INDIANAPOLIS — As a former Division I swimmer, Dr. Johanna Mellis said she’s been the target far too many times of sexualization in sports, but what WFNI The Fan host and ESPN college basketball announcer Dan Dakich recently subjected her to was as extreme as it gets, she said.
“His behavior here was misogynistic and violent towards me,” Mellis, an assistant professor of world history at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, told IndyStar Monday.
Mellis, who is also a co-host of The End of Sport Podcast, got into a Twitter debate with Dakich on Feb. 23 that began over compensation for college athletes.
After Dakich questioned whether she and other professors who were debating him understood athletics, Mellis issued a challenge to Dakich that they battle it out in the pool.
“Dan you want to play in the ‘arena?'” Mellis tweeted to Dakich. “Let’s level the playing field a bit: I used to swim upwards of 10,000 yards in practice sometimes. I’ve done 10x100s butterfly, 10x400IMs, and one time 10×1000 freestyles for time. It’s brutal, but yeah let’s go at it in the pool”
Mellis said in an email to IndyStar that she was asking that they race in the pool, but Dakich took it another direction. He responded with a tweet that has since been deleted, saying he would have to get divorced from his wife first.
“Through his use of the b-word and the way he sexualized my clear reference to racing in the pool, he debased and violated me according to my identity over the public airwaves for all to hear,” Mellis wrote.
Dakich used the word “bitching” in reference to Mellis’ comment during his radio show last week.
“His actions are the perfect example of how critics of exploitation in the sports realm are treated, especially women,” wrote Mellis, whose The End of Sport is described as a podcast on capitalist sport, labor and justice for end times.
Dakich responded to an IndyStar request for an interview, but has not confirmed a date or time. Emmis Communications, which owns WFNI, did not respond to an IndyStar request for comment.
ESPN said Sunday it was aware of recent Dakich controversy. “We are taking this matter very seriously and are in the process of looking into it,” the network told IndyStar.
‘This is not an isolated event’
Calling what Dakich did misogyny, Mellis said it “is ever-present in the sports world.”
Mellis swam from 2004-08 at the College of Charleston, a swim team that no longer exists but was part of the Colonial Athletic Association. She had great success in her career as conference champion in the 400 individual medley and bronze medalist in the 200 butterfly.
After graduating cum laude, Mellis coached club swimming in Gainesville, Florida, while earning her master’s degree and PhD at the University of Florida.
“I have experienced (misogyny) myself in past episodes of sexual harassment on the pool deck,” she wrote. “Many of my fellow female athletes and female sports journalists have also … this is not just about me.”
When asked what she believes should happen to Dakich, Mellis said she was not comfortable answering that.
“(But) this is not an isolated event,” she wrote. “He has a long, evidence-based history of attacking and harassing people based on what he thinks is their identity and background.”
She said his most recent behavior was “similar to when he threatened to ‘beat the hell out of every school board member of Scottsburg High School one year ago.”
“I can’t imagine any working environment that claims to be genuinely dedicated to inclusivity that can reconcile his behavior,” she wrote. “You cannot claim to provide a healthy, inclusive working environment that includes his behavior. We know his history. Do we actually think his behavior will get any better? If not, what do we do with that fact?”
Dakich addressed the controversy on his radio show last week, saying his use of “bitching” was directed at male professors as well. He also said that Mellis’ tweet (a swimming competition) referred to something that would require him to get a divorce. Here is the transcription:
“Two guys and a lady came at me. And they said, ‘Well, you’re yelling at student-athletes while they’re being exploited’ or something, and I said, ‘Look, maybe, but I … I was in the arena and you guys were sitting outside bitching. Now, remember, it was two men and one lady. Guess what that got called? Sexist. (Laughs) Be careful. I didn’t even realize, I just said bitching because it’s what people do. It’s what everybody does, everybody just bitches. But that’s sexist apparently because I said bitching and a lady was in the conversation.”
Mellis said that In her experience and research, she has found that “women are not supposed to say anything critical of the male-structured sport ‘arena’ or pool.” She compared that to “how Black athletes are supposed to ‘shut up and dribble.’ These statements are cut from the same cloth,” she said.
Mellis went on to write: “Although I endured his sexualized attacks, I am also white and am working on a podcast with two other white men. Women of color in the sports arena often receive far worse treatment than what I received. The combination of the gendered and racial issues in the sport world can be boiled down to the white supremacy that is foundational to our modern sports culture and system.”