Hannah Natanson started playing soccer when she was 5. And over the next decade she fell in love with the sport, pursuing it at a competitive level all the way to Harvard where she joined the women’s team.
But after the Harvard Crimson reported in 2016 that the 2012 men’s soccer team had produced sexually explicit “scouting reports” rating and ranking members of the women’s team, something changed.
“The story hit like a slap, but the after-burn lasted for days,” Natanson wrote in the Crimson on Monday. “I didn’t talk about it. None of us did.”
An investigation into the “scouting reports” by Harvard’s Office of General Counsel found the behavior of the men’s team appeared “to be more widespread” and continued beyond 2012, including into 2016. The 2016 men’s soccer season was canceled as a result.
For Natanson, the happiness she found in playing the sport — in running and exercise — faded in the weeks and months following the scandal. She ended up leaving the team in July 2017, telling herself and her coach that it was for reasons other than the scouting reports. She became “hyper-conscious” of her body, and found herself constantly wondering if she was being watched and judged by others as she went for runs.
So she started taking shorter and shorter runs, eventually stopping completely.
“I remembered how, back in November 2016, some members of the women’s team had wondered whether the scouting reports would affect the men’s post-graduate lives,” she wrote in the Crimson. “We asked each other, What will happen to them? Nobody asked — aloud — what would happen to us.”
In her essay for the Crimson titled “The Way Things Linger,” Natanson describes how the impacts of the “scouting reports” have lasted in her life.
She told Boston.com her hope was that in writing about and sharing her own experience other women might find some validation for their own feelings if they’d gone through something similar.
“No one should ever be reduced to their body, and I want people to know that it’s tough to deal with and I’m still dealing with it,” she said. “But you do deal with it. If my personal experience can validate a single other woman or empower a single other woman to deal with any similar issue, then that article did its job.”
Natanson, 22, is finishing her time serving as the managing editor of the Crimson. She said it is tradition at the student-run newspaper that the outgoing managing editor pen a personal essay for the last issue of the weekly magazine that is produced under her or his leadership.
When the native of Washington, D.C., found out she’d be taking on the managing editor position, she knew what she would write for her “End Paper.”
“After I was jubilant and so excited to have won the position, I think one of my second thoughts was that I knew that I was going to write about this in my personal essay, because I knew that I’d have a chance to write a personal essay,” Natanson said.
The shape of the piece changed over time and as she worked through the experience for herself.
“It lingers,” Natanson said of what it is like to be reduced to just your body. “It does linger, but it is something that you can do battle with. That’s what I’d want people to take away from it.”
The Harvard senior said what has been most rewarding in the days since the essay published is the number of women who have reached out to her through email, Facebook, and by phone.
She’s heard from strangers, classmates, women who are athletes and also those who are not. The message has been mostly the same — they’ve reached out to thank her for sharing her experience, with some expressing that they’ve felt the same in their own lives.
Natanson said it was a “little scary at first” to write the piece.
“You’re opening a real window into your life with putting something that personal out there,” she said. “But as the days continued and I got more responses — from women in high school, women in college, women who’ve graduated college, women who are midway through their careers who were emailing me or texting me or Facebooking me — I felt the shakiness and the fear kind of melting away and have just been really glad that I did it.”
Writing the essay was a “good step forward” for her personally, but it is the messages from other women reacting to it that have thrilled her, the Harvard student said.
“This was my last ever byline at the Harvard Crimson, and I could not have asked for, I suppose, a better response so far,” she said.
Natanson has started running again, reconnecting with the exercise that sparked her love of soccer. She’s signed up to run the Boston Marathon in the spring for the Boston Public Library, but she’s still not sure if she’ll return to soccer.
It remains “complicated,” she said.
“I know for sure that I found a love in running,” Natanson said.