A special screening of two ESPN documentaries on the federal Title IX rules that mandate equal athletic opportunities for women, called the Nine for IX series, was held by the Center for American Progress in conjunction with ESPNw, the women’s issue-focused website for the sports network ESPN.
The documentaries were “Venus Vs. ,” the story of black American tennis player Venus Williams’ push for the Wimbledon tennis tournament to grant equal prize money for women, and “Let Them Have Towels,” the story about female journalists trying to get into the male athletes’ locker rooms in the name of equal access.
After the documentary screenings, a panel discussion was held, featuring ESPNw’s vice president, Laura Gentile, director of one of the films, Ava Duvernay, director of “Venus Vs,” and female sports reporters Melissa Ludtke and Christine Brennan. Latifa Lyles, acting director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, was also in attendance and gave the opening remarks.
Lyles said that the goal of post-Title IX efforts is to create role models and mentors, because, “if young women don’t have opportunities to learn when they get older, time is lost,” and mentors and role models are a big part of that process. For Lyles, “it is not enough that we have equal opportunity,” since women should also “have options.” Despite all the recent progress, Lyles said that women still “have so much further to go.”
“Venus Vs” director Ava Duvernay said it was “ridiculous” that equal pay was granted only after Williams got involved and leveraged her star power into the equal pay campaign.
Gentile compared the opposition to women entering locker rooms and the field of sports journalism to “Neanderthals” that came out every “20 years…like cicadas.”
Despite all the advances of women in the sports journalism industry as female anchors and sideline reporters, the panel wants more. The moderator, Daniella Gibbs Leger, senior vice president of the American Values & New Communities arm at CAP, said that there is still “no woman in the anchor booth” in the majority of professional sports. However, her panelists corrected her and pointed out that there were several women broadcasting for college football and basketball for ESPN.
Melissa Ludtke, who was featured in the documentary about female reporters entering the men’s locker room, said that early in her career that she “felt like a stranger in a strange land” and was “the lone woman” in the baseball reporting industry. She and her colleagues framed it as a “strictly professional” “equal access” issue under Title IX, adding that they weren’t there to stare at half-naked male athletes. Would Dan Marino  get away with that if he ever tried to do color commentary from the women’s locker room?
Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
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