Play it Again, Sam(antha): Highlights from a Week of Low Lights

A Woman's Work: Home Economics* (*I took Woodworking Instead) drawings and story by Carolita Johnson

A Woman's Work: Home Economics* (*I took Woodworking Instead) drawings and story by Carolita Johnson

The girls in my 7th grade year were the first to be allowed to take woodworking at my junior high school in Amherst, MA. Before us, before the very early 1960s, boys went to woodworking classes while girls went to home economics. There, we learned to sew and cook and about how babies are made, but we did that only when the black shades were fully drawn on basement windows to be sure nobody (the boys) looked while we were being taught what girls needed to know.

Perhaps its why Carolita Johnson's story leapt out, grabbed me, and tugged me in.

Published on  Longreads

Published on Longreads

Carolita never did write about woodworking class, but that didn't matter. With every scene of her tale about her marriage, I sensed I knew precisely what she said she felt. It was as though she was writing what could have been my life. Why not? Our girlhoods – woodworking and lots more opportunities some girls in our generation had – gave us the same running start. Oh, by the way, the first thing I made in my woodworking class was a shoe shine kit for my dad. I still have the shoe shine kit – along with gratitude to my father for always pushing me to live my dreams no matter how unlikely their success or how few women shared them.

My dad and me.

My dad and me.


This is first of what I hope will be my weekly blogs spotlighting stories that stick with me through the week. Focus will be on lives of girls and women and most weeks I'll shoot for having at least some highlight women in sports. I'll annotate each story with my insights and thoughts that come out of life experiences. Hoping you'll comment so we can open up a dialogue about these stories – and events and opinions they bring to mind. 

                    – Melissa Ludtke, author of forthcoming memoir,  "Locker Women Talk: A Woman's Struggle to Get Inside"

 


Mercury 13: The Women Who Weren't Astronauts

Look magazine cover, Feb. 2, 1960

Look magazine cover, Feb. 2, 1960

I was eight years old when this magazine cover was published. The idea of a "girl" going into space seemed unimaginable and I wasn't the only one thinking that way.  Despite passing every one of the tests, physical and psychological, that the Mercury 7 astronauts (all men) passed, Betty Skelton (pictured on the LOOK cover), NASA declared that neither she nor any of the other 13 women who'd taken the astronaut tests would go into space. It would be 23 years before Sally Ride would blast off in the Challenger space shuttle, becoming the first American woman in space.

Betty died in 2011, but many of the Mercury 13 women pilots who tried out to be astronauts share their stories in this magnificent documentary Mercury 13, a Netflix original

SYNOPSIS: Mercury 13 is a remarkable story of the women who were tested for spaceflight in 1961 before their dreams were dashed in being the first to make the trip beyond Earth. NASA’s ‘man in space’ program, dubbed ‘Project Mercury’ began in 1958. The men chosen – all military test pilots – became known as The Mercury 7. But away from the glare of the media, behind firmly closed doors, female pilots were also screened. Thirteen of them passed and, in some cases, performed better than the men. They were called the Mercury 13 and had the ‘right stuff’ but were, unfortunately, the wrong gender. Underneath the obsession of the space race that gripped America, the women were aviation pioneers who emerged thirsty for a new frontier, but whose time would have to wait. The film tells the definitive story of thirteen truly remarkable women who reached for the stars but were ahead of their time. A Netflix original documentary directed by David Sington (The Fear of 13) and Heather Walsh.
— Film Review: Netflix’s Mercury 13 Shows The Cosmic Cruelty of Sexism

Women Sports Reporters: Sexism at the World Cup

‘I prefer to hear a male voice’: Female commentators find harsh judgment at World Cup

Washington Post, June 26, 2018

Washington Post, June 26, 2018

Category: Happens All The Time:

A man complains about the sound of a woman's voice invading what he considers "his" space. Happened again this week when Vicki Sparks became the first woman to broadcast a World Cup game on British TV. Didn't take long a British soccer player to go on national TV to say he didn't think her voice belonged there. Good news: So many pushed back against his comment on Good Morning Britain,  that by afternoon he had to apologize, and he did. So, too, did a few of the men who groped and kissed three on-air women reporters at the World Cup after the women called them out on their gross, sexist behavior.

“Don’t do this! Never do this again,” Ms Guimaraes shouted at the man, who can be heard apologising in the video.

”Don’t do this, I don’t allow you to do this, never, OK? This is not polite, this is not right.

”Never do this to a woman, OK? Respect.”
— BBC News: World Cup reporter Julia Guimaraes' fury at on-camera kiss attempt

Of course, this happens in other realms, too, like politics, really any place a woman challenges the presumed power of men. In no time at all, she's being told about the irritating pitch of her voice. Remember Hillary Clinton and how The Atlantic did a scientific investigation of her sound. 

And Getty Images faced published a photo album, World Cup 2018: The Sexiest Fans” that featured images of only female fans. After receiving a lot of backlash for this photo album, Getty apologized and removed the album, saying that it did not meet “editorial standards.”


Nudity and Athletes = Women's Empowerment

From Jessica Mendoza's Twitter feed

From Jessica Mendoza's Twitter feed

Once upon a time – back in the 1970s when I was a reporter at Sports Illustrated – my magazine published its swimsuit issue as soon as the professional football season ended. Hey, the guys needed something to look at and women with as little clothes on as possible proved to be the best-selling answer. Now SI's swimsuit issue also features women athletes like Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and Simone Biles posing in bikinis and displaying women's muscularity.

