By Rob Del Mundo
Book review: Cohn Head by Linda Cohn, The Lyons Press
Veteran broadcaster Linda Cohn has graced the airwaves of American television for over two decades. As an anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Cohn’s unbridled passion for just about any activity that keeps a scoreboard has been reflected in her delivery of scores, highlights and updates for the station that markets itself as “The World Wide Leader in Sports”
One of the pioneers for women in sports broadcasting, her book Cohn-Head: A No-Holds Barred Account of Breaking into the Boy’s Club is a witty, anecdote-filled recollection of her rise to success in a male-dominated industry.
A Long Island native, but converted New York Rangers fan, Cohn received her initiation into broadcasting by working in local radio. One of her first assignments for a station named WALK was to cover a playoff series between the hated rivals the Rangers and the Islanders. Her duties included conducting post-game interviews in the dressing room; a task that seems routine and non-gender specific today, but one that was still met with some trepidation back in the early 80’s.
“I understood that I was in a men’s locker room and that, when it’s 1982, and you’re in a men’s locker room and you’re not a man, you have to expect some commotion,” recalls Cohn in a chapter titled “The Ice Melts Again”.
“The only reason a female reporter wants to get into the locker room after a game is for equal access to the players. I think I speak for 99 percent of all the female reporters who have ever traversed a male locker room when I say that there is absolutely nothing sexy, stimulating or the least bit enticing for a female reporter when she walks into a men’s locker room.”
Through perseverance, hard work and a bit of luck, Cohn steadily found jobs with increasing profiles, from covering the Olympics in Calgary for ABC Radio, to anchoring for KIRO-TV in Seattle. Home to the NFL Seahawks and (then) NBA Supersonics, Seattle holds special memories for Cohn, having bought her first house with her husband there, followed by the birth of their first child, a daughter.
Not all of Cohn’s memories of the city are found however, as she detailed a story of verbal abuse lavished upon her by an athlete, whose name she doesn’t divulge. The athlete, in a fit of rage, suggested that presence of women into the locker room was ‘morally reprehensible’. Years later, the player that delivered the vocal outburst apologized to Cohn, at the same time that he was running for public office. Tragically, he died in an accident without Cohn ever being able to determine whether his apology was genuine.
Given her rise up the ladder, a national audience seemed to be in Cohn’s destiny as she began her career at ESPN in 1992. “It’s like hanging out at a sports bar, but without the alcohol,” is the simile she uses to describe the environment. Cohn-Head shares many behind-the-scenes depictions of the daily operations of a sports network, while taking time to reflect on some of Cohn’s celebrity run-ins. She was once lucky enough to be afforded backstage access at an REO Speedwagon concert (with an incriminating DVD of her performance on background vocals somewhere in existence). On the flip-side of the coin, there have been uncomfortable moments such as an interview with Matthew Perry and a copyright snafu with rapper Jay-Z that didn’t go so well.
Working for a U.S. network where the headlines are dominated by baseball, football, basketball and NASCAR, but rarely with a stick and puck, it may surprise sports fans living north of the border that Cohn has an enormous enthusiasm for hockey. But with the pastime instilled in her at a young age, Cohn is as much of fan of Canada’s winter sport as any hoser. “Playing the game like I did as a goalie as a teenager and all through college, the love and passion stays with you,” she said in an email. “My endless obsession with the Rangers helped fill a void for me when I was young. I had very low self-esteem, not very popular, and watching the Rangers and riding that rollercoaster of ups and downs gave me something to look forward to. It was such a good feeling, I never let it leave me.”
It has been almost fifteen years since Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter led the Blueshirts to their first Cup in 54 years, but Cohn – like any Rangers fan – recalls the 1994 playoffs with clarity.
“The most intense game I’ve been a part took place in 1994 against Devils, won in double overtime by Stephane Matteau. Then of course, Game 7 against Vancouver (in the Final), I was in the building for that one. Never thought I’d see them win a cup in my lifetime. That final face off in the Rangers end with 1.3 seconds left, New York clinging to that 3-2 lead; that was stress considering all the bad luck in the past I’ve witnessed involving the Rangers. But they survived and it was one of the happiest nights in my life!”
With the support a loving family, a strong work ethic and a genuine love for her profession, Cohn is an inspiration for aspiring broadcasters to come. “Be yourself, and be accurate!” is the mantra that she offers to any hopeful newcomer to the scene.
Her story is an entertaining and insightful one.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Top Shelf, a regular column at TMLfans.ca
Cohn-Head: A No-Holds Barred Account of Breaking into the Boy’s Club is available for purchase at LindaCohn.net. TMLfans.ca congratulates Linda, who was one of seven honourees inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame on April 26, 2009.