A Twin Cities photographer on Thursday accused Twins star Miguel Sano of grabbing her and trying to kiss her after an autograph session at a local mall in 2015, saying on Twitter that “no, he didn’t rape me, but he sure did assault me.”
Betsy Bissen, who occasionally photographed Twins games on an unpaid freelance basis for the Twins Daily fan website, posted on Twitter her description of the alleged October 2015 incident, which she said left her body “sore all over from having to fight off this athlete that thought he was entitled to take advantage of me against my will.”
Throughout Thursday, the post went viral on social media, with thousands of retweets and responses. Sano issued a statement through his agent denying the incident happened. Major League Baseball announced it is investigating the allegations.
Sano is apparently the first prominent active professional athlete to be accused of sexual misconduct since women, using #MeToo as both a hashtag and rallying cry, began coming forward about three months ago to reveal past indiscretions by powerful and privileged men in the wake of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
Fueled by social media, the #MeToo movement has become an increasingly prominent force in American culture, and Minnesotans have been implicated in some of the most notable instances. Sen. Al Franken is resigning after allegations about his behavior became public, and Minnesota Public Radio severed ties with Garrison Keillor, longtime host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” after a co-worker accused him of inappropriate behavior.
The Twins, Bissen tweeted, knew nothing of the encounter. She said she shared the story with close friends and family. She waited until now to come forward in order “to feel free of this burden I’ve carried with me since 2015.”
Sano, 24, made the American League All-Star team in July but missed nearly all of the 2017 season’s final six weeks because of a stress reaction in his left shin that required surgery in November. The third baseman has spent much of December at the team’s Fort Myers, Fla., training complex.
His agent, Kyle Thousand of Roc Nation, sent a statement from Sano that read: “I unequivocally deny the allegation made against me today — it never happened. I have the utmost respect for women, especially those working in professional sports, and I deeply sympathize with anyone who has experienced sexual harassment. There is no place for it in our society.”
The Twins also issued a statement: “Today the Minnesota Twins were made aware of allegations involving Miguel Sano at an off-site appearance during the 2015 season. The Twins, along with Major League Baseball, take these allegations very seriously. Until more information is gathered, the Twins will have no further comment.”
MLB followed shortly with a similar statement: “We are aware of today’s allegations and are now in the process of looking into the matter.” Under MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the players, the commissioner’s office, not individual teams, has the authority to investigate accusations of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to impose penalties.
The incident, Bissen said, occurred after an autograph-signing appearance by Sano at Fan HQ, a sports memorabilia and apparel shop at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka, on Oct. 3, 2015, the next-to-last day of the regular season. Bissen had been taking photos of Sano interacting with fans. According to her tweet, after the event Sano grabbed her by the wrist and insisted that she accompany him and his then-agent, Rob Plummer, as they shopped at another store. “I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I just went along,” Bissen said in her post.
After a half-hour, Sano decided to leave and went out a back door, Bissen said, then said he needed to use a restroom. When Bissen pointed at the door, she wrote, “the athlete took that as a signal that I wanted him to grab me and try to take me back through that door.” Bissen described a struggle with Sano, who was grasping her wrist, as he “leaned down and tried to kiss me, more than once. Every time he did, I said no and kept pulling back. … When I said no, it should have been the end of it. He should have respected that and stopped. Instead, he hurt me and kept going.”
The struggle, Bissen wrote, continued for 10 minutes, even when she screamed for help, before Sano finally gave up.
Plummer, who was fired as Sano’s agent in January 2016, did not respond to Star Tribune calls seeking comment. But he told ESPN that while he was with Sano that day, he was unaware of any assault.
“I was outside next to the car, waiting for him to come out on the other side of the loading bay dock, so I don’t know what happened inside,” Plummer told ESPN. “I didn’t see or hear anything.”
Sano, a highly touted prospect since signing as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, was a Twins rookie in 2015, having made his debut at age 22 that July.
Bissen’s tweet also described harassment by “the first-base coach [who was] hitting on me almost every game I was at.” The Twins first base coach at the time was Butch Davis, whose contract was not renewed after the 2016 season. Bissen wrote that she could ignore his comments, which “didn’t bother me until he tried to ask for my phone number. A married man, around 20 years older than me. I didn’t oblige.”
Davis, reached by phone at his North Carolina home, said he was mystified by the accusation. “I spoke to her cordially, just like I did to a lot of people working around the dugout, because it would have seemed rude not to. But I never even called her by her name, because I didn’t know her name,” Davis said. “I would maybe say, ‘Hey, how you doing? Ain’t seen you in a while, blah blah blah’ things like that. For her to say I harassed her, no, I didn’t do any of that. I would never ask for a phone number. It wasn’t remotely like that.”
Bissen’s post was retweeted more than 2,000 times within six hours of posting and received hundreds of replies — including a couple from Twins players. Former Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe, Sano’s teammate at the time, tweeted: “I’m so sorry about this. I understand why you didn’t, but I wish you would have come to me.” And current Twins pitcher Trevor May tweeted, “I’m sorry Betsy.”
But she also received several replies that questioned her story or accused her of falsehoods. By late afternoon, Bissen had locked her Twitter account from public access.
Staff writer Michael Rand contributed to this report.