April 25, 2013

Linda Cohn, ESPN Anchor, Reflects on Career in Sports Journalism

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Linda Cohn, American sportscaster and anchor of ESPN’s Sports­Center, spoke Thursday about her struggles as a woman in the largely male-dominated field of sports journalism.

Cohn, who was raised in Long Island by a Jewish family, talked about how her background and the time in which she grew up affected her decision to pursue sports journalism.

“I grew up in the 1970s — where there were no women doing sports, but a lot of women loving sports,” Cohn said. “I knew that my passion was sports. It made me feel good, as if I were on an emotional rollercoaster.”

Cohn said she began to defy the gender stereotype often associated with sports in high school when she made the boys’ hockey team.

“I remember saying to the coach, ‘I won’t let you down.’ I have used those four words constantly throughout my career,” Cohn said.

Cohn was on the girls’ ice hockey and tennis teams at SUNY Oswego, where she graduated with a degree in communications. According to Cohn, by her sophomore year in college, she knew where she wanted her life to head.

“The year was 1978, and even back then, I had a vision — I saw myself being a sportscaster,” Cohn said.

Cohn began her work at a radio station in Long Island, where she covered events for the New York Islanders hockey team. A self-proclaimed Rangers fan, Cohn said that even though she volunteered to cover the team “she hated the most,” it helped her propel her career forward.

Attempting to get a job in television, Cohn received her big break through an unconventional method: baking chocolate chip cookies for a local Long Island television crew so they would film something for her in return.

“I asked them if I could put together a sports tape,” Cohn said. “I wrote a script and did a five minute sportscast, then sent the tape out to where I wanted to be. That turned out to be my magic wand.”

Shortly after, Cohn ended up in Seattle, where she became a weekend sports anchor and weekly sports reporter at CBS-affiliated KIRO-TV.

“ESPN spotted me in Seattle and wanted to hire me. But at that time, my life had slowed down — I was married, had a child and had balance in my life. It wasn’t all about the job,” Cohn said.

Eventually, Cohn ended up at ESPN — but the job did not come without its troubles.

“I remember when an ESPN fan came up to me at my first event, the ESPYs,” Cohn said. “He said to me: ‘Wow, you are so lucky.’ And I just kind of nodded to him. I wish I had said that luck is actually spelled W-O-R-K.”

When asked how she dealt with the stereotype of being a woman in a typically male-dominated field, Cohn stated that it was important to remain confident and focus on the job at hand.

“Whether good or bad, seek out the criticism and advice — don’t wait for it to find you,” Cohn said. “Back then, I didn’t have a choice. I was happy for the opportunity, and I just had to prove myself.”

The lecture was sponsored by Cornell Hillel as part of its Major Speaker Series.

According to Alexis Robins, engagement associate for Hillel, the Major Speaker Series is a new initiative to bring influential Jewish leaders to campus.

“Cohn was chosen because she has long been considered a pioneer for women sportscasters and an American icon in the world of sports,” Robins said. “It interested students to see such a prominent woman speak about her Jewish identity, and how she is able to connect Judaism to her successful career.”

Samantha Weisman ’15, executive vice president of Hillel and student chair of the Major Speaker Series, echoed Robins’ sentiments.

“[Cohn] is an inspiration for women who want to succeed in male-dominated careers and defy gender stereotypes,” Weisman said. “We wanted to bring Cohn [to Cornell] because she has a meaningful story that reflects important Jewish values, including leadership and perseverance.”

Original Author: Annie Bui