Dressed in a neon-yellow shirt with microphone in hand, Alex Bozarjian stood along the Savannah Bridge Run route Saturday morning and described the race on live TV to viewers watching from home.
Enthusiastic runners passed by, whooping and cheering in the background of her live shot for NBC affiliate WSAV-3 in Savannah, Georgia. She laughed as one person, dressed in a gorilla costume, swooped into view and kept running. “Whoa,” she said, smiling. “Not expecting that.”
But she did not smile, and she did not laugh, at the next person who interrupted her reporting.
Just seconds later, a man wearing sunglasses and a blue long-sleeve shirt ran past Bozarjian and smacked her lower half. Shocked, her face dropped and she stuttered over her words before quickly recovering to continue reporting.
The moment, which illustrates the kind of sexual harassment TV reporters face on the job, was captured on video and posted to social media. On Saturday afternoon, after covering the race, Bozarjian shared it alongside a firm message.
“To the man who smacked my butt on live TV this morning,” she wrote. “You violated, objectified, and embarrassed me. No woman should EVER have to put up with this at work or anywhere!! Do better.”
Robert Wells, director of the Savannah Sports Council, which hosted the race, quickly responded to the viral video. “This will not be tolerated at our events,” Wells wrote on Twitter. “Glad we have race bibs and photos for easy identification.”
To Bozarjian, he wrote: “Alex, what happened today is 100% unacceptable. You have my assurance we will identify him.”
Internet sleuths quickly worked to find and name the man who touched Bozarjian, and in a statement to The Washington Post, Wells said the runner had been identified. They shared his information with Bozarjian and WSAV-3, Wells said, and made the decision to ban the man from registering in any other races organized by the Savannah Sports Council.
Wells said his council and Enmarket, the race’s title sponsor, “take this matter extremely seriously and fully condemn this individual’s actions.”
Keturah Greene, a spokeswoman for the Savannah Police Department, said local authorities are aware of the incident and have talked with Bozarjian. They said their ability to investigate further depends on how she would like to proceed.
“The Savannah Police Department is more than willing and ready to work with her,” Greene said.
Bozarjian did not respond to a request for comment, nor did WSAV-3.
Other female TV reporters have made public statements of support on social media since video of the incident went viral. “You handled it with grace, my friend,” tweeted Emma Hamilton, a reporter at another TV station in Savannah. “This is not acceptable and the community has your back.”
“DO NOT TOUCH REPORTERS,” tweeted Caitlyn Penter, a TV reporter in North Carolina. “Period.”
The episode Saturday joins a long list of incidents in which female reporters have been harassed or assaulted on the job — at sporting events and community festivals. Often, they are forced to recover gracefully for the sake of the story.
In 2003, Joe Namath apologized to ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber after telling her twice during a sideline interview at a Patriots-Jets game that he wanted to kiss her. In response, Kolber kicked it back to the announcers after saying: “Thanks, Joe. A huge compliment.”
While covering the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Colombian reporter Julieth Gonzlez Thern was sexually assaulted on air by a man who kissed her cheek and grabbed her breast. Thern posted video of the incident to Instagram, where she wrote that female journalists “do not deserve this treatment.”
“We are equally valuable and professional,” she wrote. “I share the joy of football, but we must identify the limits of affection and harassment.”
Earlier this year, a Kentucky man was charged with misdemeanor harassment after he kissed Kentucky TV reporter Sara Rivest while she was live on air. She pulled away and laughed uncomfortably, saying the man’s actions were “not appropriate.” Later, she told a colleague in an interview that she did not know how to react.
“I was shocked, but my nervous laughter does not equate to approval of his actions,” Rivest said, according to the New York Daily News. “It was an exertion of power over me — a woman trying to do her job who couldn’t stop him. This embarrassed me, and made me feel uncomfortable and powerless.”