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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Let them wear towels

Last night, ESPN premiered Let Them Wear Towels, the third in its Nine for IX documentary series (nine films, all by female directors, marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX). Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, the film examines the experiences of the first generation of female sportswriters and their efforts to get equal access to lockerrooms. This one has a lot of law to it. For one thing, many of the early women sportswriters got those jobs because many of the major news outlets (including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Newsday) had been sued for employment discrimination and were looking to hire female sportswriters. The film also discusses Melissa Ludtke's successful 1978 lawsuit challenging Major League Baseball's exclusion of women from clubhouses as applied to Yankee Stadium,* which somewhat started the slow move toward league-wide policies in all four major sports.
    * The district court found that MLB and the Yankees acted under color of law, because New York City owned the old Yankee Stadium. This decision is a big part of my arguments about the First Amendment rights of fans at publicly financed ballparks.
The film closes with the story of Lisa Olson, who in 1990 was sexually harassed by several players in the New England Patriots lockerroom, then suffered public harassment and vilification that pushed her to move out of the country for six years. The film's presentation of the Olson case illustrates something about the evolution of social movements. The early cohort of women reporters, who are the main subjects of the film, talk about turning a blind eye and deaf ear to offensive behavior. For them and their period of the mid-'70s to mid-'80s, the goal was simply access and getting inside the lockerroom so they could do their jobs; lewd comments and actions were the cost of that access. Olson's story is the second wave of the movement--having been granted access (a given by 1990), the demand was for a certain minimum level of behavior and treatment when they were there.

The one other thing I would have liked to have seen was some update on the views of the men who strongly opposed women's access back in the day--do they still hold to what they said 30 years ago or are they embarassed by it? Several of them are dead (former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former Patriots owner Robert Kraft Victor Kiam, whose public comments exacerbated the Olson situation). ESPN does have a short companion film in which journalists and athletes of that era talk about the past and come across as largely supportive.


During the Lisa Olson incident,I think the Patriots owner was Victor Kiam. He made some less than classy comments about Lisa being a classic botch, or some such non-sense.


Blogger Brendan -- 7/17/2013 10:26 AM  

I think you meant Victor Kiam, not Robert Kraft.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/17/2013 7:23 PM  

Robert Kraft is dead?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/17/2013 9:48 PM  

The question of access can have an element of sexism (the "women aren't allowed in sports" argument) but it also has an element of privacy. I wonder if the people who supported access are in favor of male access into female lockerrooms.

Also, Robert Kraft is still alive, and he is still the owner of the pats.

Anonymous M Ayenife -- 7/17/2013 11:57 PM  

The name of the Patriots' former owner has been correct.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/18/2013 5:18 PM  

I don't understand why they even have journalists in locker rooms. Why don't they just let the guys shower and get dressed and answer questions after they're dressed? As a male, I know I would feel awkward interviewing a female athlete dressed in a towel with other female athletes walking around naked.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/22/2013 9:05 PM  

Anonymous: And that's *really* what women reporters wanted--equality of access. The idea of no one in the locker room wouldn't fly with male reporters at the time. Why not? The non-cynical reason was deadlines (the press couldn't wait for the writers to wait to write their stories until after the players showered). The cynical reason was many male reporters wanted to keep women out of sportswriting--and locker room access was a way to do that.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 7/23/2013 8:01 PM  

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