History of women in sports journalism
May 5, 2022
“We’ve been living in a society where men are the dominant athletes, and that is shown off the field, too,” Roth said.
Progression for women in sports journalism didn’t start until the 1970s.
In the 1970s, media sessions were held in the team’s locker room for all sports except tennis. These locker rooms were men’s locker rooms where women were not allowed because they were seen as changing areas.
“It’s our view that it’s not a fair thing for our players,” said Bowie Kuhn, the former Major League Baseball commissioner, in an interview on GBH News. “This an area where they’re dressing [and] it’s an area where they’re entitled to some reasonable privacy.”
But access to the locker rooms was more than just about privacy.
“And to talk about nudity, if it had been an issue, I would have been allowed into the locker room before the games, in the pregame interviews, when the players were all in their uniforms,” said Melissa Ludtke, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine, in an interview with GBH News. “But in fact, I was also banned then as well.”
The court case of Ludtke v. Kuhn altered the sports broadcasting landscape. Ludtke filed a civil rights action against Kuhn, American League President Leland MacPhail, and three New York city officials. The action fought to prevent the New York Yankees from enforcing a gender-based policy that prohibited female reporters from entering the team’s locker rooms.
Ludtke went on to win the case, and the court issued a ruling that forbade the enforcement of the gender-based policy surrounding locker rooms.
“It was a big deal because it indicated that the locker room is a workplace, and if male reporters can go in there, women reporters should be in there as well,” said Kerith Burke, a reporter who covers the Golden State Warriors for NBC Sports Bay Area.
The transition of women onto the screens hasn’t been easy. Since the beginning of sports broadcasting in the 20th century, the play-by-play announcers, color commentators, and sideline reporters have been almost all men.
Women made their first debut in sports broadcasting through sideline reporting.
“One of the rudest ways to put it is that it was an eye candy job,” Burke said. “Then when women had the opportunity, I think we showed we can really tell a story, and we can be the eyes and ears on a field or court.”
In 1984, Lesley Visser became the first female sideline reporter. She went on to be the first female color commentator on an NFL broadcast and the only sportscaster to be on broadcasts for the Final Four, the NBA Finals, the World Series, Triple Crown, Monday Night Football, the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Figure Skating Championships and the U.S. Open.