When I joined THL years ago, what I was most struck by was the magic of the team environment and the camaraderie of the small, tightly-knit community. Everyone seemed to know everyone and the Discord had a clubhouse feel of a bunch of friends who all knew each other and (generally) got along. The joy of connection in this context was palpable, and many people at the time - myself included - felt that the true value of THL was the people. And I still believe this today.
But this week, we fell short of recognizing that value. One of our own suffered, and the blame falls on all of us in the process - not just for the particular incident, but in the environment that allowed it to happen.
For those unaware, a veteran THL member was subject to an unusual and excessive amount of post-match 'ribbing' in the official discord. In the process of expressing her unhappiness over being heckled minutes after a match in a public forum, memes targeting her were posted, her gender was brought up in a negative fashion by multiple other people, and she even received direct private messages harassing her. This behavior is far from typical for our community and it's safe to say that it was decidedly unwelcoming - and if this is the level of negative behavior one of our veterans faces, we can only imagine what a new player would face (or what they would think if they saw these interactions).
The board acted quickly, both during and after the conversation, actively shutting down negative conversations, deleting messages, and kicking/banning perpetrators. We moved fast. It wasn't enough.
There was an immediate investigation to determine the root of the toxicity and who the chief instigators were to prevent them from introducing further negativity. We dug deep. It wasn't enough.
Communication was had with offending players and captains involved in the issue and apologies were sent without prompting from the board; acts of genuine remorse. We heard them. It wasn't enough.
The direct harassers who weren't signed to a team were banned immediately and indefinitely. We made the call. It wasn't enough.
The initial investigation indicated that in this particular case, the harassment spawned from a particular team Discord and the members of that team were involved while primary harassers were associates of that team community but not actual players. There will be consequences for members of that team environment, but this is not the root of the issue. No, the root of the issue is how we have allowed environments tolerant to harassment to exist - because this is not the first time that negative and abusive behavior has occurred under our roof.
We need to ask ourselves as a community on how we have allowed this to happen and let one of our longstanding members suffer while we looked on. There have been instances in the past where community members acted aggressively towards each other for reasons we didn't fully understand at the time, and upon reflection these prior incidents were symptoms of the same problem.Sensitive subjects are to be treated with caution and care, and unfortunately it seems that the culture of our environment has encouraged a more aggressive approach. Often a person's individual experience prompts external challenge instead of external empathy, and after enough times of going unheard, voices simply fall silent and disappear from our community.
We also need to ask ourselves why our community is so homogenous - up until last week, our community had precisely one woman who was willing to make herself a public figure in our sphere. As of today, we have zero. Why does our environment not allow or encourage diversity or representation? Why is the treatment so dramatically different when nothing is different except gender? Why has this been the status quo for so long? The answers for these questions are hard to honestly face, but the real shame that the board and community must bear as their burden is why they have not been asked before.
We can act today, and we will. In addition to the immediate intervention during the harassment, we are levying a punitive DQ on the active player who made a negative gendered comment and we are not allowing the team to substitute. This is a sanction due to both the player for their actions and the team for allowing a toxic environment to exist. This may be a first offense, but there is zero tolerance and consequences must be levied - even though forthright apologies were given by both the player and the captain without the board asking them to. Remorse will not rebuild the trust that was broken.
We are also accepting the full responsibility of the environment of THL as a board, and our burden is to bear the shame of how we have let the community down. The environment has allowed harassment for long enough and at times even encouraged it - this must change and it must change now. There is much that we want to say, but the only thing that matters is that we are sorry and we know we need to do better.
We are asking all community members to reflect upon themselves. Ask what you have done in the past that might have seemed right then but seems wrong now. Ask what you could have done in the moment to stand up for someone who was unable to speak on their own behalf. And most importantly, ask what you can do in the future to stop this toxic behavior before it starts or spreads.
Today, we grieve for the broken trust of our friend and community member and understand that it cannot be rebuilt. Tomorrow, we continue down the long path to being better people, to building a welcoming community, and to learning more about the experience of others. We must learn how to listen, change, and grow. The responsibility belongs to us all.
Thank you for reading.
The THL blog is curated and edited by Donde. All THL members are welcomed and encouraged to pitch ideas for articles they would like to see on the site. If you have an idea, please reach out to us on Discord at Donde#4239 or via the THL Help email address: firstname.lastname@example.org