Is the pen really mightier than the sword? Carrie Nation set about her daily work carrying an axe. I carry a typewriter. So far Carrie has been much more successful.
Last August both New York pro football teams were playing each other for the first time — the Jets vs. the Giants at the Yale Bowl. My syndicate, Publishers-Hall, asked me to cover the game. And so, in mid-July, I wrote to one of the New Haven sportswriters who had volunteered to run the press box (part of the game’s proceeds went to New Haven charities), Bill Guthrie, and asked for credentials to cover the game. He didn’t answer my letter.
A week later I called Guthrie, and he apologized for not writing. He said he didn’t think he could help me; that the Jets and Giants had sent in a list of their writers and I wasn’t on it (a non sequitur if there ever was one); that he had had requests from all over the country (my column appears all over the country and my story on the Jet-Giant game would have appeared in at least 25 newspapers); that the Yale Bowl press box had open rest room facilities (it has never been explained what “open rest room facilities” are, exactly); that he didn’t think there would be room for me, as I was applying so late; and, oh, yes, there was a rule prohibiting women and children from entering the Yale press box. He almost forgot.
I got in touch with a Connecticut lawyer, Allan Johnson, who felt that I was being discriminated against because of my gender, that Guthrie’s chatter was just so much chatter, and that on the basis of my column’s total circulation I deserved credentials to cover the game more than most of the other writers.
On July 24th I filed a suit against Guthrie, Yale, the Giants, and the Jets, and as a formality sought $25,000 in damages. All I wanted was a seat I could work from.
Two days later, July 26th, I left for a tour of football training camps, for interviews with players and coaches. It is possible to drive from New York to Chicago, sticking pretty close to the turnpikes, and visit 10 teams’ training camps. Four days out of New York I heard the explosion, in Ohio, of the bomb bursting in New Haven where bombs aren’t that unusual. Wire services, sportswriters, broadcasters, women’s page editors, columnists — all sorts of people wanted to cover the story and they had all sorts of opinions. Thinking back, I would say 90% were on my side. But some weren’t.
Bill Guthrie, the man caught in the middle, was besieged with calls and his line went somewhat as follows:
“From the written reaction of some columnists and the editorial response from some radio and TV outlets, one would have thought that I had stripped, tied and flogged Miss Kaine.”
Gradually everyone named in the suit dropped out except Guthrie, who received the strongest moral support from the Giants. Guthrie dropped out too, finally, because he was going to have to pick up his own legal fees. The settlement stated, in Guthrie’s own words, “to give her a ticket as complete as anyone else’s. He rights are the same as mine, without prejudice.”
Other writers’ reactions were mixed — some bad, mostly good, all funny:
“An action like this makes the public think sports reporters are a bunch of fuddy-duddies. We aren’t. Forgive them their press passes, Elinor.” Stan Isaacs, Newsday.
“A few more incidents like Sunday’s run-around at Yale will surely swing public sentiment Elinor’s way, and even convert a few crusty writers. In the end pro football’s sense of pro-portion has to bring about decision in Miss Kaine’s favor.” John Crittenden, Miami News.
“That’s all Elinor wanted anyway — 14 inches of seating space and all the free advance publicity she got for her book, ‘Pro Football Broadside,’ coming out this fall.” Jim Hawkins, Baltimore Sun.
… Guthrie’s lawyer insisted that it was Bill’s privilege to turn me down, that the legal precedent was a ruling that a theater could refuse to give any complimentary tickets to a legitimate reviewer if it so wished; however, it could not refuse to sell the reviewer a ticket. Which has nothing to do with my case at all. Complimentary tickets and theater reviews have little relevance in covering a football game from a press box with the usual press facilities (stats, space for typewriter, etc.) and even less relevance to the women-not-permitted-in-the-press-box rule.
As it turned out Bill Guthrie and the Giants changed the words of the settlement from press “box” to press “area” and gave me a seat in an old pre-war auxiliary press box which used to be for newsreel cameramen. There were 12 folding chairs, almost as many knots of wind, no statistics, no way to type or take notes, and one other person, a very pleasant writer from Asbury Park, Marty Fishbein. They had their revenge.
Upstairs in the press box there were at least 20 empty seats and at least 20 non-writers who didn’t belong there. Bill Guthrie et al willfully conspired to keep my situation separate by very unequal.
“Although the Giants couldn’t handle the Jets they did a terrific job on Elinor Kaine,” wrote Larry Merchant in the New York Post. “She was put into an auxiliary row with no place to write while non-writers and empty seats helped fill the main press box. After a half-time radio interview one gallant usher told another to ‘get her back where she belongs.’”
One of the most interesting aspects of my “apartheid” is the fact that while I belong to the Pro Football Writers Association of America (the only female member) it’s my peers, or lodge brothers, who discriminate against me the most. The New York chapter’s annual dinner was a stag affair. And as Len Wagner, sports editor of the Green Bay Press Gazette, wrote: “She has not been happily accepted by the brotherhood, which has no plans for going coed.” It’s all so funny and so Freudian. Look what Detroit News writer Jerry Green wrote after the game:
“But, alas, she was assigned to sit in an annex of the press box, one floor below the area ordinarily used by the press. The press box remained technically inviolate. It was the type of ploy worthy of a female. I hate to see man winning a skirmish vs. woman by using female strategy.”
The funniest reaction of all came from a leading member of the “old school,” Jimmy Cannon: “The she reporter won’t be able to duck into the dressing rooms after sports events. It seems illogical to keep her out for moral reasons, when a Broadway show called ‘Oh Calcutta’ is doing great business because the cast acts without a stitch of clothing. … I don’t blame the athletes for not doing a free show for the lady journalist although I imagine her right to be shocked will eventually reach a court.”
Doesn’t Cannon just break you up?
I guess I should be flattered by the trouble they went to, but since Yale (where girls are in attendance for the first time), numerous officials from various teams (Jets, Vikings, Bills, Colts, Dolphins) have told me I’m welcome anytime in their press boxes. As for the rest, the hostiles who are so uptight, it’s pretty funny. But I’ve yet to find a writer with a sense of humor who wanted to keep me out of their press box. And I’ve never met a good writer who didn’t have a good sense of humor.
I’m lucky I’m not a baseball writer. If it sounds like football is conservative, provincial and full of old fogeys, baseball has a mind that’s strictly centuries B.C.
The preceding article was written for Quill’s December 1969 issue. This was the same month women were allowed into SPJ. Today, the world of women’s sports-writing is an entirely different place.
BY AMY GUYER
It was trials like Elinor Kaine’s that paved the way for female sportswriters today.
“I’ve never experienced anything close to that,” said Kristen Leigh Porter, The Indianapolis Star’s assistant sports editor.
Porter has worked as a sportswriter since she graduated from college in 2000 and has covered the NBA, NFL and MBA.
“[Discrimination] is definitely not something that’s happened,” she said.
In fact, Porter said, she’s found that players and coaches are almost “more helpful to you, [because] they understand that you are in the minority.”
She cited an instance when Stephen Jackson of the Indiana Pacers agreed to give her a special interview — and, Porter quickly added, it wasn’t that he was “trying to hit on me.”
“They sympathize with you,” Porter said, because they all have mothers and sisters, too.
And now that she is covering high school sports, she said the coaches will often make a point to come out of the locker rooms to speak with her, so she doesn’t have to go in a locker room full of teenage boys.
Readers, she said, seem to accept her just the same as they would a man. She’s never gotten a comment about how she wouldn’t know something because she’s “just a girl.”
“Women do offer a different perspective,” Porter said, but most people today focus on the news being reported, not the reporter.