Locker Rooms Open Up To Female Journalists

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Few landmark court decisions come down in the world of sports but 40 years ago this month, a federal judge ruled that women reporters could not be barred from interviewing players inside the locker room. 

In January, 1975, two female journalists became their own story after breaking the sex barrier in the locker room at the NHL All-Star game in Montreal. They were the first women reporters admitted into the dressing room of a North American professional sports team.

Robin Herman (photo above), the first female sports writer to join the ‘New York Times’ and Marcel St. Cyr, a radio reporter based in Montreal, were granted access by the coaches to conduct postgame interviews of players inside the changing facilities.

When the news broke, Herman said “I’m not the story, the game is the story”. But the account of girls in the locker room overshadowed a ho-hum hockey match that saw the Wales Conference trounce the Campbell Conference 7-1.

Women on the sports beat was a rarity and even then, they were placed at a professional disadvantage having to wait outside in the hallways. The ambitious ones knew that the locker room was the best place to capture the pulse of a team and the players.

It’s in that inner-sanctum that the team’s spirit and players’ emotions are revealed and unscripted; the euphoria and the elation, the heartbreak and the misery.

While ladies were asked to wait outside until the players came out, their male peers were busy inside taking notes and holding up the microphone to record their subjects.

The headline event at the Montreal Forum took place at the height of the women’s liberation movement and it wasn’t long before other sports teams followed the NHL’s lead, namely in the NBA.

But permitting women to enter the testosterone-infused confines depended on the whims of the team, its managers, or the league.

The prevailing attitude was still sexist and Herman and St. Cyr received their share of hate mail, deriding them as flimsy flirts and “whores” who knew little about the game itself.

It wasn’t until two years later that legal measures were taken to prohibit gender exclusion and it came in the form of a lawsuit against the man who ran America’s favorite pass-time, baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Melissa Ludtke was an accredited 20-something reporter for ‘Sports Illustrated’ when she was granted access to the Yankees clubhouse at the end of the 1977 baseball season. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who went on to face the New York franchise at the Fall Classic, also voted as a team to allow her to interview them inside their locker room.

But midway through the first game of the World Series, MLB overruled the Dodgers and the Yankees, disallowing all female journalists from reporting inside the dressing rooms.

Pleading with the commission of baseball but to no avail, Ludtke and Time, Inc., parent of ‘Sports Illustrated’, brought a lawsuit against Bowie Kuhn on the grounds that Ludtke’s 14th Amendment rights were violated when she was denied access as a female journalist to the team clubhouse.

Named in the lawsuit were also various officials of New York City, including then Mayor Abe Beame, since they were charged with overseeing anti-discriminatory compliance with the lease of Yankee Stadium.

At the heart was Ludtke’s fundamental right to pursue her profession as a woman, which otherwise granted men an unfair advantage.  Kuhn’s argument was that his decision was necessary “to protect the image of baseball as a family sport” and “preserve traditional notions of decency and propriety”.

A year later, in time for the 1978 World Series which saw the Yankees and Dodgers square off again, U.S. District Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled in favor of Ludtke. MLB appealed the decision but it was upheld.

Not surprisingly, female journalists would still encounter various forms of lewd behavior while reporting from the inside, but the landmark decision of September 26, 1978 put away what some called the “male bastion of sports journalism”.

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