In the 1970s—the decade of disco, Watergate, and bell bottom pants—the women’s rights movement escalated to a new level, continuing a legacy ignited by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida Harper.
Billie Jean King’s defeat of Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match underscored the women’s movement. More than a sports event, it was, indeed, an occasion of spectacle, news, and social commentary. “I was playing to prove that men and women had the same entertainment value, which is why we should be paid equally,” wrote King in her 2008 book Pressure Is A Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes, co-written with Christine Brennan.
Barbara Walters became the first female anchor of a network news broadcast when she combined with Harry Reasoner to co-anchor ABC’s nightly news program, CBS hired Jane Chastain as the first female national sportscaster for NFL games, and Melissa Ludtke became the first female journalist allowed in a Major League Baseball team’s locker room.
Ludtke’s journey took her through a legal battle that highlighted an additional burden for women to compete in sports journalism. It hinged on equal access to athletes, coaches, and managers—if the locker room paradigm excluded female reporters, then they would not have the same opportunity as male reporters to get quotes, insights, and background information from players. A level playing field, pardon the expression, would not exist.
“We saw the women’s movement emerging in the political realm and the nation had just come out of the civil rights movement,” says Ludtke, then a reporter for Sports Illustrated. “In our court case, we relied on the Fourteenth Amendment and a number of precedents developed in legal arguments and judicial decisions about racial discrimination.”
Ludtke’s lawsuit for equal access took her to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In Ludtke vs. Kuhn, Judge Constance Baker Motley—who had argued many key civil rights cases as an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Attorney—reasoned, “By definition, female reporters who are excluded from baseball clubhouses are not given the same access to the news and newsmakers as their male colleagues and competitors. This denial of equal access places female reporters at a severe competitive disadvantage because they miss stories witnessed or heard by male reporters inside the clubhouse, because they are unable to take advantage of the group questioning inside the clubhouse and because they are unable to talk to some players at all.”
One of the defendants, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, led the policy of exclusion. At issue in Judge Motley’s court were privacy for players, due process, and state action—a financial connection between New York City and Yankee Stadium had been established during the rebuilding of the iconic ballpark in the mid-1970s. Kuhn’s positions suffered under legal scrutiny.
Motley ruled, “The undisputed facts show that the Yankees’ interest in protecting ballplayer privacy may be fully served by much less sweeping means than than implemented here. The court holds that the state action complained of unreasonably interferes with plaintiff Ludtke’s fundamental right to pursue her profession in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 12, 2016.
Share this post
Tags: ABC, Barbara Walters, Battle of the Sexes, Battle of the Sexes tennis match, Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, Bowie Kuhn, CBS, Christine Brenna, Constance Baker Motley, disco, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harry Reasoner, Ida Harper, Judge Constance Baker Motley, Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Commissioner, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Melissa Ludtke, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NFL, Pressure Is A Privilege, Sports Illustrated, Susan B. Anthony, Watergate