I was ousted from Netflix for a comment on a soccer field: An executive's mea culpa (guest column)
I always tell my daughters that words have power. And last month — on the sideline of a kids' soccer game — I got a brutal reminder of just how much they do.
Soccer is a family affair: I coach our 9-year-old's team. My wife, Lilly, coaches our 7-year-old, and our 4-year-old is the No. 1 fan. On the weekend of Dec. 3, I took a flight home after a business trip to coach my oldest daughter's playoff game.
Just as the game was starting and I was making sure the girls knew their positions, a woman I didn't know approached me and asked if I worked at Netflix. She then inquired about The Ranch, a show that I had nothing to do with — I was director of kids and family content. At first, I assumed she was another soccer parent wanting to discuss a show she either liked or disliked. For Netflix employees, this is common. However, the conversation turned when she asked why Netflix hadn't canceled the show after one of the actors, Danny Masterson, had been accused of sexual assault. I never worked on the show, did not know him and had no insight.
At that point, I should have excused myself and referred her to someone at the company who was authorized to discuss the show. Unfortunately, I didn't. My reply, which I hoped would end the conversation so I could refocus on coaching, came out horribly wrong. I said: "Netflix takes these things very seriously. Maybe in this case we don't believe them [the accusations]." I immediately regretted it. When she told me that she was one of the victims before walking away, my heart sank.
2017 was a difficult year on many fronts, but one extremely positive development is that women (and men) are stepping up to fight the sexual harassment and abuse that has gone on for far too long. This movement is starting to lead to the right kind of change, and I believe that men who abuse their power to hurt women should be held fully accountable. I never imagined, however, that the positive social movement we are seeing would cost me my job — the result of a careless, offhanded comment.
I realize now that my words on that Los Feliz soccer field inadvertently reinforced the widely held and well-founded belief on the part of sexual assault victims that people in power presumptively do not believe them. I have always strived to be thoughtful and conscientious. But in that brief moment, I came up short and unintentionally spilled salt on some very real wounds. I apologized for this at the time and take full responsibility for it today.
The repercussions of that 30-second conversation came swiftly: I received a call from a Huffington Post reporter while still on the field. Within a day, online commenters were calling me names I won't repeat. I was completely blindsided. Seeing my name associated with stories about sexual assault made me sick to my stomach as each new Google alert came through. Within a week, I lost the best job I'd ever had, and the headlines started all over again — headlines that might follow me throughout the rest of my career.
I don't blame anyone for this except myself, but it does hurt me that the media mischaracterized my comments and the incident. For example, after I sought the woman out to apologize after the game, the reporting mischaracterized my apology as condescending and rude.
When I was asked to write about what happened, I was conflicted. I had already relived the incident so many times. More importantly, I had experienced firsthand how a single comment can take on a life of its own online. I was nervous (and still am) but ultimately decided there was value in sharing what I have learned. For me, the most important lesson is that the pain caused by sexual assault and other forms of abuse is far more widespread than I had imagined. Some of my oldest friends, in reaching out after this incident, have shared their own experiences as victims. In the moment, I was shocked to hear that the person who approached me was a victim; I see now that I shouldn't have been.
I also learned the hard way that in the age of mass communication, we're always wearing our company moniker. We are always on the record, whether we like it or not. But I've also learned that even in the era of social media, it is your personal relationships that still matter most. Admittedly, the anonymous online attacks and headlines shook my family and me. Especially because we have always stood with those fighting to end sexual abuse and harassment. But the support we have received from friends kept our outlook positive. So, with that support, I'm moving forward, hopefully wiser and part of the solution.
Netflix fired Masterson from The Ranch on Dec. 5. The actor has denied all rape allegations.