Nine for IX: Let Them Wear Towels (2013)

Directed by Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg

With the Nine for IX series, it could easily be expected to see more than a handful of the films chronicle the struggles of women for equal rights with men. I had hoped that there wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount, but rather highlight the greatness of women in sports in their own right. After the very good kickoff film for the series, Venus Vs., which showed Venus Williams and her fight for equal pay for women tennis players, we got a brief reprieve to see the wonderful story of Pat Summitt’s career. Now we turn back into the trenches with filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg to see what it took for women journalists to find the equality they required to do their job, and maintain their profession.

It is such a simple thing to never even think about, especially as a man, but what about all those women sports reporters? Even today they seems few and far between. And when they do pop up they mostly serve as sideline reporters or anchors whose job is to look pretty and show us the highlights. I hate to say it in such direct terms, but it’s true. And for that very reason I am very curious to catch the last film in the series, which speaks to the sex appeal of women athletes, Branded. But that film is for a later time, the pressing issue here is how filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg present the struggle of women journalists for access to sports locker rooms, which would provide them with the necessary resources to complete their jobs.

What shocked me most about this film was how little I knew about it before hand. It was hard to believe that it wasn’t until the 70s that women began to have access to locker rooms. Women provide a unique opportunity for sports reporting. As with any form of communication, each person has a different perspective and a different interest. Women write books from a unique perspective. They make films from a unique perspective. So there is no reason to think they wouldn’t have a different way of looking at sports. While men are interested in winners and losers and the facts about the game, women proved to be more interested in what made the athletes tick, what motivates them, how did they get into athletics. It may seem a small difference, but there is no reason to think a woman couldn’t do just as good a job, or be just as passionate about sports as a man.

Stern and Sundberg give us plenty of stories to help prove their point. Some of them ugly, and some of them touching. It is sometimes difficult to realize the prejudices of sports heroes, and they do use names. Learning of coaches, players, and commissioners unwilling to get with the times and realize the need for equality in the locker room is hard to swallow at times, but necessary to depict the courage, passion and determination of these women reporters. The touching stories let us in on the fact that there were those willing to help, with more of an open mind than those with power in the establishment.

Seeing the passion with which these pioneering women approached their job as sports reporters is easily the best part of the film. However, it seems as though Stern and Sundberg fall back on documentary convention and expect the strength of the story to carry the film. Luckily for them, it does. But I found their approach to the subject very middling. Not a dissimilar reaction from the only other film of theirs I’ve seen, Knuckleball!. That film managed to take a rather fascinating subject, the knuckleball, and make it rather bland. At least with this film they have the strength and impact of the story behind them. Not the worst way to spend an hour, but I couldn’t help but think there was more to explore here.

**1/2 – Average


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