For most people in sports journalism not named Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith or Craig James, "don't become the story" is usually an important goal and one that's often adhered to. That's what's so notable about former ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson's revelation on her blog, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky story, that she was sexually abused by a babysitter during her childhood. Jacobson then followed that up with an appearance on CNN to discuss her story, and that takes an admirable amount of courage. You can see her CNN segment here:
It's remarkable that Jacobson came forward with this story at all, as for the majority of people in sports media, that would be a secret to keep buried forever. While many will undoubtedly react in an appropriate and supportive manner, there undoubtedly will be some who allow this to colour their entire perception of Jacobson. For most journalists, it's difficult enough to become the story in even a traditional sports topic, and relating personal histories of sexual abuse is something that's far more difficult.
As Jacobson wrote, though, perhaps that reluctance to discuss these stories is helping the perpetrators:
That's what these monsters count on, our silence. They have the power and they know it. In my case, my monster was a babysitter, a neighborhood teen that my parents and others trusted. I had been told to obey him, like any other babysitter or authority figure. Forget the shame, fear, and overwhelming confusion that went along with the sexual abuse, we both knew that he was the one in charge. Is it any wonder my silence came so easily?
It would be great if our society could be more open to discussing sexual abuse; that might discourage predators and reduce the overall cases of this terrible crime. From this corner, the key to getting there is removing the stigma of it, though. If Jacobson's admission causes sports media power brokers and fans to treat her more negatively, then we've failed, and it's unlikely we'll see other journalists speaking honestly about what's happened to them. If we can accept it as part of her story and not treat her as any less of a person or a talent, though, that seems far more positive. At the moment, the consequences for speaking freely and openly about this sort of personal history seem terribly high for sports media figures. If people don't go around defining Jacobson by her past, though, that could be a positive step that would encourage others to come forward with less fear of repercussions. Jacobson's decision to speak out about this is amazing and courageous, but what impact it may have largely depends on how others react. If the sports media world supports Jacobson here, this could be a great step forward, but if not, it could provide further incentive to journalists to keep their personal backstories quiet. Here's hoping that people back Jacobson for this courageous act, and that it inspires other victims to break their silence.
[H/T: Fang's Bites]