Just as I admire today's women sportswriters and broadcasters for speaking up and pushing back against the vile things said on social media about them, I get how showing strength in a woman's body and breaking out of the male gaze expectations is empowering, and I applaud these athletes for pushing boundaries by showing who they are as women. Here's my recent blog post about SI's most popular issue. 

ESPN does, too, in its annual body issue, featuring male and female athletes, all posing nude, with their private parts creatively concealed. See gallery below for photos on Twitter feeds sent out about the ESPN Body Issue, primarily featuring softball star Lauren Chamberlain.


Toni Stone: Woman Player in Negro League

From story published by  Timeline

From story published by Timeline

This woman shattered the gender barrier in pro baseball

When Toni Stone joined the Negro League, she became the first woman regular on a big-league team

‘There’s always got to be a first in everything,’ Toni Stone told Ebony in 1953. She knew what she was talking about. By that point, Stone had been the first in a lot of things: the first girl on her church’s baseball team; the first on a traveling barnstorming team; and, now, she had just become the first woman to play Negro League baseball, breaking the gender line at the same time Major League Baseball was making strides with racial integration. Stone felt the sting of both racism and sexism in her journey to becoming a professional in the sport she’d loved since childhood.
— Ashawnta Jackson, writing on Timeline

History is a great reminder that long before women marched for their rights, there were women like Toni Stone, who in doing what she loved the best, was carving paths into places that girls and women didn't usually go. Even nationally syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen took note of her singular success, praising her with these words: “She belts home runs as easily as most girls catch stitches in their knitting, and the sports boys are goggle-eyed.”Here's a video about Toni Stone, narrated by Martha Ackmann, the author of "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone."


Trans women migrate to escape violence and stay alive:

Reporter Alice Driver takes on the journey with one of them.

As dawn arrives, Marfil Estrella looks out the window of the bus that will take her from San Salvador, El Salvador to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photos by  Danielle Villasana .

As dawn arrives, Marfil Estrella looks out the window of the bus that will take her from San Salvador, El Salvador to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photos by Danielle Villasana.

We return to Longreads for Alice Driver's evocative and elegantly written story about the journey north undertaken by a trans woman who will seek asylum in the United States in an attempt to save her life.

At Mister Donut, I sat across the table from Avelar and asked Marfil Estrella if I could join her on her journey to the United States. Marfil Estrella, who had tried to migrate before but had faced violence, said my presence would make her feel safer. I agreed to accompany her to Tapachula, Mexico, via bus, then she planned to spend a few months there getting her papers in order to legally pass through Mexico. Avelar, who had helped Marfil Estrella in the process of preparing paperwork for asylum, said she remembered that Marfil Estella had said to her when they first met, ‘I want to leave here because the streets right now are a time bomb. I don’t want to be left lying in the street, as so many have been left. I want to seek freedom. I want to seek peace.’
— The Road to Asylum Trans women migrate to escape violence and stay alive. Alice Driver accompanied one of these women on her journey, byAlice Driver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her Mom Dies and a Daughter's Hockey Play Helps to Heal a Family's Grief

Wulf family.jpeg

My friend and colleague at Sports Illustrated, Steve Wulfwrote about Elizabeth, his hockey-playing daughter who is ending a remarkable on-ice career at Middlebury College, and his late wife, Bambi Bachman Wulf, a friend, too, since our days at Sports Illustrated, and Elizabeth's three siblings and other family member and friends who encircled her after her mother died early in her college years. With their presence, they infused her mom's fiercely spirited devotion to sports into the games Elizabeth played – and by gathering at this rink, together they began to heal their grief. 

This story's title – "As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal" – hints at the essence of Steve's evocative tale about loss and the power of sports to knit together his family with newly found strength. Steve shows how his family, holding sports at its core, summons through Elizabeth's hockey the joy of family being together in their deep and abiding love for Bambi, who left their lives through illness much too soon. They settle into the familiarity of family rituals at the rink as Steve, his grown children, and his and Bambi's first grandchild, root for Elizabeth and her team. In their togetherness, woven by the threads of love they share for sports, they honor and remember their missing family member whose spirit resides in them.

Here's how Steve describes the first game of Elizabeth's hockey season after her mother had died during that summer:

For that first game of the season, Friday, Nov. 17, we descended upon Middlebury from many different directions. John and Abby flew up from Washington, Bo drove up from Philadelphia, Eve hightailed it out of Bristol and my sister Karen headed west from Cape Cod. Me, I was in a such a hurry that I got a speeding ticket for going too fast through Hubbardton, Vermont.

Bo put a HERE WE ARE placard in the seat adjacent to Bambi’s. We waited for the introductions of the starting lineups and heard announcer Liza Sacheli summon “No. 7, from Larchmont, New York, Elizabeth Wulf” out to the center spot. She fist-bumped goalie Lin Han first, then the rest of the starters.

What was different about the introductions this time was that the players all had stickers affixed to the backs of their helmets. On them was a beautiful logo designed by Maddie Winslow’s mother, Olivia — a heart with wings and the initials JBW, Jane Bachman Wulf.

After the anthems, we scurried to the other side of the rink, to the less comfortable concrete steps on the offensive end. It’s a routine borne of both superstition and a better view of Elizabeth at work. Not so weird, really. What is strange is that we don’t sit together, I guess because we don’t want to contract each other’s anxiety.
— ESPN W, As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal
Elizabeth Wulf.jpeg

A bit later in his story, Steve delivers us to the team's championship game.

