A barrier-breaking generation gives context to contemporary female life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Baseball, Locker Rooms and Equal Protection

Thirty-four years ago today, Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled that female sports reporters were to be allowed equal access to Yankee Stadium's locker rooms. The plaintiff was Melissa Ludtke, a young journalist (and friend of mine) then at Sports Illustrated who had been barred from the Yankees and Dodgers locker rooms during the 1977 World Series. The lead defendant was Major League Baseball's Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

 Yankee Stadium was a city-owned facility. Motley cited the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause. Case closed.  But not really...

The ruling was hardly the end of the story for women reporters who still had to contend with other teams and sports, yet it was exceedingly high profile and served notice to all leagues (and symbolically to any all-male institution) that the time had come; women would be treated as the professionals they were or the law would have something to say about it.
As Melissa explained to me today via FB: "Technically only Yankee Stadium was affected by Motley's ruling, and Major League Baseball appealed that decision. In early October, we were back in Motley's district courtroom twice, once for a hearing amending her ruling and then Kuhn's lawyers refused to agree that Motley's order be extended to the city of Philadelphia to allow equal access there during the playoffs. But on January 3, 1979, Kuhn attorney's notified the Second Circuit's Court of Appeals that Major League Baseball would not pursue further its appeal of Motley's decision. When the baseball season opened in 1979, equal access was the rule with all of the league's teams."

Others of us had been in NBA and NHL locker rooms since 1975 (Newsday's Jane Gross was the pioneer covering basketball; The Daily News' Lawrie Mifflin and myself at The New York Times were the intrepid female duo covering ice hockey).

But Ludtke vs. Kuhn and Yankee Stadium sent the loudest message to date. Yet here we are 34 years later with another closed room still to contend with. My question: When is the NFL going to put a woman in the anchor booth?? We could all die waiting....

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