“A Harlot Disguised as a Reporter”

ESPN’s very good Nine for IX series continues tonight with Let Them Wear Towels, a documentary about the first female reporters to work in men’s locker rooms in the ’70s and ’80s. Robin Herman was one of two women to break the sex barrier in the locker room in 1975, as a 23-year-old reporter covering the 1975 NHL All-Star game in Montreal for the New York Times. Here’s Herman talking about her experience in the Times back in 2010:

Herman and another woman — a Montreal radio reporter, Marcel St. Cyr — gathered with other reporters after the game and walked in to conduct postgame interviews. Except she and St. Cyr instantly became the news, and television cameras swung to them. They were believed to be the first women admitted to the locker room of a North American professional sports team.

“I kept saying, ‘I’m not the story; the game is the story,’ ” Herman said, reflecting on the night. “But of course that wasn’t the case. The game was boring. A girl in the locker room was a story.”

There are countless anecdotes Let Them Wear Towels could pull from, both old and new, in which the women attempting to do their work weren’t merely treated as spectacles, but also as targets. Recall reporter Paola Boivin, who had a jockstrap slung at her in the St. Louis Cardinals locker room in 1985, or Joan Ryan of the Orlando Sentinel, who had a razor handle run up her leg in a USFL locker room that same year, or Lisa Olson, who was sexually abused in the New England Patriots locker room in 1990 and harassed so vigorously for speaking out against her treatment that she eventually moved to Australia.

In one promotional clip, Herman reads from her own first batch of hate mail [sic’d, and transcribed from the clip]:

Dear Miss Herman,

It’s hard to address a harlot disguised as a reporter, but I just want to warn you that you cannot do such a thing with impunity. It’s wrong, no matter how many women libers might dumbly applaud it (by the way).

If there had been any real, real men in the locker room, you would have been kicked out on your prostitutional ass. May this happen if there is anything to wake you up to your horrendously bad example. Surely you shall regret this and regret it bitterly.

“It was at the height of the women’s movement,” Herman said in 2010. “It was important to be bold.”

Let Them Wear Towels airs on ESPN tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

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