Kenyon Arena was fairly packed on Sunday to see if Middlebury could win another NESCAC title, Mandigo’s 10th, and the team’s third straight — a feat that had never before been accomplished in NESCAC. I savored Elizabeth’s last spin around home ice. (Sigh.)

She later told me that just before they took the ice for the introductions, Mandigo tugged on her ponytail and said, “Bambi’s gonna help us out today.”

For one final time at Kenyon Arena, we listened to “from Larchmont, New York,” and watched her touch the other starters with her glove. Then, like hardwired birds, we made our roosts on the concrete seats at the other end of the rink. The Mammoths came out strong, dominating the first half of the first period. But Lin Han made some clutch saves, and Middlebury revived itself. At the end of the first period, the score was 0-0.
— ESPNW, As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal

I urge you to read Steve's story to find out how this game ends – and Elizabeth's role in its score.

To end my own blog post, there is only one image to share. Its words speak volumes about the young woman I knew at Sports Illustrated when we worked together in the 1970s. Known to us as Bambi, she was Jane at birth, and in her happiest days she was known as Mom.

This is the seat where Bambi always sat in to watch Elizabeth warm up on the home ice of Kenyon Arena.

This is the seat where Bambi always sat in to watch Elizabeth warm up on the home ice of Kenyon Arena.

I choose to have Steve"s opening paragraph end my blog post: 

A few hours before the opening game of the 2017-18 Middlebury College women’s hockey season, a senior center for the team sat in Kenyon Arena’s Seat 7, Row AA. It was the same seat that her mother liked to sit in while watching warm-ups, and the coach of the Panthers, Bill Mandigo, had just shown her the plaque he had affixed to it in tribute to her mother, who had died between last season and the one about to start. The plaque read: ALWAYS WATCHING.
— ESPNW, As Strong as Mom: How sports helped a family heal

In Memory of Christina-Taylor Green: A Girl Who Loved Baseball

Christina-Taylor Green watched over her younger brother, reading to him as a big sister does. in her memory, this sculpture was dedicated and stands in sad remembrance of this girl who was born on 9/11, who died from when bullets aimed at Representative Gabby Giffords hit her. That was on a morning when Christina, who was nine year old, awakened feeling excited that her neighbor was taking her to meet a woman she admired in politics.

Christina-Taylor Green watched over her younger brother, reading to him as a big sister does. in her memory, this sculpture was dedicated and stands in sad remembrance of this girl who was born on 9/11, who died from when bullets aimed at Representative Gabby Giffords hit her. That was on a morning when Christina, who was nine year old, awakened feeling excited that her neighbor was taking her to meet a woman she admired in politics.

Christina-Taylor had just been elected her class president at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona. Her plans were to start a club at her school to help her less fortunate classmates. I knew none of this about her or much about her aunt Kim Green, when in my last blog I shared the photograph of Kim as a girl wearing a baseball glove who then was just about the same age as Christina when she died. Kim had tried to play on her town's Little League Baseball team, but she couldn't because she was a girl. When Christina was nine, she was the only girl playing baseball on her Little League team. She put her glove on to play second base.

Girls in Baseball 1974 Kim Green.jpeg

When Christina was nine, she was the only girl playing baseball on her Little League team. She put her glove on to play second base.

Christina-Taylor Green

Christina-Taylor Green

Two days after I published my blog, "Play Ball," this comment arrived from Perry Barber. I didn't know Perry then, but I know I lot more about her now – and this tells me why she wrote to me about Christina-Taylor. More on Perry later. Now the words Perry shared with me:

Kim Green, the little girl shown in the photo from 1974, is the sister of Roxanna Green and aunt to Roxanna’s daughter, another baseball-loving little girl whose name was Christina-Taylor Green.

Christina was murdered in the same Arizona shooting that severely injured then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords back in 2011. Christina was honored at the very first Baseball For All Nationals tournament in Kissimmee, Florida in 2013; the more than two hundred baseball-playing girls from all over the globe who participated in the tournament, organized by BFA founder Justine Siegal, wore armbands with Christina’s initials in her memory. Christina’s spirit continues to inspire other girls who play and love baseball the way she did, the way her aunt and her whole family has done for generations. 

I wrote these words to Perry: 

How remarkable, Perry Barber, for you to introduce me to Christina-Taylor Green and to share her remarkable life with me – a life of such extraordinary promise, beauty and heart, a life which so sadly was shortened by the violence that’s all too horribly visited on children in America today. And to learn from you about her love of baseball, how Baseball for All honored her at its National Tournament, and how the girls playing in it wore armbands in her memory. Your words are leading me to write another blog post that I will be sharing soon, words of mine in honor of Christina-Taylor, a girl I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting, a girl whose memory will stay within me forever. With gratitude for you enabling me to know her. Melissa

And then I put Perry Barber's name into Google search and before long I knew why Perry toook the moments she did to write to me about Christina-Taylor. With this girl and woman, baseball became a shared passion.

