Thanks to Brett Kavanaugh, a lot of us got to spend our week steeped in the details of sexual harassment and assault. In response to the testimony offered by Christine Blasey Ford to the Senate Judiciary Commitment, women on social media told their own stories of being attacked and of their fear, and of the long-term consequences they suffered as a result of the incidents.
Based on the stories I’ve heard over the last couple of months, that fear–perhaps not of attack, but certainly of aggressive harassment–is something women who work at racetracks feel almost daily.
In race track marketing, women seem most valuable as ornaments or as a draw for men, not as actual customers.
— Pegasus World Cup (@PegasusWorldCup) August 13, 2018
Families and single girls/women are the JRA's target, attract them then the rest sorts itself out #dadsanddudeswillfollow
— G (@LongBallToNoOne) June 29, 2018
Ever wanted to get an inside look at the races? Join former jockey Mark Irving for a tour! Let this charming Brit show you around and watch a race from the Winners' Circle. #ComePlayhttps://t.co/VzyT4L6MLY pic.twitter.com/LWaKm28UYG
— Canterbury Park (@CanterburyPark) July 10, 2018
Given that it’s 2018, this focus should seem curious, but instead, it’s sadly predictable and routine, even for a sport that is famously conservative, resistant to innovation, and late to modernization. You’ll look hard to find anything in the sport that might be labeled progressive, including its attitudes towards women and harassment.
Are you shocked, shocked to learn that women are regularly harassed at the racetrack, both in the stable areas and in the offices, nearly always with impunity? Might it be revelatory that marketing and images like those above tacitly approve and encourage such harassment?
The following is a sampling of anecdotes sent to me by women from racetracks across the country, most of whom would let their stories be told only condition of anonymity. They fear retribution in their current positions, or that they would be blackballed out of employment if they seek one of the steadily-diminishing opportunities within the industry, which is unapologetically and steadfastly male-dominated. All of these incidents happened during working hours, while these women were performing their professional duties. Some have been edited for clarity.
“A patron looked me up and down and said, ‘Beautiful figure.’”
“I was harassed left and right by creepy old men that worked at the track and by men that were patrons. I was 16 and never even thought to report anything then because I just figured that’s how everyone acts.”
“You’re hot but you’d be hotter 30 pounds lighter.”
“Take my picture and take my number.”
“The doors had maybe been open 10 minutes and I went to get programs to have at the front desk. Two patrons stood right in front of me and start making lewd comments. I was by myself, arms full of programs.
Me: Please move.
Them: You don’t have anywhere to be, honey, you can stop and talk.
They didn’t move.
I finally have to say (pretty loudly) get THE ACTUAL FUCK OUT OF MY WAY NOW and sort of bulldozed right in between them while they were caught off guard.”
“Once I had someone leave a lingerie catalog open on my desk with lotion and some crumpled up tissues. When I asked him what the literal fuck, he was shocked I didn’t find it funny. A trainer once asked me if my underwear matched my shoes. Countless jockeys have sent me absolutely foul private message on social media. A state employee used to comment on my weight on a daily basis. Had a ‘fan’ who found my home address and was sending some really scary letters – had to get police involved in that one.”
From a male guest services manager: “One of my leads was a younger woman whose job was to set all the TVs in the OTB area and help customers. She had three separate players over a year who followed her home. One guy was caught looking at her while rubbing his genitals right in the middle of the room and we got it on camera. She worked for us for two years and I think we barred five people directly because of how they treated her. It was really my first time seeing racetrack harassment, but it was jarring for sure.”
“A drunk dude comes up to me while I was working. He kept talking to me and left his drink with us asking me to ‘watch it.’ I asked him to leave and he told my coworker, ‘She’s in a rotten mood.’ He got a bit intimidating.
My coworker, a dude who was a little younger than me, didn’t realize just how uncomfortable I was. He is a really awesome guy, but it just shows how unaware guys can be when these types of things happen. I was 22 at the time.
Another was when I was at the track as a spectator with my friends and had my camera with me. A couple of 30-something dudes drinking asked to take my photo. I said no, and one guy in particular kept insisting. He was REALLY insistent and started to get mad when I kept saying no. He even offered to pay me and eventually slapped $20 down right in front of me. He started trying to put the money in my hand. He eventually left fuming and it never escalated too far, but it was still really weird.
