October 25, 2007

30 Years Ago in News History: Ludtke Makes History Off Field

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During the 1977 World Series, as the New York Yankees were on their way to defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to two, history was being made off the field.

Melissa Ludtke, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, was barred by the baseball commissioner from the Dodgers and Yankees locker rooms. While the male reporters had easy access to the players for interviews, Ludtke’s exclusion caused her to miss key quotes and her deadline.

Among professional sports organizations, baseball stood nearly alone. The National Hockey League had equal-access rules in place since 1975. The National Basketball Association also gave women reporters equal access. At least one professional football team allowed women in the locker room.

Ludtke, a lifelong baseball lover, sued Major League Baseball so she and other female sports reporters could do their jobs.

"My yellow press pass for the World Series said in bold letters that I could be admitted," she later said.

Ludtke’s press passes from the Series will be on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery when the Newseum opens in 2008.

In 1978, the court declared it illegal — and a violation of the 14th Amendment — to bar a woman reporter from a male athlete’s locker room. A black female judge, Constance Baker Motley, made the ruling. At that time, fewer than 30 women covered sports. According to an Associated Press Sports Editors study conducted in 2006, women made up nearly 13 percent of sports staffs overall. Five percent of sports editors were women, and less than seven percent were columnists.

Soon after winning the suit, Ludtke left Sports Illustrated for CBS News. In 1980, she joined Time magazine as a general assignment reporter and later wrote a book about single motherhood. She is currently editor of Nieman Reports, a journalism quarterly published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

The status of women sportswriters is "no longer an issue," said Ludtke, in a phone interview from her home in Boston. She noted the irony of the locker room celebration after the Red Sox won the 2007 American League championship compared with the Yankee’s clubhouse celebration during the Series 30 years ago.

"The American League official handing over the championship trophy inside the locker room was a woman. It’s a huge change. There’s no comparison."

Melissa Ludtke photo: Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

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