My emotional encounter with Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey

Sexual assault is something that the world of professional sports has struggled to address - but Stacey May Fowles says Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey is changing all that.
(Photos courtesy Stacey May Fowles, Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

Stacey May Fowles is a true-blue Jays fan. But the Toronto-based writer and journalist says she's sometimes had difficulty reconciling her fandom with a sports culture that is "not the most female-friendly, [sexual abuse] survivor-friendly millieu." 

A conversation with pitcher R.A. Dickey, himself a survivor of abuse, has helped change all that. 

Dickey signed with the Blue Jays in 2013. At 41, his signature knuckle-ball has made him one of the most respected—if inconsistent—pitchers in the Major Leagues. 

Assaulted by a babysitter when he was just eight years old, he's been open about his experiences - writing a memoir and speaking about it to reporters at his first Blue Jays press conference

Fowles, a survivor too, says that Dickey's honesty and thoughtfulness are game-changers. 

'Major league baseball doesn't want to touch sensitive issues... and here he was, talking authentically and openly. It was sort of a life-changing experience.' - Stacey May Fowles

Dickey quickly became a fan favourite, exuding what Fowles calls a "southern gentleman" vibe.

It wasn't long before Fowles—a writer and journalist—found an excuse to interview Dickey, organizing a phone conversation about a children's book he had written.

Sitting nervously at her desk, reviewing the questions she wanted to ask, Stacey's phone rang. It was Dickey, calling 40 minutes early. 

R.A. Dickey answers questions from the media as he is introduced by the Toronto Blue Jays at a press conference at Rogers Centre in Toronto in January 2013. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
"Stacey May, it's R.A. Dickey," he said, according to Fowles. 

The conversation between the two was wide-ranging, eventually turning to Dickey's experience as a sexual assault survivor – something the two share in common.

That's when Fowles told Dickey that she, too, was a survivor.

"He stopped me and he said 'Stacey May, I'm so sorry that happened to you,'" said Fowles. "And it sort of changed the trajectory of the whole conversation."

That stereotype of athletes completely shifted. We were just two human beings having a discussion about how hard it is to tell your story.- Stacey May Fowles

Sexual assault isn't often a topic of discussion in professional sports. It's something leagues around the world have struggled to address. But Fowles says that Dickey's message is helping to open up an important conversation. 

"We have this narrative that when you experience trauma you get over it and you move on," said Fowles. "But the way he spoke about trauma is that he was dealing with it every day."

To see that there are highs and lows and that he soldiers on is a really important thing to see in such a high-profile way.- Stacey May Fowles