Herman ’73 featured in new ESPN documentary ‘Let Them Wear Towels’

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Robin Herman ’73, seen here during her time as a sports reporter for The New York Times in the 1970s, is featured in the ESPN documentary Let Them Wear Towels. (Photo: Courtesy The Daily Princetonian Larry DuPraz Digital Archive)

When Robin Herman ’73 joined The Daily Princetonian staff in 1970, the newspaper’s practice was to give each reporter a news beat and a sports beat. But when she looked at the assignments, her name was not listed on the sports sheet. The editors assumed that Herman, part of the first cohort of undergraduate women at Princeton, would not want to cover sports.

“It struck me as inequitable,” Herman says, so she spoke up. “It was a reflex, really.” She volunteered to cover rugby and later moved on to men’s squash, men’s tennis, and football before becoming co-editor of the section.

After graduation, Herman went to work for The New York Times and joined a small, determined group of women sportswriters who broke barriers in the profession, including the denial of access for locker-room interviews. Their stories are the basis of the new documentary Let Them Wear Towels, which premieres July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. The film is part of the network’s “Nine for IX” series, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Herman tells her Prince story in Let Them Wear Towels and shares other memories from her years covering professional hockey for The New York Times. Princeton’s decision to admit women was “one of the links in the chain” of her career, she says: She didn’t mind working in a predominantly male field because her four years on campus had acclimated her to that kind of environment.

But her undergraduate years could not prepare her for some of the harassment she encountered on the job. In one memorable example, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider stood in the locker-room doorway, arms crossed, to physically block Herman from entering to conduct interviews. “That was so discouraging and insulting,” she says. “That really stuck with me.”

Two other Princetonians make brief appearances in Let Them Wear Towels: Bowie Kuhn ’48, the longtime baseball commissioner who was a staunch opponent of opening locker rooms to women reporters; and Peter Carry ’64, a Sports Illustrated editor who encouraged reporter Melissa Ludtke to fight Kuhn’s ban, first with a formal letter of complaint and ultimately with a lawsuit.

After five years in sports, Herman moved to the Times’ metro desk and later shifted her focus to health and science reporting for several publications, including The Washington Post. She spent 14 years working in research communications at the Harvard School of Public Health and still writes occasionally for her blog, Girl in the Locker Room. The title comes from a comment overheard at the 1975 NHL All-Star game, where Herman became one of the first women to be granted entry to the locker rooms of a North American pro sports league.

Let Them Wear Towels chronicles the insults and intimidation endured by Herman and the other women covering sports in the 1970s (and the decades that followed). It also provides a sense of how far both journalism and professional sports have come. “What I hope is that it will make current sports reporters and editors more cognizant of any slippage,” Herman says. “And I hope that women will push for further equity.”

Watch an excerpt from Let Them Wear Towels:

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