In 1978, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke won the right to practice journalism in the locker room of the New York Yankees, securing equal access to cover the same sports teams and interview athletes and coaches as her male counterparts. This Sunday, 37 years after that victory, three women reporters were mistakenly banned from an NFL locker room.
When a male usher at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis prevented Yahoo reporter Graham Watson from entering a locker room — a common area for journalists to interview players and coaches — during the Colts' Sunday game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, she started to tweet about it.
I was just blocked from a locker room by an old, out-of-touch geezer who wasn't sure women were allowed because "you know how guys are."— Graham Watson (@Yahoo_Graham) October 4, 2015
I have covered male sporting events all over the world and it took coming to Indianapolis to face my first gender discrimination. @NFL— Graham Watson (@Yahoo_Graham) October 4, 2015
Two other women reporters, Tuscaloosa News's Joey Chandler and Tulsa World's Katie McInerney, were also temporarily denied locker room access that day.
Ludtke believes women journalists still face discrimination online
The Colts apologized to the reporters for the usher's error. Sunday's sexist gaffe doesn't happen often in the US anymore, thanks to Ludtke's case, but the Colts mistake is a great reminder of how easy it is to forget specific legal rights in everyday circumstances when individuals depend on their social biases to make rules that end up superseding the hard-won civil rights of others.
I do want to note that we did eventually get in and we were able to do our job after the man asked several males if it was OK if we got in.— Graham Watson (@Yahoo_Graham) October 4, 2015
In a recent interview, Ludtke told Huffington Post's Maxwell Strachan that she thinks getting the work of journalism done is actually worse in some ways for today's women reporters. Sexist and misogynist commenters can troll and harass reporters about opinions on social media under the protection of online anonymity:
[One thing that's worse is] the social media environment, [which] is clearly something that we did not have back then. When people wanted to say something about me or about my lawsuit or about women in general doing this job, they actually had to put their byline on top of it. A lot of critics and a lot of sports columnists who went after me and this legal action and are really present in their profession, they did it with a restraint that I don't see now, and this, of course, goes far wider than sports journalism.
To Ludtke's point, women reporters should be able to work without being harassed, and protecting a woman's right to do her job in locker rooms and chat rooms isn't by any means a new proposal. In 2014, Vox's Timothy Lee interviewed University of Maryland legal scholar Danielle Citron, who believes that online harassment is a civil rights issue for women because it harms their ability to express themselves and protect their privacy while pursuing careers. Sexual harassment online is a much more difficult problem to solve, however, because there's no one global governance organization responsible for protecting civil rights online. The good news for women sports reporters is that their right to work in hundreds of locker rooms is protected. The bad news is that there's an infinite number of social media networks and website comments sections where that's not the case.