• U.S.

Sport: They Use Bathrobes

2 minute read
Melissa Ludtke

TIME correspondent Melissa Ludtke, then a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reporter, was a plaintiff in the federal court case 12 years ago that gave women sportswriters equal access to interview players. Her comments on the current controversy:

The locker-room incidents are a stark and valuable reminder that the battles that I and others waged for equality in the 1970s didn’t bring an end to discrimination. They only kept the more overt forms from showing. We’ve learned that changing the rules doesn’t necessarily alter attitudes. Stereotypical, outmoded and confining images of women, not at all suited to the reality of their actual lives, still pop up and sting us.

To be sportswriters, women learn quickly that they must observe certain unwritten rules. They must tolerate an interminable onslaught of teasing tossed at them. They must bury female sensibilities at the door. If they linger in the locker room or converse in too friendly a fashion with players, they are accused of flirting and talked about in unflattering ways that in time undermine their credibility and wear them down.

Even so, the women-in-the-locker-room system for the most part works when league commissioners, team executives and players want it to. In the National Basketball Association, which gave women equal access without rancor or lawsuits, these altercations have not taken place. The players use bathrobes or rely on towels to ensure their privacy.

But even in baseball, the policy of equal access can and does work. Often when I was in locker rooms in the ’70s, players would politely ask me to return in five minutes, after they had dressed. The point is, there are sensible ways to make this work for everybody, without making it impossible for women to report sports or humiliating those who choose to do so. Women in locker rooms should not be the issue in 1990. Rather, the finger ought to be pointed at the infantile and repugnant behavior of some ballplayers and their inability to adjust to changing times, when gender equality should be assumed.

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