With an upcoming memoir entitled “Locker Room Talk: A Woman’s Struggle to Get Inside,” Melissa Ludtke recounted her journey as an award-winning journalist at Endicott’s Rose Performance Hall on Wednesday.
Ludtke, who is responsible for the 1978 Federal Court case allowing equal access for female reporters, told stories about her unique relationship with sports which eventually led to her career as a sports journalist.
Ludtke began recalling a letter her grandfather sent to her mother just a few days after giving birth. Instead of focusing the letter on his daughter’s new baby, the grandfather updated his daughter on the Red Sox game that happened a day or two prior. The love of sports, Ludtke explained, was generational in her family.
As Ludtke grew up playing and watching sports and applied to sports reporting positions, she noticed that her sex posed as a barrier for her to properly report. She was at first declined jobs to be a sports reporter, as females in the field were in low number.
When Ludtke was hired to write for Sports Illustrated, the inequality continued. Her male counterparts were given full access to players’ locker rooms and clubhouses where Ludtke and other female reporters were stuck in a designated ladies zone.
Ludtke became frustrated at the constant unequal competition between herself and male reporters who were allowed to report wherever they please. When Ludtke went on a two-week reporting trip with a male colleague, she was referred to as a “secretary” and “somebody’s girlfriend.”
Ludtke decided to take legal action two years into her Sports Illustrated career. In October 1977, Ludtke was banned from the Yankees’ clubhouse and locker room by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn while covering the World Series.
She recalled being called to the press box over the stadium’s loudspeaker where Kuhn broke the news to her that she was not given permission to enter the locker rooms.
“He said to me ‘A woman has no place in a locker room,’” Ludtke said. “I’ll never forget the way he said it.”
The unruly encounter with Kuhn and other baseball officials led Ludtke to disclose her dissatisfactions to her bosses at Sports Illustrated and her lawyer, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. After sending a series of letters to Kuhn and his employees without an agreement in sight, a lawsuit was filed on December 29, 1977.
A nine-month trial ensued, leading to Ludtke getting her answer. In September of 1978, Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled Ludtke’s rights as a journalist and for equal opportunity had been violated.
Forty years after the trial, Lutdke says there is still room for improvement. She ended her presentation with a video about women in journalism still being harassed in the 21st century.
“Although there has been equal access since the 70’s, there are still critics,” Ludtke said. “[Equal access] does not equate to acceptance.”
Ludtke’s presentation proves that there is still room for equal opportunity in both the newsroom and workforce. However, Ludtke’s contributions as a sports reporter have paved the way for progress.