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Terry Pluto: Women sports writers had to swim in a sea of sharks
Pluto reflects on the time when women fought for equal locker room access and respect in the industry.

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
"Let Them Wear Towels" is a history and examination of females working in the man's world of the locker room. Terry Pluto talks about the atmosphere as a sports writer in the late-1970's.
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This summer, ESPN is airing nine documentaries focusing on women in sports. The series follows last year’s 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal law that that opened the door to sports and collegiate athletic scholarships for women. This week, "Let Them Wear Towels" is about the quest for equal locker-room access for female journalists.

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto was a young sportswriter in the late 1970’s at the height of this debate. 


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When Pluto was breaking in during the 1970’s, he says it was it was a difficult climate for all sport writers. Players today are offered training on how to handle the media. But back then, he says players would lash out if something was written about them that they didn't like. 

“I remember I had wads of tape and dirty socks thrown at me when I walked in the locker room.  ... One time, on a flight with the players, they locked me in the bathroom for about an hour before they let me out.”

Keep the clipboard in your line of sight
Pluto says women were treated with even less respect as they were fighting to gain equal access to the locker-room. He remembers working with Jane Gross of the New York Times and seeing players throw French fries at her. Gross, and many other female journalists have worked hard to earn respect and maintain professionalism.

He remembers friend Alison Gordon who was a sports writer in Toronto. “She didn’t dress provocatively and she would have this huge clipboard, so when she took notes, she wasn’t looking at the guy’s lower body. She was pretty accepted.”

Earning their way
Two of Northeast Ohio’s female sports writers, May Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer and Marla Ridenour with the Beacon Journal, have spent decades covering the Browns. “Mary Kay is a real pioneer,” Pluto says.

“Her first coach she covered was Bill Belichick. The media [to him] was a distraction; at the very least he thought it was a cancerous tumor that should be cut out and stomped,” he says. “Cabot’s really earned her way, and I think she’s tremendous reporter.”

Pluto says those women had to have a lot of grit and determination to survive in the industry. “You really had to want to be a sports writer and want to be good to last in those early days. They are a lot tougher than most of us.”

Still, Pluto has some regrets when he reflects on that era. “I wished that we, being the males, would have stood up for the women a little more. I think part of it is that like, ‘Hey, we had to swim in our own sea of sharks, so good luck with you.’ But, we could have been better.”

Terry Pluto says that while women sports journalists have come a long way to earn respect, they often are treated differently in the public view. “All you have to do is look at [sports articles'] comments."

Terry Pluto on Indians first half and trade rumors
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