| Home | Interview: Linda Cohn, anchor, ESPN SportsCenter -- May 2001
September 18, 2014

Linda Cohn is an anchor for ESPN's SportsCenter, where she has worked since July 1992. She began her career in 1981, as a news anchor and sports reporter for WALK-AM/FM in Patchogue, New York. Before ESPN, she covered the Olympics for ABC Radio in Seoul, Korea, and worked at KIRO-TV in Seattle as a weekend sports anchor/reporter. An avid hockey fan, she played eight games on the boys' hockey team in high school. She once ranked the New York Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup victory "right up there with getting married and childbirth." She received her bachelor of arts degree in communications from SUNY at Oswego.

Linda Cohn on the set of ESPN SportsCenter. How did you break into sports reporting?

Linda Cohn: I always loved sports, first off. It has always been a passion of mine. Basically I volunteered. My first job was doing news at a radio station on Long Island right after college and people would always say to me, "My goodness, when you get to the sports in your news report you just totally perk up and you're like so informative and you know what the heck you're taking about." So I volunteered to cover the New York Islander hockey games because at that time the Islanders were very good and the radio station I was working for covered Islander games. So I basically volunteered to go out there, brought a little tape recorder and put myself in position to show off what I know and also to have other people see me. It's kind of like putting yourself into a situtation to get a break and that's what I did. Sports directors at other radio stations saw me and I got a job at a New York City radio station doing sports and then I got a cable TV job at a local Long Island station. Then I made a tape of me doing a sportscast and sent that out and finally a year later got a job at KIRO-TV, a CBS affiliate in Seattle. That's where ESPN spotted me, and I've been at ESPN for almost nine years. Did growing up in a big sports area like Long Island have an effect on you being interested in sports?

Linda Cohn: No. But I do believe environment has a lot to do with whether you're a sports fan. But I don't think it has to do with where you live. I think it has to do with the household you live in. My father is a huge sports fan, and that's why I became a sports fan. My husband grew up on Long Island. He's not a sports fan. His parents are not sports fans. He did not grow up in that kind of fanatical situtation that I did. When you started at ESPN there weren't that many women in the business. Is it easier for women sports reporters today?

Linda Cohn: Here's the deal on that: it's simple, quantity doesn't mean there's quality. There could be more opportunities because other women and myself have been pioneers and set precedents and such, but it still comes down to this: If those women are not good at what they do, they shouldn't be on TV or on the radio and should not get a job. It gives us all a bad name. This is something I'm really kind of strong about. There's a lot of women out there who may be qualified who haven't had an opportunity. On the other hand there are a lot of women who some how have sports jobs and they only got a sports job because the job they really wanted at the Weather Channel was not open. Do you think there's more emphasis on looks?

Linda Cohn: That's part of it. It's totally more a part of it for women than it is for men -- always has been, always will. But that's cool. What's kind of cool in that respect is that I think you can have it all. My fans range from young men, like 18 years old, to eight-year-old girls to 55-year-old men to women who are like 28 and love sports. I think women who are hired just for looks, they become exposed and their time of employment usually doesn't last that long. Were there any sports broadcasters you modeled yourself after? Who was your role model?

Linda Cohn: I never really had a role model as a sports reporter, but what I did try to do is take a little something from ones that I did admire. Since I grew up in New York, there were the Marv Alberts and a guy named Len Berman, who just sort of talked to you when he did sports. He just talked to you, not scream at you, not do stupid phrases, talked to you like you're buddies and neighbors. And that's what I got from that. I always tell people I try to take something -- if I see something I like in other people -- and kind of store that away and model yourself after that. There's not going to be one perfect person. There was never something like, "Oh, I want to be like that person." What's changed most in the business since you started anchoring at ESPN in 1992?

Linda Cohn: The need for information. The need to wow them. The need to entertain and inform has always been there. But the need to just, "Whoa, I didn't know that." Two things great about ESPN: Hard core sports fans know to come here to be wowed. And that's something we all pride ourselves on. Another thing we pride ourselves on -- which is why the network has boomed -- is, we write our own stuff as SportsCenter anchors. Our personalities are allowed to come out that way. We're not like reading somebody else's stuff. There aren't writers here. People love that our personalities come out and that we're real people. We're not like heads reading prompters. I mean we read prompters, but those are our words that we're reading. And when you watch, you're not just watching one thing anymore. Underneath the bottom of it is information, the stats, to the right of the screen is this, up at the top is this. I think what has exploded is how many ways can you give the viewer information. And also the changes with the Internet, ESPN The Magazine, it's not just about SportsCenter, it's got all these other things that can be done that has this rippling effect regarding the network. I know you covered a couple of Olympics for ABC Radio. Working in TV is exciting, but is radio more fun?

