Solomon Weighs in on Astros Incident with Taubman

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Solomon Weighs in on Astros Incident with Taubman
Nov 4, 2019

Talk about a bad month. The Houston Astros not only lost the World Series to the Washington Nationals after leading 3-games-to-2, and hosting the final two games in their own ballpark, but they took an even bigger hit for their handling of assistant general manager Brandon Taubman’s verbal assault of three female reporters.

According to reports, during the team’s celebration of its Oct. 19 victory over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Taubman repeatedly yelled to female reporters: “I’m so (expletive) glad we got (Roberto) Osuna.”

Osuna, the reliever the Astros obtained from Toronto last summer, was suspended 75 games in 2018, for violating the league’s policy on domestic assault.

Yes, the Astros eventually did the right thing, firing Taubman Oct. 24 — five days after the incident. But the damage to the team could not be salvaged because of the club’s initial response.

The incident was first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, one of the women on the receiving end of Taubman’s tirade. The Astros initial response was to discount Apstein’s account, which was supported by others reporters in attendance. The Astros initially offered the following statement:

“An Astros player was being questioned about a difficult outing. His comments had everything to do with the game situation that just occurred and nothing else — they were not directed toward any specific reporters.”

Additionally, the Astros called Apstein’s article “misleading and irresponsible and a fabrication,” according to The New York Times. Several days later, after further investigations by Major League Baseball and the Astros, the club fired Taubman and issued this statement:

“We were wrong. We sincerely apologize to Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated and to all the individuals who witnessed this incident or were offended by the inappropriate conduct. The Astros in no way intended to minimize the issues related to domestic violence.”

Before Game 3 of the World Series, Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters, “no member of the media should ever feel like when you come into our clubhouse that you are going to be uncomfortable or disrespected.”

That comment probably generated more snickers than Hinch’s Game 7 pitching decisions. Women, since they first began going into MLB locker rooms in the 1970s (by court order, I should note), have often been disrespected and harassed — despite improvements in working conditions over the last 20 years.

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, one of the original organizers of the Association of Women in Sports Media (AWSM) in 1987, had this take on the furor:

“I actually was heartened by what happened in the Houston Astros’ fiasco. What Brandon Taubman did was awful, to be sure. How the Houston Astros tried to cover it by defaming journalist Stephanie Apstein was terrible. But what happened next was incredibly positive and encouraging.

“Some might remember what happened when several New England Patriots sexually harassed Boston Herald writer Lisa Olsen in the locker room in 1990. Lisa received death threats, was called names by Patriots owner Victor Kiam and was forced to move to Australia. Those of us leading AWSM at the time did our best to defend Lisa on national TV and radio shows, but it wasn’t enough.

“This time, when Apstein’s story appeared online 36 hours after Taubman’s abusive verbal tirade in the Houston locker room, there was instantaneous torrent of social media criticism — against Taubman and the Astros. With more than 1,000 women covering sports now, their voices were immediately heard. But so were the voices of hundreds of their male colleagues who took to Twitter to support Apstein (and her two colleagues who were targeted by Taubman) and confirm Apstein’s reporting.

“I’m sure the Astros were shocked. The cover-up showed that they thought they could get away with it. They could not.

“Taubman was fired, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was pummeled by dozens of columnists after a messy, error-prone news conference and Astros owner Jim Crane was forced to write a letter of apology to Apstein.”

Will this latest incident improve conditions for women covering sports? Long-standing attitudes are in place here. A Redskins star once told me, “God doesn’t want women in the locker rooms.” Most team executives, players and coaches do not agree with that. Obviously, a few still do.

***

Troubled times continue to plague the news business. An ode to Sports Illustrated on Oct. 19 by Chicago Sun Times columnist Rick Telander, a former SI staff writer, read like an obit to a magazine that once set the standard for sports journalism.

Telander, sharing his good times at SI, wrote, “Sports Illustrated is on a downward spiral now that likely cannot be stopped. And it’s painful to watch. The magazine has been sold two times and licensed once in the last year and is now run by something called Maven, a Seattle company that bills itself as a ‘media coalition of professional content destinations, operating exclusively on a shared digital publishing, advertising and distribution platform, providing a major media scale alternative to news and information distributed on social platforms.’ Whatever the hell that means.”

The people running SI, Telander wrote, “fired 40 of SI’s writers, saying the new business plan calls for some 200 contract writers from all over the country to do most of the work. These will be low-paid, non-staff workers who, presumably, will get no health insurance or other employee benefits.”

SI began slicing away its core back in the 1980s, but to me it was still a major force in sports journalism.

Telander added, “I guess what I’m saying is that lamenting the demise of SI — it already has gone from weekly issues to biweekly, without lowering its price — is like lamenting the end of charcoal grills for gas ones. The market chooses.”

Nevertheless, I still enjoy wondering in a nutty way how dearly departed SI greats — including editor Andre Laguerre and writers Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford (Laguerre called him ‘Frankie’) and Bill Nack — would be discussing the situation at the magazine’s neighborhood bar (in a Chinese restaurant). They wouldn’t believe it.

To a lesser degree, I lament the fact that this spring the University of Maryland’s prize-winning newspaper The Diamondback will eliminate its once a week (Monday) paper edition and be strictly online.

“Too bad,” said sports editor Andrew Kostka, whose work on the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair last year should earn him a job somewhere when he graduates in May. “You liked having real clips to show when you went for a job interview.”

Or, the dismantling of the online sports site Deadspin, after its parent company executives issued an edict declaring the site post “only sports and sports-adjacent content” and firing editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky and subsequent resignations of its entire staff. I was not a fan (nor a demographic target), but friends tell me over the past several years the site cut out a lot of the gutter headlines and offered first-class sports journalism and commentary. So, I hope it returns, with staff intact.

Finally, on a positive note, I loved reading the World Series coverage in The Washington Post, New York Times, MLB.Com and The Athletic. Great sportswriting lives.

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