In order to write an autobiography and actually get it published, your life has to be pretty inspiring. That’s the exact case of ESPN personality Linda Cohn, whose life story and current dream job have captured the minds of many, especially young women with aspiring careers in the emerging field of sports media.
“When I decided to write the book, it was meant for people like you,” Cohn touchingly told me during our phone interview on Valentine’s Day, 2013. “I knew a lot of people didn’t know my story, and I knew that there are a lot of young women out there that were like me. People just don’t understand how it really is.”
Cohn’s career emerged in the mid to late 1980′s when she landed her first gig as a sports anchor for a radio station based out of Patchogue, New York, called WALK-AM. She worked for them until 1984 and picked up jobs with four other New York area radio stations until 1987, during which span she had a brief stint giving updates on WFAN.
“When I was breaking in, it was a long time ago,” joked Cohn, “and things are better now, where it’s obviously not so unique to have a woman who wants a career in sports.”
However, it was unique at the time Cohn was gaining serious credibility and ultimately helping pave the way for future generations of female sportscasters. She made groundbreaking history by becoming the first full-time American female sports anchor on a national radio network when she joined ABC from 1987-1989. She found her first television break in 1988 when SportsChannel America, one of ESPN’s major competitors at the time, offered her a position as a reporter before being hired by KIRO-TV in Seattle, Washington as a sports anchor. She even hosted a call-in radio show back home in New York for a year during that time in her career.
In 1992, Cohn was hired by ESPN to work on SportsCenter and has since become one of the most recognizable female sportscasters in the country. She signed a contract extension in 2005, a move which added WNBA telecasts to her duties, and authored her own memoir, Cohn-Head: A No-Holds-Barred Account of Breaking Into the Boys’ Club, in 2008. To this day, Cohn still regularly anchors SportsCenter and now has a new podcast called Listen Closely to Linda Cohn.
While the road that led Cohn to ESPN hit more than one speed bump, she learned a crucial piece of advice that got her to where she is today.
“My brother always said to me when there was adversity in my career, ‘block out the noise,’” Cohn recalled. “That’s what you gotta do.”
That’s not the only thing she has learned along the way.
“There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t work as hard as you but gets opportunities for things you want to do,” she said. “That’s still going to exist and it does today, and you have to figure out how to deal with that.”
Cohn also reminds, however, that not all competition is healthy.
“There’s always going to be game playing and politics. I hate to say it – if you’re not a game player, you can get left behind,” she warned.
Cohn obviously played her cards right in her career, which millions of sports fans across the world envy. She possesses many special memories that she will never forget – ones that the cameras weren’t able to capture.
“The best moments tend to happen when I’m not working because there’s no camera or mic rolling,” she admitted.
Cohn described one “fabulous moment” that happened at a Super Bowl Party, where she was lucky enough to find herself in the middle of a great, yet causal conversation with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
“And we were all talking with no mic and no camera. That was great because they were all able to talk freely,” she reminisced. “It’s something I will always remember that they included me in this conversation, and it was just fantastic and a sign that, hey, they trust me. I really made it.”
Cohn remembers another time when she happened to stay at the same hotel as the New York Rangers, one of her first loves in sports, during the Winter Classic in Philadelphia. While sitting in the lobby catching the New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys, in walked the men in blue, eventually joining Cohn, her boyfriend, and her daughter to take in the action.
“It was late in the year, big game obviously a few seasons ago. And one by one, Rangers were coming through that area where we were sitting, and I was sort of just talking and hanging with them,” she said. “I was very excited to meet them and I went up, and they knew who I was, but I introduced myself anyway like they didn’t know me.”
The memory of that night reminded Cohn of where exactly her passion for what she does began.
“I had to tell them how big of a Ranger fan I am, so those little moments where you can turn into that little innocent little girl sports fan that made you fall in love with sports – those are the feelings that I never want to lose,” Cohn stated.
She also knows that great moments can happen with “you just being you.”
“And that’s what I’m most proud of, because when I look back on my career – that’s the kind of advice I’d give anybody,” explained Cohn. “Do those moments for you, being you, not making believe you’re somebody else.”
It’s a philosophy she has always believed in, and it must work. Her impressive tenure at ESPN is entering its 20th year.
“Always remember to be true to yourself and don’t try to be somebody you’re not,” Cohn proclaimed.
One of the sport industry’s most wise female voices also advises those hoping for a similar career to find an opportunity to show off their skills, something that she feels is still a challenge.
“I’ve never gotten anything on a platter, and to this day, everything I’ve gotten I’ve worked for,” Cohn said.
And to this day, a lot of young women with aspiring careers in sports can look up to Cohn with gratitude for the doors she has pushed open for future generations of sport media.