Detroit Free Press, Summer 1981 With George Puscas on vacation, Detroit sportscaster Anne Doyle has agreed to write a guest column. Doyle has been anchoring, producing and reporting for WJBK-TV since December 1978.
It has been 2 1/2 years now.
It was December 1978 when Channel 2 hired me as the first female sportscaster in the station’s history. I wasn’t the first in Detroit. Channel 4’s Gail Granik, who is now in Baltimore, beat me by about a month. But basically we were in the same boat – or, should I say, out of it. After the initial excitement of a new challenge wore off, I felt as though I’d been thrown to the sharks. My alternatives were: be eaten alive or swim like hell.
I was no rookie. I was a seasoned news reporter, used to difficult situations. Strolling in places you weren’t welcome was just part of the territory. But I was no dummy, either. I knew there was a big difference between barging in on a secret city commission meeting and walking into the Detroit Tiger clubhouse.
That’s what I’d like to talk about. Since a 1978 lawsuit against the New York Yankees opened up this can of worms, there has been plenty said about female sports reporters in locker rooms. But I have never read anything written by the players who were suddenly faced with females in their sanctuary, or by the handful of women who know the feeling of standing outside a locker room door and forcing themselves to walk in. It’s not easy.
First I went to the top
One of the first things I did was meet with the different teams’ general managers.
I remember sitting up in Tiger general manager Jim Campbell’s office, giving him my pitch about why I needed to go into the Tiger clubhouse along with all the other reporters. Jim was leaning back in his chair behind his big desk, puffing on a cigar, listening to me. Finally he leaned forward, took the cigar out of his mouth, looked me in the eye and said: “Anne, over my dead body you’ll go in that clubhouse.”
Three weeks later, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered all major league clubs to either allow female reporters into their locker rooms or keep all reporters out. Campbell almost had a heart attack, but the Tiger clubhouse was opened.
What was it like in there? At first, very tense. I was always glad to get my interviews over with and get out. I’m sure the players were just as happy to see me leave. But the turning point came one day last season.
Craig, the guard at the door, went in ahead of me, as usual, to warn the players I was coming in. I was only in there five minutes, long enough to ask Sparky Anderson to meet me on the field for a live interview. As I headed out, I heard a few groans and laughs, as a couple of players complained: “Is that all? You mean I went to all this trouble to grab a towel just for that?’
I stopped in my tracks, turned around and saw the whole team looking at me. It was the first time, as a group, we confronted the crazy, uncomfortable situation we were all struggling with. I looked at them, gulped and said: “OK, I have some question for you,” and walked back in. The ice was broken.
The hall wasn’t good enough
So why didn’t I save myself, and the athletes, a lot of grief and just wait outside, like a “lady,” and hope to catch the players and coaches on their way to the parking lot? Three reasons:
1. I’m working against a deadline. After a game I usually only have a few minutes to get a coupe of key interviews and hightail it back to the station. I don’t have time to wait in the hall until players have finished blow-drying their hair.
2. In theory, the teams say they’ll bring to players to me. But how do you ask Jack Morris – who has just pitched nine innings and is sitting in the corner with an ice pack on his aching arm, trying to figure out how he could pitch a five hitter and still lose – to hike out into a drafty hall for an interview? He wouldn’t do it, and I don’t blame him. He doesn’t need that aggravation.
3. The locker room is the final inning, the last quarter of every game. The mood of the players, their post-game thoughts, the atmosphere in a locker room can tell you a lot about a team. How could I look you in the eye every night if I knew any male sportscaster from every 50-watt radio station knew more about the teams than I did? I couldn’t possibly wait in the hall.
We’ve come a long way since Campbell said he’d rather die than see women in the clubhouse. Actually, it’s not that big a deal anymore, and I think the players would agree. Most are under so much pressure worrying about whether they’re about to be shipped to Evansville or traded to Seattle that a female sportscaster on the other side of the locker room is the least of their concerns.
But, initially, it was tough. I hope the players who went through it with me will look back, as I do, and smile. We were pioneers, social explorers. “Part of exploring,” to quote my favorite line, “…is a frame of mind, a willingness to challenge dogma, to be on the edge.” For a while there, we were on the cutting edge. And the Tigers, especially, handled it with a sense of humor and grace under pressure.
Even Jim Campbell survived the crisis. And really, Jim, it wasn’t that bad after all, was it?