Tuesday, April 29, 2003

ESPN's Cohn broke new ground

Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

When she first skated onto the ice as a goalie for the Newfield (N.Y.) High School varsity boys hockey team nearly a quarter of a century ago, there were no shortage of skeptics.

"People acted like I was from Mars," says ESPN SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn. "Here's this relatively petite, 5-foot-5 girl with a ponytail sticking out of the back of her goalie's mask, and people in the stands and on the ice are going, 'What's she doing here? This is a boys' game.' "

Fast forward to 1992. Linda Cohn has just joined ESPN, and once again she's getting the "she-must-be-from-Mars treatment."

"It was the same sort of feeling," says Cohn. "I'm the odd person out in a predominantly male environment, and you can tell people are thinking, 'OK, let's see what she's got.' But once you show them that your knowledge and love of sports is every bit as great as theirs, the fact you're a female ceases to be an issue."

Cohn's knowledge, passion and humor come through the television screen each time she sits at the SportsCenter anchor desk. Growing up on Long Island, Cohn developed a deep rooting interest in four New York teams - the Rangers, Knicks, Mets and Giants.

"My dad (Hank Cohn) was a huge sports fan, and there always seemed to be some sort of game on the tube at our house, year-round," she says. "His love of sports rubbed off on me."

A gifted athlete, Linda played a number of sports, including tennis. Several of her instructors believed she had the talent to go a long way, but Cohn derived more enjoyment from playing goalie against the boys in neighborhood street-hockey games.

"There was just something about the position that I loved," she says. "In some ways, it's like being an anchor on a live show. I've always loved having all that responsibility on my shoulders."

Her mom, Lillian Cohn, saw an ad for a New York Islanders hockey camp for kids, and signed up Linda. By age 13, she was playing goalie against boys in youth ice hockey leagues.

Linda Cohn received a 2000 Alumni Award from SUNY Oswego.
(SUNY Oswego photo)
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After graduating in 1978, Cohn headed to Oswego State, where she earned a degree in broadcast journalism and played goalie on the varsity women's team for four years.

"Oswego was the first time in my life that I had an opportunity to play on a team comprised entirely of female players," she says. "It was a great experience. We were one of the first women's college hockey teams, and we'd go and play other women's teams at Cornell and St. Lawrence and Rochester. It was a blast."

Cohn, too, has proven to be ahead of the curve. She began her career in sportscasting in 1981 in Patchogue, N.Y. There were very few female sportscasters at the time, and Cohn endured her share of prejudice.

"There were times when I felt that because I was a woman, I had to do somersaults, blindfolded, on a balance beam, while the guys didn't have to wear the blindfolds," she says.

But she didn't allow the daunting double standards to stop her. In 1987, she became the first full-time female sports anchor on a national radio network (ABC). After a stint in Seattle, Cohn joined ESPN. Her current gig has her anchoring the 1 a.m. edition of SportsCenter. She gets plenty of airtime because the show is replayed every weekday from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The late-night schedule actually works well for Cohn, who has been able to successfully juggle her career and her responsibilities as a wife and the mother of two children - 11-year-old Samantha and 7-year-old Daniel. One of the most gratifying things about her job is the impact she has had on girls and young women aspiring to enter the field.

"It makes it all worthwhile when you open up those letters saying, 'Linda, you have a cool job. I want to be like you,' " she says. "I want them to know that you shouldn't let anything stand in the way of your dreams."

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ESPN's Cohn broke new ground
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