In 2008, I was working for a Massachusetts newspaper covering an independent baseball team.
Following game three of a frustrating series for the team, I headed to the clubhouse with one of my male colleagues. The starting pitcher who’d been dealt his first loss of the season after a victorious first half, stood at his locker and told me to get out. He later physically blocked me from re-entering.
It was a watershed moment in my life and proved to be a turning point. I’ve spoken a bit about this publicly, though I’ve never felt comfortable bashing anyone involved, including the player. It was that moment that provided me a question: how tough are you and how bad do you want to do this with your life?
The answer was emphatic. I contacted the AWSM and the commisioner of the league. The result was that an equal access policy was implemented at the conclusion of the GM’s meetings during spring training.
I never imagined I would face that again. And certainly not in the world of minor league baseball that I've covered almost exclusively for eight years, outside of fall high school sports when I had the benefit of phoning it in with coaches.
I'll begin at the end like so many movies and books have: the issue has been resolved.
But the question for me is, is this still going on and why did this happen in 2012?
After a day game I’d quickly run on the field at Ricnmond County Ballpark and got the interviews I needed. As I was leaving two female reporters were standing in the dugout. I didn’t notice any male reporters there, but didn’t think twice about it. I left and returned the next day for a regular night game. After a fifteen-inning marathon of a game that the Yankees lost by one run, I met up with three of my colleagues, two in the media, one an employee of the team to see if we were going to try to speak with Staten Island manager Justin Pope. After some discussion we decided to head down and find out if he was available.
I was then told I would have to wait in the hall while they went in to talk to Justin. I asked why.
"Women are not allowed in the clubhouse," the team employee answered.
I don’t remember the first words out of my mouth. I couldn’t tell you what I said for the next five minutes that I argued with his explanation. I just remember the faces and reactions of the three gentlemen. There was agreement with my anger and reasoning, helplessness, some obvious and understandble discomfort, and, from the employee, his own mix of helplessness and steadfastness. This, he said, is what he was told. He couldn't go against the orders given to him and no one could blame him. I didn't and still don't.
I was then told it was in the media guidelines. I knew for damn sure it wasn’t, but, this I remember. I asked to see the guidelines in writing. We went to the empty office and we skimmed through the guidelines. Of course, there was nothing stating women weren’t allowed.
We headed down to speak to the manager, carefully avoiding the clubhouse, but all of us getting what we needed.
The conversation continued after the incident, but with no resolution. That night I stayed up until four in the morning writing an e-mail to MiLB president Pat O’Conner and MiLB VP Tina Gust. I forwarded it to the Staten Island Yankees GM. Jane Rogers. I was positive that her reaction, and that of O’Conner and Gust, who I’d come to know professionally and highly respect, would be similar to mine.
I was correct. I received an early morning e-mail from Steve Densa saying he’d spoken to Jane Rogers, who was upset and apologetic. According to him, she was also insistent that I was given incorrect information. She told him she wanted my phone number to speak directly to me.
The next day, I spoke to the warm and wonderful Jane Rogers and she could not have been more professional, supportive, and also firecely adamant that no such policy existed.
When I arrived a couple of days later at MCU Park, to cover a game between the home team Brooklyn Cyclones and the Yankees, SI Yankees manager Justin Pope approached me. Justin is someone I’ve known from covering the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees, where he played and coached. He knows the Yankees organization inside and out. I never for one second thought that the policy was coming from him. He told me how sorry he was and that, again, there was no policy stating that. He was angered (quietly, as is his disposition) that anyone would give me that information and told me to come to him if there was ever any problem. He repeated those sentiments again post-game.
The following day I returned to Richmond County Ballpark and the employee that told me no women were allowed in the clubhouse apologized several times. He was doing his job. I knew that. He’d done the right that night and then by coming to me after the storm settled.
Post-game I was granted access to the clubhouse along with all of my male colleagues. I marched down that hall with just a little bit of cockiness in my step. This was my job and my rights weren’t going to be questioned. I later thought about the women before me who’d be proud I never backed down.
But after I went home it dawned on me. How could this have happened now?
In my time covering the minors and majors in print and online media, I’ve had the benefit of women being everywhere I’ve gone. It didn’t have to occur to me that I didn’t belong, because our well-documented history and their presence let me know I did.
But, truthfully, in the minor leagues, in the media, there are few of us entering the clubhouse. I can’t recall one female reporter entering the clubhouses of the Eastern League or International League or South Atlantic League and certainly not in independent baseball. No, not for a few years, though I knew they existed somewhere. Part of the problem might be that there aren't enough of us. If the front office of every minor league and independent league team saw more of us, they'd be forced to deal with the reality. And not in an underhanded way that possibly no one is being made aware of.
How did this happen now? Why are we having to ask this question and have this discussion in 2012?
It doesn’t matter, does it? It doesn’t matter if there’s seven thousand of us or just me or her or any other woman. We belong there and there should be no argument about that. I shouldn’t have to stand in the quiet of the press box after fifteen innings, wanting to get the story I came for, and argue with colleagues about a non-existent policy.
The question is who and for how long?
Who continues to have the attitude that we don’t belong, who is approving it, and how many times has this happened before I spoke up? In considering these questions, I thought back to all of my experiences in the minors that compared to that. I kept saying it never happened before that.
I was wrong.
I realized that early in my career there were plenty of times I came on assignment and was kept in the hall while male reporters scattered into the clubhouse area. I was asked to wait in the dugout many times, after being told, ‘Let me go get him.’ I never questioned that order.
Post-game is a different animal, and perhaps I wouldn’t have been kept out those times if I’d entered the area with my male colleagues to join the typical interview session with the manager. But pre-game is when we get plenty of our work done. Most writers need that time with players and coaches. Had I been less timid, more experienced, I would've spoken up.
After nearly four years of regularly covering the Eastern League beat for Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball, Pinstripes Plus, and a number of newspapers, I’ve been plenty seasoned. It was my consistent coverage of the Trenton Thunder, and working out of their home base of Waterfront Park, that gave me the daily experience of covering the minor leagues. One year on the daily beat in the Can-Am League wasn’t exactly the same.
It was with a Yankees team that I earned my stripes (no pun intended) and learned that women in the media were given equal treatment and respect. That was never an issue. When an issue arose with players, I found myself immediately supported. When Thunder manager Tony Franklin was informed I’d been humiliated in the clubhouse (an incident I won’t go into detail about), he called a meeting with his players and what he later told me he said to them inspired my courage and confidence to grow. It is within the Yankees organization I got tougher. I felt proud of the standard they upheld, as I did about every other team that followed the rules that were, frankly, a federal law.
When I sensed resistance from any team’s PR to allow me access, I trampled right over that notion as if I hadn’t caught on to what he (always) was driving at. I realized that if you peeled away the layer of legal rights, many men in this industry still believe we don’t belong.
In MLB, access isn’t an issue. It shouldn’t be an issue in the minors, a direct extension of the big league club. This recent experience sounded all the alarms. Is this going on anywhere else in the minors and if it is, what’s the excuse?
The Yankees, and every other major league team must enforce that there is no policy but an equal one. They must set the tone at every level. They're not just developing players, but men. If they believe we deserve to be treated with any less respect, they will follow that lead.
The day I was in celebration of the Southern League naming the first female league president in MiLB history, I was filled with conflict. I wanted to cheer and not be the bearer of bad news. We’re supposed to say that everything has changed. We’re supposed to say there are no issues so passe as a woman being told she doesn't have equal access in sports.
That day taught me that, sometimes, we still have to fight.
As one male colleague said, "That should never have happened."
It cannot happen again.