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A barrier-breaking generation gives context to contemporary female life.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK, Baseball, Birthdays and Loss



It was two days before my 12th birthday, a Friday, so that was the day I’d be wearing the ribbon corsages from my friends. It was a birthday tradition in our seventh grade that girlfriends would give other girlfriends a package bow to wear, decorated with long ribbons festooned with candy. Its real purpose, however, in the mean and hierarchical society of female adolescence, was to enumerate how many girlfriends you had - a crude but accurate measure of popularity.

Alas, I was wearing only two bows that day; my hopes for a third had not panned out. I was awkward, too "brainy" and already a kind of observer, on the edge of the scene. But I was glad for the two red bows and for being 12 and finally in junior high school, and I wore those bows on my cardigan sweater during the morning.

The announcement came across the loudspeaker in Mr. Miller’s social studies class. I don’t remember what was said, only looking over at Mr. Miller, who was straddling a kid’s desk in front, half-turned from us…his long face was stricken; when he looked up he spoke in a different voice, higher, kind of strangled, about our president being shot, and his demeanor more than anything marked that moment for us as something larger than our social studies class. I removed the ribbons from my sweater and put them in my looseleaf binder. I had a resentful thought that my birthday was now ruined; then stashed that thought away in my binder as well.

We were sent home early. In those days everyone’s mother would be waiting at the house. Only Chris next door came home after school to a house without a mother. She worked in the city as a secretary. She wore pink lipstick and peacock-colored suits like Doris Day. Chris’ father had died during a heart operation when we were about eight years old. My mother always said it was a shame; they had gone to a local hospital for the operation instead of into the city.  Chris’ father had taught me how to swing a baseball bat, pitching to us with the garage door as backstop. He was tall and had tortoiseshell glasses.

As I walked into our house, the door opened to reveal the long foyer and then, backlit in silhouette against the picture window in the kitchen I saw, not my mother but my father, and I felt a shudder. This was the image I’d always connect with the assassination. My father was never home during the day.

There was a silence in the house, and my parents moved like through water, slowly, deliberately. I copied their silence; stilled my news about my birthday ribbons. The radio was on in the kitchen. Later there were days and days in front of the black and white TV, watching the shaken commentators and eventually the solemn and elaborate funeral and baby John John’s salute. If I had a birthday party that weekend, I don’t remember it.

For a generation born after World War II, now we would know that bad things could happen suddenly, inexplicably, leaving shattered our sense of ourselves in the larger world. But we’d learned that already on my neighborhood block.

One day some months after the death next door, my father took Chris with us to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. We brought our mitts, hoping to catch a foul ball from Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris. I guess it was the best my father could do for Chris. My friend absorbed his loss quietly. We grew up together and finished high school, then went our separate ways to college, but I can still reach back to a time when his father was there and then feel that line of demarcation when he was not, and we stood baffled in the driveway now, not knowing how to talk to each other or what to do. That’s what I remember.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Damning Evidence From Defenders of Incognito

While trying to defend their Dolphins teammate Richie Incognito from charges that he harassed and intimidated Jonathan Martin, players are unwittingly giving damning evidence of the NFL's hostile workplaces.

Here's one example, former Dolphins OL Lydon Murtha, who blithely describes what constitute Federal offenses: "What fans should understand is that every day in the NFL there are battles between players worse than what’s being portrayed. This racial slur would be a blip on the radar if everything that happens in the locker room went public." He adds: "It's an Animal House."
Is a subpoena in his future?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Girl in the Anchor Booth!

A new ad campaign by Verizon FIOS "Football Girl" imagines an 8-year-old girl using the Internet to study football and ultimately ascending to the NFL anchor booth next to Terry Bradshaw. Q: What's wrong with this picture? A: There are no regular women analysts in the NFL anchor booth and never have been. Time to change that. I hope the ad campaign is the spark to light the fire.
Read my ESPN column on the issue:
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"The read option is absolutely shredding this defense," says the female NFL game analyst. The girl knows her stuff; it's clear. Terry Bradshaw turns to her in the anchor booth and says sternly, "Look, are you trying to take my job?" to which she says with a shrug, "Maybe."



