Melissa Ludtke made me listen. You would too if you heard her speak.
Melissa Ludtke was a 26-year-old journalist for Sports lllustrated, when she found herself barred from the New York Dodgers locker room during the 1977 World Series. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn gave her two
reasons. The players’ wives needed to be consulted first and, if a woman was allowed in the locker room, the players’ children would be ridiculed at school.
Ludtke and Sports Illustrated sued Kuhn for equal access to male athletes in 1978. A US District Court ruled in favor of equal access, allowing female journalists into locker rooms. “It was a lawsuit with a ripple effect,” Ludtke said. She stated that she felt blessed for the opportunity. This event opened the door for women in sports journalism and made Ludtke a national figure.
When I think of the 1970s, I envision Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and other women marching, chanting, their fists waving in the air, demanding equal rights. I figured Ludtke to be a radical, bra-burning feminist before our interview. I didn’t expect her to come across as a pragmatic, even-keeled woman. She spoke with the objective tone of a journalist. Her demeanor wasn’t warm or cold, but matter of fact. She didn’t appear to be one to stir things up. “I didn’t think of calling my editors to raise a stink about it at that point,” Ludtke responded when asked by the Washington Press Foundation in 1993 about the evening she was barred from the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
Ludtke began at Sports llustrated after graduating from Wellesley College in 1973. Editors inspired her and believed she could succeed. Ludtke stated that without access to players in the locker room, she could not do the work she wanted to do.
Ludtke, 62, now with gray hair, looks a lot like her younger self at 27. She still has a girlish look about her – round face, bangs and a makeup free appearance. She lives life with purpose. “I do spend a lot of time
thinking about girls’ lives and I think a lot about them in countries other than America,” Ludtke reflected. The fame she experienced in the 1970s didn’t scathe her, but gave her a platform to speak to women in other professions and countries.
Ludtke is writing a memoir to help girls prepare for the future. “Thankfully she [her daughter, now 17] has so many more opportunities and sees so many fewer barriers than I saw at her age to imagining almost any life she
would want to have,” Ludtke said. “But sometimes I get frustrated … by the fact that women, young girls … don’t necessarily understand what it took to give you all these opportunities, Ludtke stated, “This is a contemporary history.”
History will recognize Ludtke because she did not follow the pack. “The secret for me is to build up
your skill level with as much as of a foundation and then be willing to challenge yourself to take those skills and to put them in a different arena,” Ludtke said.
“There are moments when you begin to doubt that you can do it, but then there are moments, as they say,
people reach out their hand and tell you how and pull you along,” Ludtke said. Persistence and patience have been Ludtke’s magic. She has countered life’s challenges with resilience, serving as a role model for others, especially for aspiring female professionals like myself.