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The Struggles of Women in the Sports Journalism Field

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northeastern chapter.

For my Sports, Media and Communications class, I had to watch an ESPN documentary called “Let Them Wear Towels.” This film is about the fight for equal access to professional male athletes for women sports journalists in the mid-to-late 1900’s. As an aspiring female sports journalist, this documentary hit close to home.

The movie talks about the struggles of women writers in this industry and how they were not permitted the same access to speak with athletes compared to male journalists. More specifically, many men in power refused to let women in the locker rooms after games. Many teams had large signs on the locker room doors and offices saying “NO WOMEN ALLOWED.” The athletes tended to be naked or just didn’t want any women in the area to “distract” or “ruin the vibes”, according to the documentary.

In turn, women journalists could not do their job and write the stories that they were assigned even if they had press passes. The simple solution these women journalists argued for at this time was to have every player wear a towel. This policy was not as easy to implement as one might think. 

The documentary dives into the rise of the women’s rights movement that started to pick up in the late 1900s. Landmark events that shaped who we are today happened, including Title IX, Roe v. Wade, the first woman Supreme Court Justice and the first woman in space. People started to reject old views and values of what women could and should be able to do. In the sports world, though, this idea proved difficult. Journalist Melissa Ludtke, who was featured in the film, unpacked her journey to find her place in the sports journalism world. 

Ludtke championed women’s equality during her time as a baseball reporter for Sports Illustrated. When the MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn refused her access to interview ballplayers in team locker rooms, Time Inc., the owner of Sports Illustrated, initiated a federal lawsuit, Ludtke v. Kuhn, with Melissa as the plaintiff.

Throughout the film they described the lawsuit and what this legal action argued for. The MLB’s policy, which segregated male and female reporters in their professional duties, constituted gender discrimination and unequal treatment, placing women journalists at a disadvantage.

Judge Constance Baker Motley based her decision on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and in her ruling in September of 1978 ensured equal access for female reporters. At the time, 26-year-old Ludtke was the first woman allowed in an MLB locker room. Outlining her story in the film is essential in understanding the discrimination women journalists faced and continue to fight against to this day.

The documentary goes into depth about the many stories of female journalists at the time who were combatting discrimination. Back then, many women tried to do their jobs and stay under the radar, but once their ability to do their jobs was impacted, they knew they had to fight for that right with passion. Many faced verbal and physical abuse even after their ability to enter the locker rooms was allowed. Women in general are still fighting for a respectable place in the sports industry as athletes, coaches, fans and journalists.

Valentina Swan

Northeastern '26

Valentina is a second-year journalism and business student from New York City. Besides reading and writing, she loves to take walks around Boston and spend time with her friends. Contributing to Her Campus is such a privilege and she is very excited to be a part of such an uplifting community.