Perry Barber, MSBL umpire

Perry Barber, MSBL umpire

Soon, I came upon this story, "Perry Barber: Renaissance Umpire," published by the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL)/Men’s Adult Baseball League (MABL), and is my introduction – now yours – to Perry Barber:

Perry Barber is a very extraordinary lady. This 61 year old dynamo is a Jeopardy game show champion from 1972 when Art Flemming paved the way for Alex Trebek and is also a musician who’s talent took her to the same stage as the ‘Boss’, Bruce Springsteen, as his opening act. She is also an MSBL umpire in her third year of working the MSBL World Series down here in the warm sun of Arizona.
— Perry Barber: Renaissance Umpire

How remarkable that by reading about a threat allegedly made about an 11-year old girl who wanted to play baseball in New Hampshire, I start this magical chain reaction with stories of girls and baseball. How magnificent, too, that Justine Siegal, who in 2009 was the first female coach of a Major League baseball team (the Oakland A's) after she'd founded Baseball for All at the age of 23, was the person to introduce me to Karen Zerby Buzzelle, the mom who'd founded the all girls baseball team, the Boston Slammers. So when the 11-year old girl from New Hampshire came to scrimmage with the Boston Slammers and inspired me to write a blog post about her, I came to learn about Kim Green's long-ago passion to play baseball and how in 1974 her mom Sheila made it happen for Kim and lots of other girls, as moms like Karen still do. Then, I thought about how 1974 had been the year when I followed my passion for baseball and other sports to becoming a researcher and reporter at Sports Illustrated, and in this job I'd become the first woman to cover Major League Baseball full-time and four years later in 1978 I'd win a federal court case to give women equal access to report on baseball.

For Perry Barber to be the one to introduce me to Christina–Taylor, this girl who loved baseball, is fitting. Feeling Now connected with Christina and with the youthful Kim and her childhood friend Alice, and with Perry, makes me wish for the day when our shared passion won't be a story told only by a few of us who love this game and possess the inner drive to want to share it with others. Instead, my dream is that one day, soon, when more girls and women play baseball that the crowds cheering them on and the media telling their stories will be the equal in size and yes, in passion, to those who gather to watch and report on the boys and men.

Now in my mid-60s I'm writing this blog, my first, and I am writing my memoir, Locker Room Talk, about the time in America's history when I was in my mid-20s and women in America marched to fight back against gender discrimination. I want my 21-year old daughter Maya to know how I was able to play a small role in this social movement for gender equality by opening the baseball's locker room doors to the girls and women whose job it was then – and one day would be – to report on baseball.

These doors, I am happy to say, are ones that many women have walked through. 

Locker Rooms and Women Reporters: A to Z by Julie DiCaro

Melissa Ludtke in her Sports Illustrated office in 1978

Melissa Ludtke in her Sports Illustrated office in 1978

It's my great pleasure to share Julie DiCaro's well-crafted narrative that she wrote for this podcast. It is simply the best short history of women sports reporters' locker room struggles. With her use of revealing details and poignant examples, Julie narrates a magnificent story of what it was like to be a woman reporting on sports who ran into barriers – both structural and attitudinal – when it came to equal access they needed to interview athletes as male reporters do. Since interviews in baseball took place, by tradition, in locker rooms, access to locker rooms was the focus of my federal lawsuit, Ludtke v. Kuhn, and the locus of media attention.

Episode 6: Women in Pro Locker Rooms

Welcome to this week’s episode of Stick to Pods. I’m your host, Julie DiCaro.

Last week, Sports Illustrated published a piece on the culture of sexual harassment and abuse taking place inside the Dallas Mavericks organization, written by Jon Wertheim and the amazing Jessica Luther.

As many women who work in sports will tell you, we’ve made in-roads, but still have so far to go, particularly when it comes to handling harassment online and in our workplaces. And having to constantly deal with those issues keeps us from focusing on bigger issues, like getting more women in decision-making positions in sports and sports media. To their credit, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hired a woman to take over at CEO of his team, and one with a background in HR at that.

But women still aren’t the norm in sports. Back in 2015, Graham Watson, a writer for Yahoo Sports, was barred from entering the Indianapolis Colts locker room by a male usher. And in 2017, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton pointed out in a press conference that he felt it was “weird” to hear a woman asking him a question about routes following an interaction with sportswriter Jordan Rodrique.

I also happened to FINALLY see the movie The Post this week, about 3 months AFTER a movie where Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham should have had me in the theater, and the movie takes great pains to show just how often Graham walked into a room where she was the only woman.

All of this story got me thinking about how much women still have to deal with in the world of sports, and what it must have been like for those who blazed the trial for us back in the 70s and 80s. And that let me to this week’s topic: This is the story of the first women into pro sports locker rooms.

It’s tough to say who the first woman across the thresh hold into a pro sports locker room was, as several women were pushing for access in different sports around the same time. But back in 1975, Robin Herman, a 23-year old reporter for the New York Times, had been trying to get NHL teams to allow her access to locker rooms for a year, with no success.

Gordon Robertson, locker room guard, stops Robin Herman from entering the Chicago Black Hawks locker room (January 1975).   

Gordon Robertson, locker room guard, stops Robin Herman from entering the Chicago Black Hawks locker room (January 1975).

 

Robin Herman interviews Ken Hodges in the locker room.

Robin Herman interviews Ken Hodges in the locker room.

Back then, almost all sports reporters were men, and access to the players as soon as they came off the ice was important to every sports writer, because that’s when the most genuine reactions and quotes were gotten. For women covering sports, going in locker room was never about nudity. It was about access to the players. And sometimes, also about basic human dignity. At Fenway Park in the 1970s, the women were not allowed to eat in the same area as the male sports writers, even though they were doing the same job.

