Thoughts on “Let Them Wear Towels”

I’ve always been a big fan of ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30. The series explores different topics and major stories in the sports world, most of which happened before I was even born. I eat.it.up. (and of course, I bawled my eyes out through Survive and Advance, even though it was about NC State’s Wolf Pack). I was very excited when ESPN announced it would do a series of 30 for 30 called Nine for IX examining different sports stories and the role of women in the sports world. A new film airs each week until August 27, so I highly recommend checking it out.

Last night I watched the most recent Nine for IX, Let Them Wear Towels. The film tells the stories of several female sportswriters from the 1970s and 80s who struggled to, basically, do their job. Not only did the women have to fight for the chance to report on the game, but the battle only became worse at the door of the locker room. Women were not allowed into many professional teams’ locker rooms for post-game interviews (which makes writing a story quite difficult). Additionally, many women were taunted and harassed for trying. I was especially shocked to learn the story of Lisa Olson, who was sexually harassed by Patriots players in the locker room in 1990. It’s crazy to think that law suit occurred within my lifetime. Overall, I highly recommend the film to anyone interested in sports reporting or women’s equality.

Even though I have never been in a post-game locker room, as a female journalist looking to get into sports communication, I know what it takes — and I was shocked at what these women went through just to get the same story as male reporters. I’ve written several stories in which it was nearly impossible to speak to crucial sources, and I can hardly imagining having them stand on the other side of a door and refusing to speak to me. It clearly took a lot of courage for these women to make the social changes that they did, and pave the way for young females in the industry.

However, there are still some hurdles women have to jump in the sports industry. I know that my journalism classes at UNC were packed with women, many of whom aspired to work in the sports industry. These credible and talented women are competing for few spots in a male-dominated field. Women are still fighting to get equality and fair recognition for the work they put forth in sports communications. Even in my sports marketing and advertising class, we only did a short lecture on women in sports. On the other hand, it is good to know that we have come a long way since the 1970s and there has been significant progress in my lifetime.

Did you watch Let Them Wear Towels? What did you think about the film and women’s progress in the sports industry? Let me know in the comments!

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One comment

  1. Women treat the locker room issue as an old, tired topic from a by-gone era. While this is not true because new abuse happens every day a woman enters the locker room, it might appear so because conflict rarely arises. Why no conflict when new abuses occur every day? First, professional athletes train from the time they are kids to make it to the professional ranks. They desperately want to keep their jobs. Yet the system is set up to where both female sportswriters and men athletes are ordered to be professional in their interaction. But what does professional mean to each group?

    To the former, professional has little meaning because there are no restrictions, except to stay out of the shower and trainers rooms. The reporter and their camera person can approach whoever they want, can ask whatever they want, can stay as long as they like interviewing everyone or interviewing no one and just observing and can leave when they want. Also they are always clothed in whatever they like to wear and are free to complain (and be seriously listened to) if they claim someone made them feel uncomfortable.

    To the athlete, the rules aren’t quite the same. If he is a football player, he is covered in pads that must be removed before he can shower. Often this cannot happen until reporters are allowed to enter (about 10-15 minutes after the players enter). The he has to compete with 54 other guys for a shower head so waiting often occurs. When he returns to his locker, he has to get dressed which involves removing his towel, etc. So he is naked several times in this process. NFL rules says he must interact with the media so he must speak to them if they ask. If a reporter is too aggressive or is just watching him and he gets uncomfortable, too bad because another rule is he has no right to complain! So almost no one does – so you have a history of little conflict. But that does not mean all is okay.

    Further if he does complain, he is in for it. First of all, the women reporters soon lose their professionalism and go after him on a personal level. They attack his body (“who wants to look at a fat linebacker anyway”) then attack his status and personality (“he is nothing more than an immature rich frat boy”). And since they alone have the power of the pen, their comments are well publicized and treated as truth. Other penalties include getting fined, being forced into a re-education class in which his abusers are his teachers and remind him he does not have the right to complain, and ultimately getting fired from his football team (remember Portis from last year).

    So there is a lot of animosity toward women sportswriters. And it stems primarily from the locker room issue. Look at public opinion about should women be in the locker room. If men athletes were treated like WNBA athletes, most of the conflict would disappear. But for that to happen, the AWSM would have to press for it. As mentioned, men players are forbidden to complain and besides, Roger Goodell cares nothing for NFL players but he will do anything to appease the AWSM. But the AWSM won’t take up the cause because (i) they love the access (though will never admit it) and (ii) men sportswriters would be furious if both were banned from the locker room.

    So that is the issue as I see it.

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