Forty years ago today, "Sports Illustrated" and its reporter Melissa Ludtke took on Major League Baseball and won. The issue at hand was equal access to the players in the locker room for all reporters, regardless of their gender. Melissa Ludtke was 26 years old when all this took place. She spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered Anchor Barbara Howard about the suit. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: Take us back to that time, the 1970’s. What was it like to be a woman covering sports?

Melissa Ludtke: Lonely. There was one of us on almost every assignment that we would go on.

Howard: How were you treated?

Ludtke: Mostly ignored. I would take a seat in the press box, and people really wouldn't talk to me at first. They were wondering who I was, why I was there.

Howard: Here you are, a sports reporter for "Sports Illustrated," living in New York and working in an environment where it's almost 100 percent male. How did you manage that?

Ludtke: I really didn't play up any sexuality at all. I dressed in very boring clothes. I didn't wear heels. I didn't wear jewelry. I didn't do myself up as though I was going on a date.

Howard: Let's go up to 1977. It was that year you were covering the World Series for "Sports Illustrated." It was Yankees versus the Dodgers. The Yankees seemed open to giving you access to the players. And as a courtesy, you informed the Dodgers of your intentions?

Yankees_Clubhouse_Pass_Oct 1 1977.JPG
Melissa Ludtke's clubhouse pass, given to her by the Yankees in 1977 before she was banned by Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Courtesy of Melissa Ludtke

Ludtke: I did. I decided since I didn't know the Dodgers and they perhaps were not expecting that a woman would come in, that it was only courteous for me to let them know that I might be coming in.

Howard: The player Tommy John, of the Dodgers — he polled the players?

Ludtke: Yeah, he was the player rep. I really didn't quite know that he would take a vote. But in fact, the next day, right before the first game started, he came and reported to me that that's exactly what he'd done. They talked about it, they'd taken a vote, and he said it was a majority, it wasn't unanimous, but he said we do things by majority so the players know you might come in.

Howard: Here's what Tommy John had to say at the time:

Clip of Tommy John: "I think I would feel a little uncomfortable having a woman there. But I think that she had the right to gain the story."

Ludtke: It was going to be hard for them. I knew that. But you know, he says he was uncomfortable. I was always uncomfortable too.

Howard: Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn caught wind of this, that Tommy John had polled the players, that you were going to be in the locker rooms during the World Series. And he pulled the plug on that. Here's ABC’s Howard Cosell interviewing Commissioner Kuhn about you:

Clip of Cosell's interview with Kuhn:

Cosell: "Commissioner, the Melissa Ludtke case, you’re opposed to women going into the clubhouse. Why?"

Kuhn: "Well, Howard, it’s our view that it’s not a fair thing for our players. This an area where they’re dressing, it’s an area where they’re entitled to some reasonable privacy."

Howard: The issue of privacy. Explain here why access to the locker room is so important?

Ludtke: Because it's where the players are being interviewed. That's baseball's choice, not my choice. That's where they have had the interviews take place. If baseball didn't want the interviews to happen with women there, they could move them out of the locker room, as long as it was equal. That was the issue. As long as it was equal access. And to talk about nudity, if it had been an issue, I would have been allowed into the locker room before the games, in the pregame interviews, when the players were all in their uniforms. But in fact, I was also banned then as well.

Howard: Talk about Game 6 and Reggie Jackson.

Ludtke: By Game 6, they had arranged to have someone go into the locker room and to bring players out to me. So of course I asked to speak to Reggie Jackson. He'd hit three home runs, he'd brought a World Series victory back to New York. Of course I'd want to speak with him. An hour and 45 minutes later, Reggie comes out of the locker room. He's dressed, he's on his way home and he basically says to me, “Melissa, I've said all I have to say tonight.” And indeed he had. He’d been talking for an hour and 30 minutes in the locker room to every reporter. He said, "I'm going downtown. I'm tired."

Howard: So you didn't get the interview?

Ludtke: I did not.

Howard: Your bosses at "Sports Illustrated," they weren't too pleased?

Ludtke: They understood. They knew by then the circumstances that I was working under, and that I was doing the best I could, and that's all they could ask.

Howard: So "Sports Illustrated" at that point is owned by Time Inc. They go to court naming, Time Inc. and you as the plaintiffs.

Ludtke: Well actually, I was the named plaintiff, but Time Inc. paid for the lawsuit to happen. So we did it together.

Howard: The suit takes some time. It was nine months before you had a judgment, All the while, you were working?

Ludtke: I was working through that season, that's right.

Howard: How are you treated by your fellow sports reporters?

Ludtke: There were some, mostly the older sports writers, who were extremely resistant, based mainly on tradition.

Howard: Here's one of the reporters, longtime New York baseball writer Maury Allen, being interviewed in the midst of all this.

Clip of Maury Allen: "Part of the excitement of sports is the tradition. You break down these kind of traditions when you have women inside the locker room. The athletes, the ballplayers, are no longer loose, funny, active the way they normally would be. It's a very, very difficult situation for the athlete to deal with."

Howard: How hard was it for you to hear that kind of thing?

Ludtke: Oh, I heard a lot of it. I read a lot of it. The columnists were almost universally against me. Most of them were men. So I was quite accustomed to hearing that.

Howard: The case moved forward. It was heard by a judge of some renown, Constance Baker Motley. She is the first black woman to sit on the federal bench. She's known for having written the brief for Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended "separate but equal," which kind of relates to your case.

Ludtke: Well, think about it for a minute. What the baseball people basically said is that we want to provide separate accommodations for the women. Separate is not equal.

Howard: So Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled in your favor, saying Kuhn violated your equal protection and due process, including your right to pursue your profession. The court ruled that you'd been treated differently from your colleagues based solely on your gender.

Ludtke: Absolutely. It was my gender.

Howard: Did you hear from Bowie Kuhn after this was over?

Ludtke: Never. I didn't hear from him during the time it was happening. He and I never had a conversation about this, In fact, we never met.

Howard: Have things changed?

Ludtke: Sure they've changed. Not enough, but they've changed. If we look at where women are today, we see a lot more of them in broadcasting than certainly in my day. Now we see women off of the sidelines and going into the broadcast booths. That's a big change.

Howard: This was 40 years ago, and it left a mark on you, I would think?

Ludtke: It left a mark on me in many, many ways. I did leave sports writing a year later, and I went to news reporting.

Howard: You were far from the only woman who's left sports reporting?

Ludtke: Many of us left early. It was a really bruising occupation to have chosen in that time.

Howard: Do you miss sports reporting?

Ludtke: I don't. I stay in touch with the women who are doing the sports reporting today. I stay in touch with some of the men. I listen to baseball still on the radio, I'm a little old-fashioned. So no, I don't miss the reporting so much as I stay in touch with the sports, and make that still a passion in my life.

Howard: Thanks for coming in.

Ludtke: Thank you for having me.

Howard: That was Melissa Ludtke. Forty years ago, Judge Motley ruled against Major League Baseball, in a decision that cleared the path for equal access to locker rooms for women reporters. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.