Then, the 1975 All-Star game happened. During the pre-game press conference, someone asked the two coaches if they were going to allow women into the locker room. The coaches looked at each other, shrugged, and said “sure, they can come in.” So into the locker room went Robin Herman and her colleague Marcel St. Cyr.

Herman says, looking back, she was only allowed access that night because responsibility is diffused in an all-star game, with coaches managing guys that aren’t usually on their roster. Herman says the coaches opened the door on a whim, maybe even a dare. But that whim changed the course of history for women in sportswriting.

Upon entering the locker room, Herman says the cameras and microphones immediately swung in her direction, with someone yelling “there’s a girl in the locker room!” Though she insisted the game, not she, was the story, it was hard to convince her male colleagues that was the case. Said Herman, “the game was boring. A girl in the locker room was the story.” And if you need a reminder of how recent this was in the annals of history, Robin Hermann was in the first class of women admitted to Princeton – and that was in 1969.

Of course, some of the players responded exactly as you would expect pro athletes to. As Herman interviewed player Denis Potvin, another player yanked Potvin’s towel off, leaving him completely exposed.

Still, Herman said later “My post-locker room quotations showed patience and good cheer. I was 23-years old and fairly new to my job, and not yet beaten down by the abuse and slamming of doors that would follow this one-time opening.” Herman went on to say that wasn’t the end of the story. Owners and coaches in other cities continued to block locker room access to women, sometimes physically, sometimes using police. But once the barrier was broken, things started to change for women in sports.

At the same time Herman, the only woman in the sports department at the New York Times, was breaking the NHL barrier, Jane Gross was doing the same with NBA teams, while covering the Long Island Nets. The daughter of a sportswriter, Gross is the first to admit she got her job as the result of nepotism, but her timing was astute.

In 1974, women filed a class action law suit against the New York Times, titled Elizabeth Boylan v. New York Times.

Women who worked for The New York Times and in 1974 sued the newspaper for gender discrimination

Women who worked for The New York Times and in 1974 sued the newspaper for gender discrimination

It’s well-worth reading the whole story behind the lawsuit in Nan Robertson’s excellent book: The Girls In the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times. Robertson writes:

“There were forty women reporters to three hundred and eighty-five men reporters, and eleven of those women were in family/style. Of twenty-two national correspondents, not one was a woman. Of thirty-three foreign correspondents, only three were women. There was only one woman bureau chief, just appointed to Paris. In the Washington bureau, with thirty-five reporters, only three were women; the number had not gone up in nine years, although the staff had nearly doubled in that time. There were no women photographers. Of thirty-one critics in culture news, only four were women. Reviewers of drama, music, movies, television and books were all male. The sports department had one woman and twenty-three men. There were no women on the editorial board, which had eleven members. There were no women columnists. Of the seventy-five copy editors on the daily paper, four were women. Almost all the lower-paying, lower-ranking jobs were confined to women.”

Girls in the Balcony.jpeg

 

The New York Times suit was eventually settled in 1978, and the Times were forced to hire more women. Reading the writing on the wall, other newspapers began hiring women as well, and some of those women wanted to write about sports. By the mid 1970s, newspapers were resigned to the fact that they had to hire women reporters across the board, and that led to the hiring of some of the true giants in the industry, women like Christine Brennan, Lesley Visser, Claire Smith, and Michele Himmelberg. And we’ll touch on their stories as well a bit later.

But back to the locker rooms. To this point, no one had challenged MLB to open up their locker rooms to women. Enter Sports Illustrated’s Melissa Ludtke. Melissa grew up in a family of 5 children, to a baseball -loving mother and college football loving father.

Melissa Ludtke's family, 1962, Melissa is standing, far right

Melissa Ludtke's family, 1962, Melissa is standing, far right

In 1977, Ludtke was assigned by Sports Illustrated to cover the World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. Concerned about having access to players immediately following the games, Ludtke had been slowly and quietly lobbying the players for access to the locker room in the World Series. Having secured permission from the Yankees, Tommy John took Ludtke’s case to the Dodgers’ locker room. John told Ludtke, “I’m not going to tell you it was unanimous, but we know you have a job to do, so come on in.”

It’s worth noting that, until this time, women sportswriters, typically made up of a grand total of one at any given game, were forced to wait in the hallway outside the locker room while their colleagues talked to players immediately following the game. The women had to request access to a player, then wait for a team PR rep to bring the players out to speak to her, usually quite a long time after the player had spoken to male sports reporters. And after they had already told their story at least once to other reporters. As Betty Cuniberti, the first woman in the Dodgers’ press box said “Half the human race was shut out of this profession for no good reason.” She goes on to point out that, at the time women were trying to gain locker room access, there were no women in the US Senate and no women on the US Supreme Court. Any room with any kind of power at all was usually all men.

Yankees Manager Billy Martin had been allowing Ludtke to enter the locker room through a side entrance and sit on the couch in his office, which Ludtke later described as being like having a bleacher seat to what was going on at the players’ lockers.

As Ludtke describes in the terrific ESPN documentary “Let Them Wear Towels,” which you can find on Youtube, the 1977 Yankees locker room was filled with drama and large personalities, like Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, and Reggie Jackson. The on-going name-calling and war of words WAS the story in 1977. And all that was taking place in the locker room – making access to the players immediately post-game vital to covering the team.

