I felt dread. I felt like I was going to the principal’s office, like I had done something so wrong and needed to be reprimanded.

That isn’t ok. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did my job, asked a question, and because of someone else’s hurtful words, got swept up in a story.

Kevin wasn’t calling to reprimand me — he was calling because Fedora wanted to apologize. And he did. It was heartfelt and genuine. He said he didn’t mean to offend me, that he regretted saying what he said. It was a true foot-in-the-mouth moment, and he was sorry.

It doesn’t make how I felt in the moment go away, but I do truly appreciate the apology.

When I started writing this, I felt like I needed to do it to defend myself and justify tweeting the exchange. But the reality is that I don’t have to do any of that. Poor word choice or not, it was said and it made me feel uncomfortable in a place where I shouldn’t have to worry about being able to do my job.

Today was a hard day to be a woman in sports. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. But even though I know that it’s hard for me to understand, you know, as a woman, I do know that I’ve grown and matured from the experience and I really, really, really hope I never have to write about myself again.