expected publication 2019

expected publication 2019

Locker Room Talk: A Woman's Struggle to Get Inside

Baseball locker rooms, women reporters, men’s nudity, equal access, gender discrimination, and Ludtke v. Kuhn, Melissa's 1978 lawsuit against Major League Baseball, decided in her favor by Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman judge in the U.S. federal court. "Locker Room Talk," Melissa's forthcoming memoir, carries readers along on her headline-grabbing legal action that opened baseball locker rooms to women reporters during the 1970s women’s movement – and set into motion the surge of women into various jobs in sports media.

Reporting for Sports Illustrated, Melissa was the only woman assigned to Major League Baseball's beat in the mid-1970s. After Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned her from the teams' locker rooms during the first game of the 1977 World Series due to her gender, Melissa ended up taking Major League Baseball to federal court. When Judge Motley ruled in Ludtke v. Kuhn in September 1978, her words set legal precedent that had protected women sports reporters against infringement of their Constitutional right to perform their jobs as the men do. Younger girls knew could do jobs in sports media that might have seemed out of reach. Since then, thousands of women have worked in sports media, leading to many recent firsts with women in-booth broadcasters on major sports such as baseball and football.

It mattered what Jackie [Robinson] did. It mattered what Melissa did not just because of baseball but because of what it meant to society. It transcended baseball. It transcended sports. Those were steps taken by very brave people, steps that advanced the society.
— Claire Smith, first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

In the decades since my case, attitudes about women as athletes and reporters have shifted for the better with an assist from Title IX, the 1992 federal law requiring equal gender participation in school sports. Sports show laudable zones of progress, such as equal prize money for women and men in major tennis tournaments, a battle first waged by Billie Jean King. Yet commentary about women athletes and reporters presents us with stark reminders of the long road ahead in achieving gender equality. Stubborn strands of sexism run deep in American society and are on vivid display when topics involve sports; this was so during the 1970s, and still is.

The memoir "Locker Room Talk" will tell what it was like being the 26-year old woman swept up in the societal hurricane spinning around my lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Being in the bullseye of press commentary took a toll on Melissa as she was pitted against the well-fortified bastion of male privilege. She was made to be symbolic of women's lib at a time of revolutionary change in women's lives, and while what her actions carved new pathways for generations of girls to follow, in her personal life she stumbled, and in her memoir she writes about those challenges, too.

As the much-maligned female plaintiff in a case about which most Americans had an opinion, Melissa leaned in, paid a price, and now forty years later, in "Locker Room Talk," she's sharing with younger generations some of the valuable insights she's take away that experience and her look back through the decades. In 2018, women aren't staying silent, as she, and others in her generation, did for a long while. Today women refuse to let misogyny stand. When verbal or sexual abuse happens, as individuals or collectively through social media campaigns like  #MeToo, they respond. Women like Melissa resisted and persisted in confronting the gender punishing attitudes and unjust laws and policies of the 1970s and this connects her youthful experiences with women's awakened gender activism today.

 

 
What I learned, as one of the only women covering baseball at the time, was that I better know damn well what I’m talking about when I open my mouth, because a lot of people are watching me and ready to say that I don’t know what I’m talking about, a lot of people assuming I’m there for some other reason than that I actually think I can do this job.
— Melissa Ludtke, on the 2015 anniversary of Judge Motley's decision.