Tough conversations worth having

Reading the allegations published by The Athletic from Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim brings back memories that I like to forget.

I mean heck, I doubt there’s a woman without a similar story. And I know there’s men with these stories too.

The abusive power dynamics and toxic culture in the way described by the two former Portland Thorns players took me back to when I was 18 years old. 

Throughout high school and college I had worked odd jobs, my favourite was gardening with Jim’s Mowing. I loved being outdoors and was fortunate enough a couple of guys I knew from church owned a franchise so offered me work whenever I was on holidays.

One summer there wasn’t much work going with the two guys I had worked with, so they helped me reach out to other franchises around Hobart. I found work with someone new. 

It started with some comments and questions whilst in the car about who I was attracted to. When I said no-one, one of the many opinions my new boss shared on that was “oh are you a lesbian then”. I was 18, I wasn’t out to myself and just plain old not attracted to anyone. But this is how it started.

I picked up more work with him and things gradually got more uncomfortable. Those comments that were made were usually followed up with words suggesting it was nothing out of the ordinary. There was nothing to report because it didn’t go “far enough”.

There was something to report and I never did. 

I’m the type of person who struggles giving people hugs unless I really, really want to. I was being forced to “wrestle” a six-foot-something 30-odd year old man. My words of “stop” were always unheeded. At 18 doing a job I normally loved, I didn’t think I could leave. On the days I worked with him, I was stuck in an outer Hobart suburb with no licence or car, I couldn’t just leave. 

I still feel a wave of anxiety when I think back on the nights before I would work with this guy. There would be a pit in my stomach. I hated it.

Fortunately, I opened up just a little to my mum saying I was uncomfortable with the person I was working for. Suddenly I realised I could say no and ignore offers for future work. I’m extremely blessed I was in a situation where I didn’t need to rely on the job or money it provided.

Change is needed for these stories to become history. History that won’t repeat itself. 

In many ways I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid these types of situations in football. It probably helped that I didn’t play between the ages of 16-21. Yes I’ve faced my fair share of sexism, general chaos and stupidity. But nothing like the power dynamic between myself and my old boss. Nothing like Farrelly and Shim faced.

When we’re talking about bullying, we need to talk about what abuse looks like too. The only reason I’m sharing these words is in the hopes someone might read this and go “shit, that’s what it looks like, I know those feelings”. 

Equally we must talk about ways to get out of those situations. Often that’s swept under the mat. One big reminder of The Athletic’s reporting is just how boxed in situations can become without an option to leave. 

I’m forever grateful that my parents, particularly my mum, always, always supported my option to leave different situations. Ranging from genuinely good ones where the timing was wrong (hello early uni days) through to leaving this gardening job where something was very wrong.

This was meant to be an article rehashing some thoughts on power dynamics in football. Sorry I couldn’t write about that. I could only stumble over those ideas before these words just flowed out.

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