My interview today is with Melissa Ludtke, a journalist who has reported for Sports Illustrated, been a correspondent for Time, worked at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, and is also the creator of a transmedia project called Touching Home in China. But in today's interview we're talking about life in her twenties, and Melissa's was marked by the famous 1978 court case Ludtke v. Kuhn in which she, a young journalist backed by her employers, Sports Illustrated and Time Inc., sued the Major League Baseball Commissioner for the right to report from players' locker rooms. Melissa is at work writing a memoir about this experience, and I can't. Wait. To. Read. It.
Melissa didn't fall into sports reporting so easily. She had graduated and wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do next when she had a chance encounter with football player and commentator Frank Gifford, who told her she knew a lot about sports—for a girl. Melissa decided that sports journalism was going to be it, and Gifford invited her to New York City to tour ABC Sports.
Despite having a foot in the door, Melissa didn't get a job at ABC Sports right away because—twist!—the women's movement had started, and companies were coming under fire for putting women who had college degrees in administrative work. First she had to pay her dues as a secretary for Harper's Bazaar (which, I guess, didn't care about that). But when Melissa wasn't working, she'd shadow at ABC, absorbing as much as she could.
Melissa ended up at Sports Illustrated as a researcher/reporter, and using her press pass, spent night after night at the ballpark. There was just one problem: Because she was a woman, Melissa wasn't allowed to go into the players' locker room for interviews before the game started (this was after batting practice—no one was naked!). If one of her male cohorts couldn't persuade a player to step outside and do an interview with Melissa, she didn't get any work done that day.
But Melissa didn't make waves—it wasn't her style—and she didn't stop showing up. And then, a breakthrough that signaled her go-slow approach was working: Mickey Morabito, the Yankees' PR director, asked her if she'd like to join the men reporters in Yankees manager Billy Martin's office after games to do interviews. And for the 1977 World Series, both teams—the Yankees and Dodgers—agreed to allow Melissa access to their locker rooms to report.
Unfortunately, that wouldn't come to pass. The baseball commissioner banned Melissa from the locker rooms during the World Series because she was a woman.
And so, Melissa became the face of a lawsuit against Major League Baseball for equal rights. To find out how the judge in her court case ruled, listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.
This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin. This interview was recorded with the help of Google Hangouts.