Paving the way for women sports writers in the locker room

The Baseball Hall of Fame saluted a pioneering female sports reporter the other day in noting that a couple of her press passes from the late 1970s will be on display in a new exhibit on women in baseball.

The reporter was Melissa Ludtke, who was writing for Sports Illustrated during the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. The Dodgers were going to let her into the locker room to do her job interviewing coaches and players. But Major League Baseball said no. Sports Illustrated and its parent company, Time Inc., sued and won, giving female reporters equal access to reporting from baseball locker rooms.

That controversy caused a commotion back in the late 70s as I was entering grad school in journalism. Although I’ve written hundreds if not thousands of sports stories over my career, I only set foot in a pro locker room once. And that was enough.

I was helping cover a Raiders-Packers game at County Stadium in Milwaukee, probably in 1982, when I was sent down from the press box to catch some quotes after the game. My impressions? Hey – there are a lot of naked guys in here snapping towels at each other, and it doesn’t really smell too good.

I was part of a cluster of reporters huddled around Raiders (they were the L.A. Raiders then) coach Tom Flores, who — I still remember with relief — was fully clothed. I also got to chat with Jim Plunkett, which was cool. I remember watching the locker room interviews on TV that night and telling my wife something along the lines of: “See that guy? HE’S TOTALLY NAKED.”

Suffice it to say I was not a big fan of cruising a professional sports team’s locker room for quotes. But that’s where much of sports reporting happens, and it was absolutely right and proper for baseball and the other pro sports to grant access to reporters who happened to be women.

While I got the Raiders assignment, a colleague got the opportunity to run quotes from the Brewers’ locker room during the 1982 World Series.  I can’t recall if it was she who told me or one of the other guys on the staff who was there. But as the reporter arrived, one of the Brewers’ relief pitchers spotted her and, pointing this way and that, said, “There’s a naked one.”

As intimidated and somewhat repulsed as I was at setting foot in the locker room, I can only imagine what my colleague, Melissa Ludtke and other women who dared to enter these man caves must have experienced. They had more guts than I ever did.

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