Opening Day '79 was a different kind of opening

April 04, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

In 1979, baseball held a very different kind of Opening Day.

Under threat of court action, Major League Baseball opened its clubhouses to women sportswriters, thanks to Melissa Ludtke of Sports Illustrated, who had run point for a very small group of women in a suit against the New York Yankees.

That summer was my first as a sportswriter for The Sun. At the time, I was covering just about everything except baseball, but my editor sent me to the Orioles the next day anyway. In essence, my assignment was to create an incident and then write about it.

When I and two other women arrived at the Orioles clubhouse, that sacred place where players change and eat and play cards and talk among themselves -- and with male sportswriters -- Earl Weaver, then the manager of the Orioles, met us at the door.

We would not be allowed in unless we had notes from our fathers, he said.

That was 15 years ago. And so I could not help but smile when the Orioles asked this off-season if I would appear in an instructional video on media relations -- a cameo appearance to explain to the players the role of women sportswriters.

In my videotaped segment, I explained that women become sportswriters for pretty much the same reason men do. They like sports, and they like to write. Women sportswriters think there are real good stories out there in the world of sports, and they want a chance to write them.

I explained that women sportswriters want to be in the locker rooms and clubhouses because that's where the athletes are. And, more important, perhaps, that is where the male sportswriters are. And if the men sportswriters can talk to the athletes there, the women can, too. Women are asking for a level playing field, for the same rules to apply to both teams. That is something the athletes should find easy to understand, I said.

Do women like it in the locker rooms? No. They are as uncomfortable in there as athletes are to have them there, maybe more. They want to get their quotes and get out.

How do women want athletes to treat them? Like an athlete would want somebody to treat his sister or his wife or his girlfriend. With dignity and respect. No balls of tape thrown at the back of the head. No naked moon shots or foul language sent in their direction.

During 14 years as a sportswriter, I had experiences that made me cry, made me sick and made me stay in bed with the covers over my head. Funny thing. Few of them happened inside a locker room or a clubhouse.

Weaver, the Orioles manager who wanted a note from my father, certainly never would have said the things he once said to me if my father were listening. One afternoon -- outside, near the Orioles dugout -- he turned to me and demanded to know my sexual orientation, or whether I had any sexual appetite at all. He did it in front my colleagues and in language that would have made, well, made a ballplayer blush.

When I was obviously pregnant with my first child and covering the then-Baltimore Colts, running back Curtis Dickey interrupted interview with another player -- taking place in a hallway -- to say, "You been getting some, huh, girl."

Those incidents told me that the treatment of women sportswriters by athletes and managers had very little to do with where they were standing or which one was changing clothes.

To their credit, the Orioles have addressed the strain that exists for women in their clubhouse. But there is irony in my appearance in their video because I was one of the women they had tried to keep out all those years ago. Here we are, all these years later, and women are still explaining why they want to be sportswriters.

We are explaining it to a new generation of athletes, to be sure. Guys who were in grade school when we were starting in this business. But it struck me that we are still explaining it. And that we will probably still be explaining our presence in any nontraditional field 10 years hence. That maybe we will forever be explaining what we are doing, not just in the locker room, but in the work force.

There will be several women sportswriters in the press box when the Orioles open their season today. The good news is, none will be required to present a note from her father. The bad news is, these women, and many more of us, will be required to explain again and again why it is we work.

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