“I was on break and was walking to lunch, in our beautiful uniform khaki shorts and polo shirt. Really catches the eye. A white van pulled up and the driver asked if I want a ride. I kept walking, ignoring him. He coasted alongside as I walked, still yelling how nice he is and how a pretty lady like me could use a ride. He sped off, but only to the bank a few yards away to park his car. With the engine still running, he got out and opened the side door and started walking toward me. At that point I turned around and ran back to work.”
“I worked at the track for four years and actually got two people ‘banned’ due to their harassment. I wasn’t the first woman they harassed, only the most vocal, and I knew the ‘right’ security guards. The two men are frequently back at the track, along with the rest of their entourage who also harassed me. I was there this summer and both men were back, with the same poor behavior that got them banned. I told my old coworkers, and they said there wasn’t anything they could do.
“When I was 16, 17, and 18, there were several really creepy harassment incidents that I dealt with on a regular basis, including an old man who gave me his number in case I ‘wanted to run away or something’ and another who tugged my braid and told me, ‘Oh, you always know just how to get me going.’”
At one racetrack, all employees are required to wear tags with their first name on them. “When the policy was introduced, several women employees told their supervisors that the name tags made them uncomfortable,” a former employee of the company told me. “The women felt that the name tags increased and abetted verbal harassment since the harassers now knew and could use their first names.”
The name tag policy has not been changed in the five years since that conversation.
And then there’s Barstool Sports.
I’m not masochistic enough to relate in detail Barstool’s sexism and misogyny. That’s been well-documented, most recently by The Daily Beast. The topic has also been covered here and here. It’s not breaking news that Barstool’s treatment of women could be characterized at something less than evolved.
Yet nearly every major company in horse racing can’t run fast enough to associate themselves with Dave Portnoy, Barstool’s founder.
Portnoy on Saratoga's Mystiquehttps://t.co/1L26yKkAC3
— America'sBestRacing (@ABRLive) August 24, 2018
“Bet the grey on a rainy day”
Spotted: Whitney contender Tapwrit stretching his legs the day before the big race. #WinandYoureIN
— Breeders' Cup (@BreedersCup) August 3, 2018
— NYRA (@TheNYRA) August 5, 2017
— NYRA Bets (@NYRABets) August 26, 2017
My bet of the day is the 8 in 9th at Gulfsteam. 7-1. Do it now! Take your free 20 bucks by signing up for Drf Bets and 7tuple your money. No deposit required. Free 20 dollar bet using this link. https://t.co/P0bHilb6Q9
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) January 27, 2018
Heads up to those using @stoolpresidente's promo code: Your $20 free play will be placed in your account within 15 minutes of registration. If you're experiencing issues after that time, call 800-306-3676.
— DRF Bets (@drfbets) January 27, 2018
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) August 22, 2018
Which leads to this sort of thing:
OK. You’re a creep.
The latest racing enterprise to team up with Barstool is TVG, the only nationwide channel devoted to horse racing. The network announced its partnership on Sept. 7:
We're excited to announce the launch of our first ever live, integrated Sunday morning #sportsbetting pregame show, @morewaystowinTV & the premiere of @barstoolsports new syndicated program, The Barstool Sports Advisors!
— TVG (@TVG) September 6, 2018
The day before, this was posted on Instagram.
“But…but…the clicks!” I was told off the record by more than one racing representative. “He brings us so much traffic!”
And the hope, apparently, is that he’ll also bring Stoolies’ wagering dollars to their ADWs and attendance at their racetracks.
Which ought to be comforting to women racetrack employees everywhere.
Even ESPN, hardly a bastion of enlightened thinking, found Barstool to be too toxic to associate with.
It’s bad enough that horse racing does little to create an atmosphere in which women are respected customers and employees. But to invite—no, to welcome—exactly the sort of people that women have to spend their time avoiding for their own safety, to tacitly approve of Barstool’s treatment of women, sends the indisputable message that when it comes to harassment at the racetrack, women, you’re on your own.