ESPN's Let Them Wear Towels, a documentary about women in sports media from the 1970s

ESPN's Let Them Wear Towels, a documentary about women in sports media from the 1970s

MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn got word that Ludtke had been lobbying teams for access – and even though MLB hadn’t been directly challenged on their locker room policies, it was clear they’d been thinking about how to handle it when they were.

The commissioner’s office reached out preemptively to Ludtke, telling her they didn’t care what the Yankees and Dodgers said, that they controlled the locker rooms, and she would not be allowed in post-world series. Instead, she would wait in another area and players would be brought out to her after they had dressed – putting her at a huge disadvantage in covering the team. When she asked why the Commissioner’s office was making that decision, she was told the Commissioner’s office hadn’t polled the players’ wives about allowing women into the locker room and that the players’ children would be ridiculed at school. Publicly, Commissioner Kuhn said that having women in the locker room was unfair to players, other reporter, and fans.

And, just like that, Melissa Ludkte was shut out from the biggest sporting event of the year.

In Game 6 of the World Series, the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson, who had been sparring with coaching and management all season, hit three homeruns on three consecutive pitches. Ludtke stood in the hallway and watched as all her colleagues made their way into the locker room for the post-game reaction. For an hour and 45 minutes, Ludtke waited for Reggie Jackson to be brought to her for an interview. When Jackson finally did emerge from the locker room, he was dressed. He told Ludtke, “Melissa, I’m exhausted, I’m going down town. Sorry.”

Ludtke’s bosses at Sports Illustrated decided they weren’t going to allow Kuhn’s decision to stand. In 1977, they filed a lawsuit in federal court, under the title Melissa Ludtke and Time Inc (the parent company of Sports Illustrated) vs. Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of MLB et al. There’s great video (27 minutes into the YouTube video) of a 26-year old Melissa Ludtke sitting with Howard Cosell and explaining why she needed access to locker rooms.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Melissa Ludtke talked baseball – specifically about her legal action against Major League Baseball – on ABC Sports.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Melissa Ludtke talked baseball – specifically about her legal action against Major League Baseball – on ABC Sports.

The decision came down on September 25, 1978, with the federal district could finding that Kuhn’s decision violated Ludtke’s 14th Amendment Rights of Equal Protection and due process, including her right to pursue her profession. The court held that Ludtke had been treated differently from her colleagues based solely on her gender. That decision applied only to the New York Yankees and Yankee stadium, but it put other MLB teams on notice that their policies had to change. When Peter Ueberroth took over as  Commissioner in 1984, he opened up MLB locker rooms to women across the board.

Not that being IN the locker rooms was always easy or fun. Sports are weird in that they are the only beat in which reporters are expected to interview players in various states of undress. And they’re usually cramped, smelly, humid – definitely not the kind of place anyone would choose to hang out. And though pro sports leagues were starting to mandate that women have locker room access, that doesn’t mean the players were on board. And while pro sports teams had to allow women into the locker rooms, they didn’t control what happened once they got in there.

While playing for the Detroit Tigers in 1990, Jack Morris infamously said to the Free Press’s Jennifer Frey, “I don’t talk to people when I’m naked, especially women, unless they’re on top of me or I’m on top of them.”

Lisa Saxon, who covered the Angels for the LA Daily News remembers “"Going in the locker room, knots would get in my stomach," Lisa says. "It actually is a physically uncomfortable thing to do because you didn’t know what you would face. And at the very least you would have jockstraps thrown at you and dirty undergarments. And that was an everyday occurrence, and then you would just build onto that what might happen. And you just hoped for the best when you went in."

Lisa Nehus Saxon, right, Melissa Ludtke, center, Maya Ludtke (Melissa's daughter), left at the Baseball Hall of Fame's baseball diamond for the hall's induction of Claire Smith. July 2018

Lisa Nehus Saxon, right, Melissa Ludtke, center, Maya Ludtke (Melissa's daughter), left at the Baseball Hall of Fame's baseball diamond for the hall's induction of Claire Smith. July 2018

The wonderful Claire Smith, the first woman in America to have an MLB beat (she covered the Yankees for the Hartford Courant), tells a story in the ESPN documentary Let Them Wear Towels about standing in the hallway crying after being sworn at and physically pushed out of the Padres locker room in 1984 while up against a deadline.

Melissa Ludtke, left, Claire Smith, center, Lisa Nehus Saxon, right, in the Baseball Hall of Fame, celebrating Claire Smith's induction as the first women to ever be inducted into the hall.

Melissa Ludtke, left, Claire Smith, center, Lisa Nehus Saxon, right, in the Baseball Hall of Fame, celebrating Claire Smith's induction as the first women to ever be inducted into the hall.

[Addition to Julie's narrative] For Only a Game (NPR) story about women reporters, Major League Baseball and locker rooms, go to this audio story on its podcast. It was recorded during Claire Smith's induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame, July 2018

Smith describes being denied access as “humiliating,” saying being barred from the locker room made it look and feel like she was trying to get into someplace she didn’t have a right to be, which was obviously not the case. She also tells a heart-warming story about Steve Garvey riding to her rescue- coming out into the hallway to give her the quotes she needed and vowing to stay as long as she needed him – as long as she stopped crying.

Dave Kingman dumped buckets of cold water over Jane Gross’s head one two separate occasions in the locker room, and once sent a rat in a corsage box (with a note saying “my name is sue”) to Susan Fornoff of the Sacramento Bee. NHL player Tiger Williams, after calling Lawrie Mifflin, the first woman sports writer for the NY Daily News a “cunt” from across the locker room,  picked her up and forcibly removed her from the locker room.

