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.

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Danny Masterson out and about
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Danny Masterson out and about
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 07: Danny Masterson speaks during a Launch Event for Netflix 'The Ranch: Part 3' hosted by Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson at Tequila Cowboy on June 7, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Netflix)
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 07: Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher pose at Music City Convention Center on June 7, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for CMT)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Actor Danny Masterson attends the premiere of 'Big Bear' at The London Hotel on September 19, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 24: Musician Danny Masterson poses backstage at the Dylan Fest at Ryman Auditorium on May 24, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Musicians Adam Busch and Danny Masterson perform onstage during Petty Fest 2016 at The Fonda Theatre on September 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
JERSEY CITY, NJ - JUNE 04: Danny Masterson and Bijou Phillips attend 9th Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Liberty State Park on June 4, 2016 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Victor Hugo/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BUENOS AIRES, DISTRITO FEDERAL - MARCH 17: (L-R) Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson attend the 'Netflix Red Carpet' event at the Four Seasons Hotel on March 17, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Lalo Yasky/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Actor Danny Masterson attends the DirecTV Super Saturday Night at Pier 70 on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Musicians Mark Ronson (L) and Danny Masterson pose backstage at Fleetwood Mac Fest presented by The Best Fest at the Fonda Theatre on February 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Danny Masterson attends The A List 15th Anniversary Party on September 1, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for The A List)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 29: Danny Masterson arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere of Marvel Studios 'Ant-Man' at Dolby Theatre on June 29, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
TOLUCA LAKE, CA - MAY 04: Actor Danny Masterson attends the 8th Annual George Lopez Celebrity Golf Classic presented by Sabra Salsa to benefit The George Lopez Foundation at Lakeside Golf Club on May 4, 2015 in Toluca Lake, California. (Photo by Lilly Lawrence/Getty Images for Mulholland Drive Entertainment on behalf of Sabra Dipping Co)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18: Actors Danny Masterson and Emile Hirsch attend an introduction to HEAVEN 2016 presented by The Art of Elysium and Samsung Galaxy on June 18, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Samsung)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24: Actor Danny Masterson attends Black Label Media hosted party for The Art of Elysium and Elysium Industry with guest host James Franco on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Black Label Media)
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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.

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History of Netflix
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History of Netflix
400303 03: Ready-to-be-shipped DVDs roll down an assembly line January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA. The online DVD rental site Netflix.com has 500,000 subscribers who can rent, receive and return unlimited discs per month by mail. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
400303 01: Netflix.com Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings holds a ready-to-be-shipped DVD January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA. The online DVD rental site has 500,000 subscribers who can rent, receive and return unlimited discs per month by mail. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
400303 05: Packages of DVDs await shipment at the Netflix.com headquarters January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA. The online DVD rental site has 500,000 subscribers who can rent, receive and return unlimited discs per month by mail. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gives a keynote address, January 6, 2016 at the CES 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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