Former sports editor Leah Vann: Reporter turned educator
When Lisa Schlichtman first proposed the idea of “In Our Shoes,” I actually wondered,”Why now? Why in Steamboat Springs?” For a few weeks, I wasn’t sold on my role in the series, but when I attended the Associated Press for Sports Editors contest judging, I was tasked with reading the top 10 investigative journalism pieces.
That included stories about sexual assault at the University of Idaho and USA Swimming that I wasn’t familiar with. I thought to myself, “We have an Olympic sport in Steamboat’s front yard and a high school across the street and what is being done to prevent this from happening in my own community?”
As sports editor, it was my duty to educate myself on not just sexual assault, but the culture that allows it to happen. Notice how I said, “sports editor,” and not “female sports editor,” because regardless of gender, I think we all need to invest time in educating ourselves on what it means to be a sexual abuse survivor and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t continue.
My first mission was to understand the science of why survivors can only remember bits and pieces of abuse and why they aren’t believed as a result. That showed me what is meant by the word, “survivor,” because the impacts of one assault carry on for a lifetime.
Then, I added the sports piece. I talked to members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong. From Armstrong, I learned why sexual abuse happens and from the Winter Sports Club, I learned the importance of a community atmosphere over private coaching.
The high school sports conversation was different. Kids were learning how to have healthy relationships and how to not “call out” but “call in” their friends who are partaking in locker-room talk. To me, that mentality tied together with why I wanted to participate in this series. I learned how to educate people about a sexual abuse culture, instead of using reactionary outrage as an echo chamber.
I hope that I continue to use my reporting as an education tool to produce change in a world that I’ve grown to love so well: sports.
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