This Day In History: March 9

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On March 9, 1979, the 26 Major League Baseball teams are ordered by MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn to allow equal access to all reporters, regardless of sex. The commissioner’s order comes after Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke’s successful lawsuit against MLB for refusing her access to clubhouses at Yankee Stadium during the 1977 World Series between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In a column for the Medium website in 2018, Ludtke recalled the circumstances of her lawsuit. 

“If I had tried to enter [a clubhouse], the guards at the door would have stopped me," she wrote. "At the 1977 World Series, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn certified my unequal status when he banned me from ever going into any team’s locker room. At first, my employer, Time, Inc. [the parent company of Sports Illustrated], tried negotiating with Kuhn, but when he refused to budge, we turned to legal action.”

Ludtke and others praised the judge who presided over the lawsuit, Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge. On September 25, 1978, Motley ruled that the MLB had “substantially and directly” interfered with Ludtke’s 14th Amendment rights in pursuing her profession as a sports reporter.

Ludtke’s lawsuit and Kuhn’s subsequent order, however, did not level the playing field for female journalists. 

In 1990, the Boston Herald’s Lisa Olson publicly revealed that New England Patriots players exposed themselves to her while she was trying to work, prompting hundreds of women journalists to disclose similar instances of harassment. In 2015, three female reporters were temporarily denied locker room access following a Jacksonville Jaguars-Indianapolis Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Numerous other instances of harassment of female journalists have also been reported.