Fighting for representation in a predominantly male industry, women have had to overcome many obstacles to earn respect as professionals in the sports industry. Women in the field today have many strong, female influences to thank for paving the way thus far, including Texas’s own Anita Martini, the Galveston native who opened the door to gender equality for female sports journalists.
Born and raised in the coastal city of Galveston, Martini was exposed to the excitement of sports at a young age. Enamored with the ballpark atmosphere and fascinated by the game of baseball, Martini’s young ears were often glued to the radio listening to the New York Yankees. Quickly growing fond of the sport and all it entailed, Martini developed a sharp intellect for the game.
Inspired by the industry, Martini pursued a journalism degree from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, following her graduation from Ball High School in Galveston, Texas. After obtaining her degree, Martini returned to Texas, where she began her historic sports journalism career in Houston.
As journalistic colleagues described her character, Martini’s career choice was not rooted in the desire to be the first woman to do anything; rather, she wanted to be the best at anything she did. As a result of the trailblazing professional she was, she coincidentally achieved both.
Martini’s career began in the 1960s when she began working for a Houston-based publication called FUN Magazine and started covering sports alongside her colleague, Nelda Pena, a business the two would later own. Around 1965, her experience expanded when she began to work in broadcasting for several Houston stations, including KPRC-TV (Channel 39), KULF Radio, and KPRC Radio, where she became the first woman in a major radio market to co-host a sports talk show. If it was not already, her name began to garner recognition after she and Pena fought their way onto the field as credentialed female media personnel at the 1973 Midsummer Classic All-Star Game in Kansas City.
As Pena explained in an interview with Harris County – Houston Sports Authority (HCHSA), she and Martini were surprised when they were given tickets to the wives luncheon in replacement of their requested media credentials. Instead of accepting their fate, they made history instead.
Refusing to take no for an answer, the two received some help from the wife of the owner of the Kansas City Royals and ultimately got the credentials they deserved. Being the only female reporters on the field, Pena told HCHSA they got just as much media attention as the first women to cover a Major League Baseball All-Star Game as the actual All-Stars did.
However, despite her rise in the ranks, Martini’s career was still inevitably limited, through no fault of her own. Though she had enough talent, knowledge, and professionalism to run with the best of them, it was her gender that persisted the unequal treatment she received as a professional – that is, until October 1974.
Accustomed to conducting her interviews from the stands of the Astrodome, Martini grew tired of the barriers that were placed between her and her work. At the time, women still were not even allowed access to the press box despite being credentialed members of the media; but thanks to one open-minded coach and the persistence of a strong-willed reporter, all of that changed.
While covering the 1974 National League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Martini did something no other female reporter had yet done. After the Dodgers clinched the title with a win over the Astros, Martini made history of her own thanks to the help of Dodgers Manager Walter Alston, Coach Tommy Lasorda, and center fielder Jimmy Wynn. While waiting outside the door, Martini was invited into the clubhouse post-game press conference by Alston, and therefore became the first female reporter ever allowed access to a major-league team’s locker room.
As former president of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, Bill McCurdy once wrote that this moment in history “was the first footstep of a galloping horse of change in the history of women covering baseball as media people. And it was a step that Anita Martini handled like the champion she always was.”
With some cooperation from the Dodgers’ staff, Martini single-handedly broke down the barriers she had been fighting when she interviewed Wynn in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse post-game. And not only was she the first woman to have the opportunity, but she was described as being one of the best ones in the business. Colleagues described her as “the Jackie Robinson of female reporters when it came to locker room press conferences,” and she had no fear of the glass ceiling.
By the 1980s, Martini was still working in television but began to focus a considerable amount of time to her true passion within the industry of sports journalism: radio. She appeared as a host on numerous call-in radio shows, including one of her most popular broadcasts, Martini and Edmonds, and became one of the most admired professionals amongst her peers in the world of Houston sports.
As many of her colleagues remember her, she was known as a woman who refused to take a back seat to anyone. As she once said herself, very few people questioned her knowledge or ability; the only thing people questioned was whether the public would accept a woman in an authoritative role in sports – but in Houston, Texas, Martini certainly made herself known.
In a manuscript she wrote in 1987, Martini said, “In some circles, I will always get credit for being the one who broke the locker room barrier for women, and in part that is true. But in reality, all I’ve ever done is try to survive in a world that attempts to keep women in their place. The lessons were hard in the learning on all sides, but yes, it was worth it.” These were powerful words meant for a book Martini was unfortunately never able to publish.
Right in the middle of Martini’s thriving career, the “queen of Houston sportscasting” was stopped in her tracks by the only thing that could slow her down: her health. Those in the industry felt the loss of her presence when she was missing from the press box for the first time in 20 years on Opening Day of 1989. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor that required immediate surgery.
As Pena told HCHSA, she remembered Martini being optimistic and only concerned about how quickly she could return to work. Martini was so strong-willed that she convinced the personnel in her intensive care unit to allow a television set in her room so that the game would be on as soon as she woke up. Two days later, she was on the air doing her radio talk show from her hospital bed.
Martini recovered and returned to her passion for several more years until her battle with brain cancer eventually led to her passing in July of 1993. Martini was described as being ahead of her time, and she was taken from the world all too soon at the age of 54. As someone who made such a large impact on the Astrodome, her funeral procession was led around the stadium for Martini to see one last time; the line of cars following was so long, an alternate exit had to be opened for all to get through.
Because of her inspiring courage and professionalism, Martini was later recognized as an inductee into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame and was honored as the inaugural inductee into the Astros’ Houston Baseball Media Wall of Honor in 2007. She was named to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2015, and in 2017, her alma mater of Ball High School dedicated the school’s media arts department’s internet radio station, K-TOR, in Martini’s honor. And Martini’s award to all who follow in her footsteps is a path through walls she fearlessly broke down to see a day where equality for women in sports was granted. Because of her undeniable talent, intelligence, and persistence in a once unforgiving industry, the battle has been won for all women in the field today.