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Monday, July 15, 2013
Nine for IX: 'Let Them Wear Towels'

By ESPN Films

Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern

Film summary
Lisa Olson was just trying to do her job as a reporter for the Boston Herald in 1990 when a group of New England Patriot players sexually harassed her in their locker room by exposing their genitals and making lewd and vulgar comments. Even though a subsequent NFL investigation concluded that Olson had been "degraded and humiliated," the 25-year-old continued to be tormented by Patriot fans -- so much so that she temporarily moved to Australia to resume her career.

The incident touched off a national debate about the presence of female journalists in the male sanctum of the clubhouse. That debate should have been settled 12 years earlier, when Melissa Ludtke of Sports Illustrated successfully challenged Major League Baseball after she was kept out of the New York Yankees' locker room.

Why has equal access for women reporters remained such a hot-button issue? That question is asked in "Let Them Wear Towels," a history and examination of females working in the man's world of the locker room. Through interviews with such pioneer women as Ludtke, Claire Smith, Lesley Visser and Christine Brennan, you'll hear stories of raw behavior and humorous retaliation, angry lawsuits and remarkable resolve.

Directors' bios: Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern
Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg are critically acclaimed producers and directors known for crafting deft and cinematic journeys through unexpected territory. Each film tracks new landscape -- from the brotherhood behind baseball's most fickle, to criminal injustice in the American South, to Darfur, to stand-up comedy and celebrity culture; but all are centered on unforgettable people and dynamic personal journeys.

Their films include "Knuckleball!" (a co-production with Major League Baseball), "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (2010 Sundance Film Festival Winner: U.S. Documentary Best Editing); the 2008 Gotham and Emmy nominated "The Devil Came On Horseback," and the 2007 Dupont Prize winner and Emmy and Spirit Award-nominated "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," and the Emmy-nominated "Burma Soldier" (HBO, 2011).

In addition to film and television projects, Ricki and Annie created and directed "The Fashion Fun," an original six-part series for Hulu that goes behind the scenes of the influential Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund competition.

They recently premiered a highly rated two-hour special on UFOs for the History Channel and are completing a pilot for National Geographic Channel. Their scripted comedy spot, "One Good Deed," for Kenneth Cole and the Sundance Institute premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. They also just wrapped a profile of Peter Diamandis ("X Prize") for the GE/Cinelan Focus Forward Film Series.

Ricki and Annie have been honored with the 2011 Full Frame Festival's Career Achievement Award and the Seattle Film Festival's Lena Sharpe/Women in Cinema "Persistence of Vision" Award, the Adrienne Shelley Excellence in Filmmaking Award, and the San Diego Film Festival's award for best female filmmakers.

Sundberg and Stern: Personal statement
We grew up in the 1970s during the time Title IX was passed, affording us the opportunity to play school athletics; yet, we remember only a few strong female role models in sports and even fewer women who were reporting sports.

Women's sports have slowly grown in popularity, women athletes have begun to command attention and women sports journalists have earned places alongside their male peers.

We recently worked on the feature documentary "Knuckleball!," following Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and New York Mets pitcher RA Dickey over 2011 season, where we filmed in stadiums, press boxes and locker rooms. As we look now at the old news stories about Ludtke and Olson, whose legal cases paved the way for women to report without harassment in locker rooms across the United States, we have a personal understanding and appreciation for the work of these early female journalists and the impact these pioneers have had on the profession of sports journalism today.

Breaking into an all-male field and writing about all-male sports, these women and other early journalists like them focused a lens on workplace discrimination. Enduring verbal and physical harassment from players and managers, these women fought to write serious sports stories. Their collective voices paint a historical perspective about the role of women in sports journalism that still resonates today.

Join the conversation and tweet your thoughts about "Let Them Wear Towels" to #NineforIX.