The female is a spunky 8-year-old named Ella Anderson, and the imaginary scene is from an ad campaign by Verizon called "FiOS Football Girl" that debuted last week in prime time and turned up in the Giants-Eagles game I was watching. As a longtime advocate for women in sports media, I was floored. While pitching their high-speed broadband product to football fans and general TV viewers, the company has also cast a welcome and bright spotlight on the continuing absence of female anchors for NFL games. Women reporters abound on the sidelines -- commenting from the field in the rain, the wind and the snow. But the anchor booth remains an all-boys' club.
MORE

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tonight's the Night!

Why watch an All-Star baseball game (in which no one is trying very hard) when you can see a terrific film on the first female sportswriters, intrepid in their fight four decades ago for the same post-game access to players that their male competitors were granted.
 
ESPN's "Let Them Wear Towels" debuts tonight at 8 PM ET (repeat showings later tonight) It tells it like it is, or rather, was. The film is part of ESPN's "Nine for IX" series; nine films marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

You'll hear me tell the tale of my first foray into a locker room -- at the 1975 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal -- and how I heard someone in the crowd yell: "There's a girl in the locker room! There's a girl in the locker room! Hence the name of this blog.

I've been writing about issues of equity in this space since 2004. We were a pioneering, early adopters group of bloggers who made use of the only free blogging platform out there at the time -- offered by Salon.com. Some weeks my blog was even in the top ten for "hits" -- a statistic and accomplishment I was so proud of....til I realized half my viewers were coming to the blog hoping to find photos of girls undressing in locker rooms. Sorry.

I hope my current audience is more legit. 

For commentary on current working conditions for female sports journalists check my opinion piece on ESPN.com

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

ESPN's "Let Them Wear Towels"

With locker rooms once again in the news, despite decades-old settled policies on open access, I thought I'd give everyone a heads-up to a terrific documentary coming in July by ESPN and Break Thru Films.

 "Let Them Wear Towels" debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. It captures the pioneering efforts of an intrepid and incredibly young group of women sports journalists to gain equal access to pro locker rooms for post-game interviews and, even harder, to win professional acceptance and respect.

You'll see the breaking of the "locker room barrier" when I was a reporter for The New York Times in the 1970s; Sports Illustrated's Melissa Ludtke suing the Yankees for club house access; CBS' Lesley Visser's path-breaking work in television, and more.

The documentary airs July 16 as part of ESPN's "Nine for IX" series. Check it out!

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Open Letter to Don Cherry

Dear Don,
Hi! Remember me? It's Robin, the young woman who used to cover the NHL for The New York Times back in the day.

I haven't seen you in person since the late 1970s, but I caught your remarks on "Hockey Night in Canada" from this past Saturday as they went viral. You were all out of sorts about women reporters in the locker room. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Don't you remember? I guess you don't...

Read the rest at ESPN-W

Don Cherry's Short Memory on Locker Rooms

Now Don Cherry asserts on "Hockey Night in Canada" that women reporters should not have access to professional team locker rooms. Here's the video via Huffington Post.
Don Cherry

What's really weird is that, thanks to Coach Cherry, the Boston Bruins back in the day (1970s) were the first team to allow me into their locker room as a matter of policy. I was a sports reporter for The New York Times then, covering the NHL. Opening the door was Cherry's decision, urged by the team's pr man par excellence Nate Greenberg. Cherry's memory is really bad. But I certainly wouldn't forget the first coach and team to give equal access to a female member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Concussions and NFL Culture Change


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked for and got a platform at Harvard School of Public Health this afternoon to offer his thoughts on promoting safety in football and other contact sports. His speech came four days after three top QBs were lost to concussions on a single game day.

I had hoped Goodell would grab this chance to get tough on his bosses, ask them to face the problem with urgency and demand harsher disincentives for the brutal use of helmets during tackles. But it was not to be. Goodell's speech, which he read from a prepared text, instead promoted the good intentions of the NFL while sprinkled with gratuitous references to Harvard's college football history. Goodell presented a compendium of sports safety initiatives the league is involved with, most targeting youth players. But he didn't make a shred of policy news.