Cliff Johnson pours Champagne over Melissa Ludtke's head in the New York Yankees locker room, 1978 

Cliff Johnson pours Champagne over Melissa Ludtke's head in the New York Yankees locker room, 1978 

And things weren’t any better for the women covering the NFL and college football. Lesley Visser, who began covering sports in 1974 and who was the first woman to ever have an NFL beat, recalls that one of her credentials said right on it that it was invalid if presented by a woman or child.

Lesley Visser Book.jpeg

 

49ers head coach Bill Walsh refused to allow women into the locker room, and, when asked why, told Michele Himmelberg of the Sacramento Bee that she was “interfering with his season.” Himmelberg also had to go to court in 1981 to get access to the 49ers locker room.

Michele Himmelberg sues the San Francisco 49ers for locker room access, 1981

Michele Himmelberg sues the San Francisco 49ers for locker room access, 1981

Eventually, male newspaper editors backed their women reporters for the most part. And they began lobbying NFL and college teams to allow women the same access to players as the men had. Under pressure from the same papers that covered their team and gave them free advertising, the NFL was forced to give in.

Of course, once were women were allowed into locker rooms in any given sport, columinists, cartoonists, and the general public had a field day at their expense, portraying them as wanton women who just wanted to get a look at some naked guys. In truth, though, women never asked to go into locker rooms -they simply asked to have the same access to players that their male colleagues did. It was the sports themselves that decided post-game interviews should take place in the locker room, with lots of naked men roaming around.

If you think this issue was settled by the 1990s, think again. In 1990, Lisa Olson, who was covering the Patriots for the Boston Herald went public about being harassed by New England players in the locker room. Olson was confronted by several naked players, one of whom said “This is what you want. This is what you need. Want to take a bite out of this?” I’m leaving the names of the players out at Lisa’s request – she doesn’t want their reputations forever tarred because of that one bad day in her words, which is more generous than I would be able to be in her shoes.

Olson sued the team, which earned her being called a “classic bitch” by owner Victor Kiam. But Olson was vindicated when the players and team were fined by the league for their conduct. What followed for Olson were insults and death threats so severe, she wound up fleeing the country for Australia.

Dianemarie Collins interviews Lisa Olson in 2014 when the Association of Women in Sports Media presented its Mary Garber Award to her in recognition of her time as a pioneering sports reporter.

Dianemarie Collins interviews Lisa Olson in 2014 when the Association of Women in Sports Media presented its Mary Garber Award to her in recognition of her time as a pioneering sports reporter.

In Let them Wear Towels, many of the women featured talked about their sadness and loneliness because of the way they were treated by coaches, players, and their colleagues, and many went on to pursue other beats – most leaving sports altogether.

USA today’s Christine Brennan, the first woman to cover Washington’s NFL team, said in locker rooms, women have to smile and laugh and be a little bit deaf and a little bit blind, but stories persist to this day of players, some beloved by fans off the field, still engaging in harassing behavior towards women in the locker room. In the whisper network that exists among women sports reporter, everyone knows who those guys are, though the general public would probably be shocked at some of the names.

"In the field of sports journalism, female reporters have long been a rarity. The Washington Post stands out for assigning female journalists to lead its coverage of the four major Washington D.C. sports teams:  Liz Clarke  on the Redskins,  Candace Buckner  on the Wizards,  Isabelle Khurshudyan  on the Capitals and  Chelsea Janes  on the Nationals. They share what drew them to the male-dominated world of sports journalism and what the landscape looks like for women entering the field today." From  Washington Post , March 6, 2017

"In the field of sports journalism, female reporters have long been a rarity. The Washington Post stands out for assigning female journalists to lead its coverage of the four major Washington D.C. sports teams: Liz Clarke on the Redskins, Candace Buckner on the Wizards, Isabelle Khurshudyan on the Capitals and Chelsea Janes on the Nationals. They share what drew them to the male-dominated world of sports journalism and what the landscape looks like for women entering the field today." From Washington Post, March 6, 2017

 

I’m thrilled about our guest this week. Melissa Ludtke, former sports reporter for Sports Illustrated, sued for access to the Yankees’ locker room in 1978, and that case has long been considered a watershed moment for women in sports writing. Thanks so much for being here this week: 

The podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexy Sports Illustrated Hijacks #MeToo: Thumbs Down on the Result

SI Model Robyn Lawley.jpeg

Six years I reported on sports such as baseball and basketball at Sports Illustrated. Those six years the SI Swimsuit issue was published in mid-February. Still is. Gotta snap the men out of their winter doldrums. No more NFL where they can watch men crack heads, in the week after the Super Bowl the nearly naked women issue appears. Well, a man can go ice fishing for so many winter weeks. Heck, it's what men want, its sales and focus groups tell them – time to serve up gorgeous women wearing less and less of bathing suits as each year goes by.

This year, at least, in one section, they've dispensed with bathing suits altogether.

So along with nudity, Sports Illustrated is parading the fact that for first time ever both bosses in charge of this issue are women – the editor and the photographer, also a first.

By the way they are marketing this year's issue, you'd think #MeToo linked arms with a different kind of female empowerment. All the while the editor is assuring men that no matter what's up with women they can count on SI to serve up "sexy" images.

