By Catey McCann, Staff Writer
Standing front and center on the stage of the Granite State Room Wednesday night, there was no question about a sport or athlete that could trip Linda Cohn up.
Although most notably a New York Rangers fan, the ESPN sportscaster talked comfortably about everything from being “president of the Eli Manning fan club” to the Bruins still having the ability to “sneak in” to the playoffs to her belief that Kentucky will undoubtedly take home the March Madness title.
With her extensive sports knowledge, quick-witted personality and bright red dress, it’s hard to believe this woman initially got into sports due to low self-esteem.
“I was the ugly duckling with thick glasses,” she said. “I had no friends.”
What she did have was a love for sports. She recalled bonding with her dad over sports and allowing that love to fill what she felt was a “void” in her life.
By age 14, Cohn was inspired to join a local hockey league as a goalie. It was no problem that it was all boys and she was forced to play with the eight and nine-year-olds – she only cared that she got to play her favorite sport.
“I didn’t think about it,” she said. “I was growing layers of tough skin. I had people looking at me like I didn’t belong. I just wanted to play hockey.”
That experience would turn out to be a trend in Cohn’s life. Her senior year of high school, she was the backup goalie on her high school boy’s hockey team. She still remembers what she told her coach when he gave her the news that she had made the team.
“Five words,” she said. “I won’t let you down.”
She later repeated those exact words – except this time, it was to the sports director of WCBS after he hired her as an anchor on the station. Without even realizing it, Cohn was taking on the role of paving the way for female sportscasters in the 1980s – a time when females in sports broadcasting was still a scarcity.
Now, Cohn has been a mainstay on ESPN SportsCenter for 22 years. She’s considered a pioneer for women in sports broadcasting. In addition to broadcasting, Cohn is a mother, has hosted her own podcast called “Listen Closely to Linda Cohn” and authored her own memoir called “Cohn-Head: A No-Holds Barred Account of Breaking into the Boys’ Club.”
But when she first started at ESPN, her boss kindly reminded her that “most of the women before you have failed here.” But not Cohn. Maybe it was the void that sports started to fill when she was 10. Maybe it was the tough skin she built up skating the ice on an all-boys hockey team. Maybe it’s because she’s a true sports fan at the core, and could challenge all the top sports guru’s with her own knowledge in the field.
Whatever it was, Cohn succeeded. And standing on stage in the GSR, Cohn clearly wanted nothing less than to see the room full of hopeful’s in front of her achieve the same level of success.
Afterwards, Cohn had a few points of advice for those hopeful’s attempting to break into the world of sports media.
“Get noticed,” she said. “Use social media. Get involved in as many things as possible. Get experience. Put yourself in a position to get lucky. Constantly prove to people that you know what you’re talking about.”
And she takes her own advice on a daily basis.
“Right now, I still find joy with being at ESPN,” she said. “I make believe someone is always seeing me for the first time – even though I’ve been there for 22 years.”
It certainly wasn’t the first time sophomore Elise Austin was seeing Cohn. She is the student manager of the UNH women’s hockey team and felt a real connection to Cohn’s story.
“Sports mean a whole lot to me,” she said. “Even though I’m not playing hockey, this is definitely something I want to take into the future – so hearing her talk is really an inspiration. The things she said really applied to my life and I’m sure a lot of other girl’s lives.”
But the presentation didn’t just affect the women in the room. Peter Cumming’s has been watching Cohn on SportsCenter his whole life.
“I’ve always thought that she was awesome,” he said. “She was always my dad’s favorite – he always talked about my sister being just like her. I liked hearing about SportsCenter and how she really feels about different segments. I’m just a big fan.”
Whether male, female, there for inspiration or there for pleasure, Linda Cohn’s impact resonated throughout the audience in the GSR. Goes to show what one can do with a whole lot of passion and a refusal to fail.