He could have called for a new rule requiring teams to immediately pull players from the field and the game if they "helmet butt" other players. Instead he gave the tired explanation that the current regulations deal with the problem and need to be enforced. He repeatedly suggested that "a change in the culture" would cure the ill.

Thing is, the current regulations and the idea of a change in culture put all the onus on the "victim" -- looking to the hurt player to acknowledge an injury after the fact. What about the responsibility of the "perpetrators" as I think of them?

Public health is all about prevention and Goodell's ideas for improving safety in the NFL are not it. Prevention would be creating disincentives of such immediacy and magnitude that an NFL defensive player wouldn't dare helmet butt the opponent. I'm thinking immediate suspension from the game, something that really hurts the team. The $30,000 fine levied on the Texans' Tim Dobbins several days after his Sunday assault on Chicago QB Jay Cutler did nothing to affect the Texans' competitive ability during that game - while Chicago had to play without its starting QB.

A player might think twice before pulling the helmet move if he knows it will be the last move of the game for him, that he'll be ejected, and that, in addition to hurting his opponent, he will be directly hurting his team's best interests.

Goodell received polite applause after his presentation. Then the media gathered around to ask if the NFL had reached any decision yet about testing players for Human Growth Hormone (HGH).  No, it had not.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

International Day of the Girl: The Threat of Education

Today is the first International Day of the Girl. In the public health world, where I worked for 13 years, it was always said that the most efficient and effective way to improve health globally was to educate girls and women. It also happens to be the best way to improve economies and to enlighten societies. This is unsettling to static, patriarchal nations. It may even be unsettling to people in our own country.

In "Her Crime Was Loving Schools," New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written about the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot this week by the Taliban for advocating for girls' education. The point blank shooting by masked men who boarded her school bus in the assassination attempt -- was an abomination decried by the Pakistani government and one that should be denounced by all who call themselves civilized. [at this writing Malala Yousafzai is still alive but in critical condition after bullets to her head and neck]

Kristof writes that the shooting and other recent international assaults against girls "remind us that the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century."

Kristof does not exaggerate. I add to his words my archived blog post on the 40th anniversary of coeducation at Princeton University and the work that remains to assure that girls worldwide reach their human potential.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Baseball, Locker Rooms and Equal Protection

Thirty-four years ago today, Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled that female sports reporters were to be allowed equal access to Yankee Stadium's locker rooms. The plaintiff was Melissa Ludtke, a young journalist (and friend of mine) then at Sports Illustrated who had been barred from the Yankees and Dodgers locker rooms during the 1977 World Series. The lead defendant was Major League Baseball's Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

 Yankee Stadium was a city-owned facility. Motley cited the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause. Case closed.  But not really...

The ruling was hardly the end of the story for women reporters who still had to contend with other teams and sports, yet it was exceedingly high profile and served notice to all leagues (and symbolically to any all-male institution) that the time had come; women would be treated as the professionals they were or the law would have something to say about it.
As Melissa explained to me today via FB: "Technically only Yankee Stadium was affected by Motley's ruling, and Major League Baseball appealed that decision. In early October, we were back in Motley's district courtroom twice, once for a hearing amending her ruling and then Kuhn's lawyers refused to agree that Motley's order be extended to the city of Philadelphia to allow equal access there during the playoffs. But on January 3, 1979, Kuhn attorney's notified the Second Circuit's Court of Appeals that Major League Baseball would not pursue further its appeal of Motley's decision. When the baseball season opened in 1979, equal access was the rule with all of the league's teams."

Others of us had been in NBA and NHL locker rooms since 1975 (Newsday's Jane Gross was the pioneer covering basketball; The Daily News' Lawrie Mifflin and myself at The New York Times were the intrepid female duo covering ice hockey).

But Ludtke vs. Kuhn and Yankee Stadium sent the loudest message to date. Yet here we are 34 years later with another closed room still to contend with. My question: When is the NFL going to put a woman in the anchor booth?? We could all die waiting....