So how are the 2018 reviews? 

"Spectacularly Silly" – The New Yorker

"Ridiculous?" – Fashion

"the first shoot in which 'models were as much participants as objects' – Vanity Fair

The opening words of Vanity Fair's dive into this 2018 issue:

On the short list of American media institutions invented to take commercial advantage of the male gaze, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue surely ranks in the top-three, mostly-safe-for-work division. One could be forgiven, then, for thinking that the staff of the issue were reconsidering their efforts last fall as #MeToo trended, stories about sexual harassment consumed news cycles, and audiences thought more deeply about the ways their media and entertainment were made—and who was making them. It turns out the issue’s staff had already been on their way to rethinking all of it. Editor MJ Day and her core team, comprised of all women, had decided as early as last spring to try in 2018 to make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.
— Vanity Fair

Let's pause to consider the word "objects."  Really? SI sees its models as much as objects as participants? Sounds about right. Can we agree that the women are objectified. I know some argue that being nude or nearly nude in these magazine spreads so men can ogle their bodies is an act of empowerment. I'm not in that camp; one reason I'm not is how often some of the same male sports fans objectify women who broadcast and write sports – undressing them on Twitter et al. with descriptions and threats that strip them of their humanity.

The consequences of inhabiting an objectified body are, in many ways, what #MeToo is all about, and there’s something spectacularly silly, not to mention tone-deaf, about Sports Illustrated fighting fire with fire. The ‘In Her Own Words’ shoot got a predictable amount of flak on Twitter; it seems that removing models’ remaining scraps of clothes in the name of empowerment has not been widely taken in the liberating spirit in which it was intended.
— Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

In trying to "mirror" the #MeToo movement on their model's bodies, SI explained its mission this way; they are "allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves." Yet, as editor MJ Day assured its predominantly male audience for this annual post-Super Bowl issue, this issue is “always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening.”

Again, a word check:  "Allowing" this to happen? Perhaps, a wiser word choice would be "enabling" if this is such an empowering act. 

Perhaps all of this explain why on the brink of Sports Illustrated's sale to Meredith, Time Inc. announced the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises. Here's how New York Post greeted with this news:

Sports Illustrated is going into the modeling business

.. the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises, a branding and licensing venture announced this week by the Time Inc. title, which hopes to turn the popular swimsuit issue that hits in mid-February into a year-round enterprise to offset declines in SI’s print ad business.
— The New York Post
Si Calendar.jpeg

Meet SI's 2018 Swimsuit Calendar. Stay tuned for more as the year moves on. My hunch is that this is one part of SI's "editorial" content that won't be tampered with by Meredith.

 

 

Sad Goodbye to My First Journalism Home

Time & Life Building.jpeg

A few days ago Vanity Fair paused to take note of the end of an era in American journalism – the sale of Time Inc, where I arrived as a "girl who knew sports," as ABC Sports broadcaster Frank Gifford once dubbed me in complimenting me on my ability to talk sports. And when I left my job at Sports Illustrated five years I'd learned journalism, written some stories and fact checked a lot of other, and defeated Major League Baseball in a federal court case that leveled the playing field for women sports reporters by giving us the equal access to locker rooms that we needed to do our jobs.

Vanity Fair's headline stopped me cold.

“I’D RATHER WATCH MY PARENTS HAVE SEX”: INSIDE THE FINAL DAYS OF TIME INC.

Executives count their payouts, staffers worry about layoffs, and 100 years of media history comes to an end with Meredith’s takeover of Time.

Soon Time Inc alums gathered on Facebook to reminisce about the good old days with requisite call outs to how grand life our lives were back then, with late night dinners served on china, fully stocked liquor cabinets in editors' offices, and expense accounts that gave many of us first class lives on the road. It was the heyday of print advertising that kept the company's coffers full, but what I noticed in my colleagues' words was less about how good our lives were as journalists at Time Inc, but how meaningful it felt to have the privilege of working as a reporter or researcher, correspondent or photographer, writer or editor in the Time & Life Building at the corner of 50th and Avenue of the Americas.

A sampling of comments, below, became a Rip Van Winkle experience as one by one we recalled memories of how journalism – at least at Time, Inc. – used to be.

High journalistic standards (which are harder and harder to hold on to)

Fact-checkers! Whole floors of fact-checkers! Imagine.

It could be a very feisty company, in the day, challenging powerful interests. I remember our lawyer saying, after reviewing a story, "They may sue us if you run this, but we'll win. Go for it." Such a great attitude!

Totally. Lawyers who thought their job was to help you publish the story rather than keep the company from getting sued.

4 month paid maternity leave

Got to do great, rewarding work that was valued by my bosses and peers ... was fairly compensated ... hung out with bright, talented people ... and met my wife. Loved every day of it—even the bad ones. Made my father inordinately proud. Not a bad list, for starters.

My honor to work with smart, brilliant people, many of whom would go to bat for any of us. The late-night closes in London — what a bonding experience! Making friends all around the world and, most importantly of all, introducing me to the love of my life. Xo

It taught me journalism standards I still treasure and now labor to try and pass down to the young writers I work with today. It introduced me to three presidents, several wannabe presidents and a whole world of interesting and insane people. And it taught me that a magazine is only as strong as the people who work there, and that you attract great people by treating them well and inspiring them ... at least until AOL shows up.

Here's another perspective – Who killed Time Inc.? – published in Columbia Journalism Review.