Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'No Good Deed' Reviews: And the Twist Is That It's Good! (Not Really) 'No Good Deed' Reviews: And the Twist Is That It's Good! (Not Really) Studio Cancels All Screenings of 'No Good Deed' to Preserve Shocking Twist That It's Probably Terrible Studio Cancels All Screenings of 'No Good Deed' to Preserve Shocking Twist That It's Probably Terrible The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins Mysteries of Laura Review: Debra Messing on NBC Mysteries of Laura Review: Debra Messing on NBC Comparing Lena Dunham to Woody Allen Is Unfair — to Lena Dunham Comparing Lena Dunham to Woody Allen Is Unfair — to Lena Dunham Daily Reads: The Death of Adulthood, the Future of Film in 'Snowpiercer' and More Daily Reads: The Death of Adulthood, the Future of Film in 'Snowpiercer' and More 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them': 'Between Just Enough and a Bit Too Much' 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them': 'Between Just Enough and a Bit Too Much' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them Now Streaming: 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Beginners' on Netflix Now Streaming: 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Beginners' on Netflix 'The Cobbler' Reviews: 'Makes Me Want to Upgrade Everything I've Ever Seen Half a Star' 'The Cobbler' Reviews: 'Makes Me Want to Upgrade Everything I've Ever Seen Half a Star' 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' Reviews: A Liam Neeson Movie Worthy of Liam Neeson 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' Reviews: A Liam Neeson Movie Worthy of Liam Neeson Daily Reads: The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, The Last Blockbuster Video Stores and More Daily Reads: The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, The Last Blockbuster Video Stores and More Criticwire Classic of the Week: Federico Fellini's '8 1/2' Criticwire Classic of the Week: Federico Fellini's '8 1/2' 'The Duke of Burgundy': With Butterflies and BDSM, a Kinky Romance Woos Critics 'The Duke of Burgundy': With Butterflies and BDSM, a Kinky Romance Woos Critics 'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion 'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion David Lynch on 'Eraserhead,' Women in the TV Industry David Lynch on 'Eraserhead,' Women in the TV Industry Did 'Edge of Tomorrow' Just Get a New Title for Home Video? Did 'Edge of Tomorrow' Just Get a New Title for Home Video? 'The Counselor's Extended Cut Is Inspired Madness 'The Counselor's Extended Cut Is Inspired Madness Daily Reads: Why Toronto Is the Best Place for Female Filmmakers, In Praise of Fincher's Women and More Daily Reads: Why Toronto Is the Best Place for Female Filmmakers, In Praise of Fincher's Women and More

'Let Them Wear Towels' Profiles the Female Sportswriters Who Broke the Locker-Room Bar

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 16, 2013 at 1:23PM

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's Let Them Wear Towels, a documentary about the first women allowed into the locker rooms of pro sports teams.
1

Melissa Ludtke
Melissa Ludtke

What: Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's Let Them Wear Towels, a documentary about the first women allowed into the locker rooms of pro sports teams.

When: Tue., July 16, 8 p.m. on ESPN

Why:

Spinning off from its great "30 for 30" series, ESPN's "Nine for IX" commissioned nine documentaries on the subject of women in sports, the third of which, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's Let Them Wear Towels, airs tonight. (Previous entries included Middle of Nowhere’s Ava DuVernay on Venus Williams; upcoming are Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed's Shola Lynch on Olympic sprinter Mary Decker and Detropia's Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady on the difficulty female athletes have landing lucrative endorsement deals.)

Sundberg and Stern, whose early films The Trials of Daryl Hunt and The Devil Came on Horseback established them as dogged filmmakers with a keen eye for the human cost of social issues — they also did Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and "30 for 30"'s Knuckleball -- so they're a perfect match for the story of the female reporters who broke through the barriers keeping them from doing postgame interviews in the teams' locker rooms. 

Given that this is largely a story about women not getting access -- Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke was left to cool her heels in the hallway for nearly two hours after the Yankees won the 1977 World Series, then tried vainly to score a quote from a worn-out Reggie Jackson as he brushed past her -- there’s not much archival footage to work with, but the subject’s memories are keen enough that the pictures form anyway. (Ludtke subsequently sued commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and won.) Lesley Visser, then with the Boston Globe, recalls that when she finally scored a press pass entitling her to enter the New England Patriots' domain, she flipped it over and read the text on the back: "This badge will not be honored if presented by a woman or a child."

The degree of antagonism that women faced can be shocking -- Lisa Olson, who covered the Patriots for the Globe after Visser moved on, was harassed by players who fondled themselves in front of her, allegedly called a “classic bitch” by team owner Victor Kiam, and, after the NFL opened an investigation into the incident, received death threats and had her tires slashed. But what’s equally shocking is the boldness with which the men who ran the teams and the leagues, and in some cases the female journalists' colleagues, publicly advanced arguments that today seem preposterous beyond belief. New York Post writer Maury Allen said that "the impact of women in sports will diminish the joy of the sport.... The athletes will become very, very inhibited, and I think that will be a detrimental thing to everybody’s entertainment."

Those attitudes persist, of course: Check the comments on ESPN's page for the film. Given that Let Them Wear Towels is produced by a sports network, it's not surprising it ends on triumphant note, or that it’s joined on their site by a branded video featuring one of their reporters. (Ask Erin Andrews how she feels about women's advancement in the field.) But the fact that ESPN's using their female basketball analyst as a selling point it itself a marker of progress, a sign that female sports fans can be flattered like any others.


Read more: How Far Have Female Journalists Really Come?

This article is related to: Television, Channel Guide, Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern


E-Mail Updates