The fight for women sports reporters' access to locker rooms is history -- or is it?

AP Photo/Dave Pickoff

Melissa Ludtke was a writer for Sports Illustrated in the 1970s when she was forbidden from covering the 1977 World Series from the teams' locker rooms.

Forty years ago today, on what was the first night of the 1977 World Series, Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn forbid me from reporting in the teams' locker rooms. In April 1978, the commissioner and I faced off in federal court. Just before the 1978 World Series, Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled in my favor, and the rest is history.

Or is it? With the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment on my side, my case cemented the legal foothold on which thousands of women sports reporters rely today. Yet as decades go by, I appreciate more and more an age-old lesson: While courts decide our laws, it's up to us, as a society, to adjust our attitudes.

As Carolina quarterback Cam Newton's dismissive response to a female reporter's question reminded us, we've still got a long way to go. While his words focused our nation's momentary attention on female sports reporters, we should not forget that his is only one voice in the booming alto chorus heard these days from Silicon Valley (think Google "memo") to boardrooms and venture-capital suites throughout the country.

Newton's retort reflects his attitude -- and that of so many others. His words are also lingering echoes of the sportswriters who, in the 1970s, dismissed me with caustic disdain. Then they dished about me in conversations that Roger Angell revealed in "Sharing the Beat," his 1979 The New Yorker story about women's arrival on various sports' beats.

In his Oct. 1, 1978, column "But is she serious?" Leigh Montville, writing for The Boston Globe, challenged my right to be doing this job: "I have only a few questions for the lady." (Meaning me.) "I don't care about all the wink and leer jokes about a grown woman going into a room where grown men are undressing. I just want to know if the lady is doing this job because she really wants to do this job. Is she some chic, Miss-America gimmick that somehow has been chosen to fill out some television director's idea of a homogeneous, cross-section of America package? Or is she for real? Is she serious?"

Montville peppered the "lady" with 45 questions. "Did she ever spit in a baseball glove?" "Was her life absolutely dominated by sports when she was a kid?" "Did she ever try to hit a fairway wood?" Yes, yes and yes -- as if answering any of those questions with a yes qualified me, or any man or woman, for this job. His questions driveled on and on. In the next Sunday paper, Lesley Visser, the only female sports reporter at the Globe, had her say in a column headlined, "He asked for it, so he'll get it -- my answer."

"The writer asks if we are in the clubhouse for showtime," Visser wrote, "yet he does not bat an eye when a reporter in this town says, and is quoted, 'Why do the women who want to go into the locker room always have to be dogs? Why can't it be a good-looking broad?' Does that man really deserve to be in there before us?"

So it's gone for decades, back and forth in our own Battle of the Sexes. Only now the questioning of whether women belong in sports is happening at a fever pitch on social media, with misogynistic comments too lewd to publish here and threats to women's safety.

With women now broadcasting football and baseball games on national TV, trolls show up in force to remind them they shouldn't be there: "She doesn't belong in the booth with men discussing a game she knows nothing about. It's like watching a game with a girlfriend," and "Jessica Mendoza is that annoying sister your mom makes you bring everywhere." 

Radio sports broadcaster and writer Julie DiCaro observed in The New York Times after Beth Mowins' debut in the booth of Monday Night Football that "the moment Mowins spoke a word into her microphone, Twitter lit up with complaints about her voice." DiCaro quoted longtime NFL reporter Andrea Kremer as saying she has "no doubt that 'hating the sound of her voice' is code for 'I hate that there was a woman announcing football.'"

Courtesy Melissa Ludtke

"Women in sports media are canaries in our societal coal mine. They are targeted now, as I once was, because our livelihoods intersect with sports, supposedly displacing men in a place many believe is rightfully theirs," writes Melissa Ludtke.

Time marches on. Early this year women marched, again, like we did in the 1970s. Why? Because attitudes seem frozen in that bygone era. Women in sports media are canaries in our societal coal mine. They are targeted now, as I once was, because our livelihoods intersect with sports, supposedly displacing men in a place many believe is rightfully theirs. Not so long ago sports were a men-only environment. Changes did not come easily. Ask Billie Jean King. Title IX enforced the rise of women athletes. Pioneering women of my era showed up, fought for their rights, and stuck around in press boxes and locker rooms.

We felt the backlash. Four decades later I'm angry that women feel it still.

Last week, The Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote the 2017 version of Montville's 1978 column. "I need Cam Newton's help," she began. "Maybe after he opens a jar for me, he can explain which end of the football goes in front. See, I'm a female, and as a member of the sex that burns the toast, certain concepts elude me, such as astrophysics and football. I'll make him a trade: I'll tell him how babies get born, if he will tell me how to turn on a car. It's so funny when females try to talk about things that they shouldn't. It's just so ... funny."

Depends, I guess, on who is listening.

Melissa Ludtke is writing a memoir about Ludtke v. Kuhn.

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