Freedom to Cover the World Series

This post is part of our series on the Bill of RightsWe’re highlighting primary sources from our student workbook Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, that helps students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States.

Baseball and social change have been linked since Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. Thirty years later, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke broke another line when she sued Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn to gain access to the locker room.  This “gender line” in the reporting of sports calls out 1st amendment-guaranteed freedom of the press and the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause.

While Ludtke enjoyed access to the locker room for basketball and hockey games for over two years, the NY Yankees barred her from the locker room.  Through the complaint filed by Melissa Ludtke against Bowie Kuhn, students can see the limitations placed on female journalists into the late 1970s.

Selection from Complaint, Melissa Ludtke and Time, Incorporated v. Bowie Kuhn
Selection from Complaint, Melissa Ludtke and Time, Incorporated v. Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of Baseball, et al. From the Records of District Courts of the United States. National Archives Identifier: 7329663.

The complaint itself outlines the chain of events that led to the suit. After rising through the ranks as a junior reporter, Melissa Ludtke was assigned to cover the baseball playoffs and World Series.  

During Game 1 of the World Series, though the LA Dodgers had granted her access to their visitor’s locker room, Ludtke was told by Director of Information Robert Wirze that she would not be allowed to visit the locker room to respect the privacy of the players.

Ludtke was denied entry again after Game 6, which included perhaps one of the best individual performances in baseball history.  During that game, NY Yankees star Reggie Jackson earned the nickname “Mr. October” by hitting three straight home runs on three straight pitches (from three different pitchers, no less).  The Yankees would win their first World Series in over a decade; but Ludtke would not be allowed to interview Reggie or others about it in the locker room.  

With the 1978 baseball season approaching, Ludtke and Time, Inc. (the parent company of Sports Illustrated) filed a suit against Bowie Kuhn, the New York Yankees, Mayor of New York City Abraham Beame, and other officials.  In the complaint, they alleged discrimination on 14th amendment grounds since she was being deprived of the “opportunity to cover baseball in the same manner and to the same extent as her male colleagues and competitors.”  Her 1st amendment rights were infringed, they alleged, when she was denied “fair access to a source of news.”

In the judgment, the court ordered the New York Yankees to allow Melissa Ludtke and all female accredited sports reporters access to the clubhouse locker rooms.  And while Ludtke’s case opened baseball locker-room doors to female reporters (growing at that time to about 50% of journalists) with an equal access policy for accredited reporters, Ludtke herself left sports journalism and began reporting on social issues.

Photo and diagram of the locker roomTo introduce this topic with your students, begin a conversation by sharing a photo and diagram of the New York Yankees Locker Room.  Ask students to analyze the primary sources for understanding.  Discuss the layout and activities that would occur in this space after a baseball game.

Then, ask your students to carefully analyze the complaint.  Model careful document analysis.  Focus attention on the basic questions: who, what, where, when, how, and why. Ask students to track the chronology of events to summarize the events that lead to the complaint. Ask students to note the specific arguments and reasoning that Ludtke and her lawyers made for access to the locker room. 

After reading the complaint, ask students to imagine the response provided by Major League Baseball.  What arguments would they make to deny entry to the locker room?  Are any of those arguments valid?

Finally, introduce the Order and Judgment.  What did the judge decide?

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