Linda Cohn: The great thing about radio is it's so just off the cuff. You can totally, always ad-lib. We try to get our little ad-libs on TV, but in radio you're just kind of speaking what's on your mind and it's ok. It's kind of cool to have the freedom to do that. I love that about radio. Just pick a topic and go off on it. I just had this event here tonight and this guy who works for the Tennesee Titans comes up to me and goes, "Linda, I'll never forgot when you were filling in for the Fabulous Sports Babe. It was right after they didn't sign Mark Messier of the New York Rangers and you went off on a rampage for about a half an hour. It was the greatest piece of radio I ever heard." Do you think women's professional sports are here for the long haul? Why will they succeed or fail?

Linda Cohn: I don't think it's that black and white -- succeed or fail. In such a short time they have made tremendous progress. Women's basketball, especially the NCAA tournament, has made tremendous progress in such a short time. They can't even begin to compare it to the men's because they haven't been around as long. Its TV exposure has been just in its infant stage. So I think the key is getting exposed, getting the product on TV, and also getting good backing of money. The WNBA is helped out because it's the NBA's little baby, so they're not going to let that die. That's why the LPGA is kind of floundering at times because it has no connection to the PGA, and they're on their own, like a little island. And why would the PGA want to help the LPGA? Soccer is a weird situation. The young women who wowed us with the World Cup and turned on so many little girls for soccer and now have this professional sports league. I just don't know if the little girls are watching this on TV and going to these games. But again, I think you have to give it time. It can't happen overnight. Now the little darlings -- the Mia Hamms, the Julie Foutys -- they're competing against each other, not against another country. I'm amazed and hopefully it continues that women make progress. The entire team salary for the Minnesota Twins is just about equal to the $252 million contract Alex Rodriguez signed to play with the Texas Rangers. Do you think professional athletes are overpaid?

Linda Cohn: No. I can't say that staggering figure that A-Rod got going in and what was on paper, you really thought he could make money for that franchise. Besides the Minnesota Twins incredible success this year, I think what's gone on with the Texas Rangers is the most unbelievable sports story. With A-Rod, money doesn't buy happiness. We're seeing that. I think you can make the case that athletes are overpaid, and I think you can make the case that they're not overpaid. I think it's just the way you spin things. Yeah of course, teachers should be making the most money in our world but that's never going to happen. In the meantime, athletes are entertainers, and they're making some money. Do you think it's out of control between the owners and the athletes as far as just greed?

Linda Cohn: At times it goes there in that spot where they are out of control. Then we have labor strikes and the fans are hurt by that. But I think we've become so desensitized to that, that we just sort of let them fight it out all the time. It's a business. It's unfortunate that we always have to pinch ourselves as fans, remind ourselves it's a business and we're so preoccupied, and we love the game so much we forget. Some professional sports teams complain they cannot pay the big bucks for star players because they are not in a major market. Consequently, they have a losing record almost every year. Should there be a salary cap based on market size?

Linda Cohn: It's hard to make that case now, with the Minnesota Twins doing so well. Last year the Oakland A's did well. We really have to see how the season plays out and everything. It's probably too long to answer and too complicated, but it's something that should be looked into every year and kept a close watch on to make sure there isn't a dramatic differential. In football you don't see it. You've got the [salary] cap. You see the parity. Going into this coming year, we don't know who is going to win the Super Bowl. That's kind of cool. Professional athletes are often portrayed as role models for our youth. Is this a fair label, and should they be asked to conduct themselves in a way that is acceptable to others?

Linda Cohn: For every youngster, their parent should be their first role model. There is nothing wrong with idolizing an athlete, but let it be known and reminded that -- and I do this for my kids -- you can idolize an athlete all you want, but you have to remind them they are not supermen, that they are human beings, and human beings do make mistakes and they're not perfect. I have no problem with kids idolizing athletes. Sports officials seem to be taking the heat lately for questionable calls. Take the Duke-Arizona NCAA championship basketball game. Has the quality of officiating declined in the past 20 years?

Linda Cohn: I think because of TV we've been able to show their inadequacies. That's why it appears it's declined. We just didn't notice it as much 10 years ago. Now we replay everything a zillion times, thus, it looks like they're awful... Yeah, they made some mistakes in that NCAA tournament involving Duke, and especially that Maryland game. I don't think I'd want to be a referee or umpire. Commercials for ESPN make it seem like a great place to work. What's it like?

Linda Cohn: It's like a college campus here. We know what each other is doing; we all get along and stuff. It's definitely fun. I mean without the mascots roaming around it's fun. It's like stand-up comedy -- we crack jokes and have fun. A lot of times things that happen here we think it should be a commercial. I know you're a big hockey fan. Who is your pick to win the Stanley Cup?

Linda Cohn: I hate rooting for the New Jersey Devils. I hate admitting that they might win. I'm going to go with the Colorado Avalanche. I really love the way Patrick Roy is playing. I think he's really focused on winning the Stanley Cup. He's playing so great in the net. All I think you really need is the goaltender and I think he can outplay goalie Martin Brodeur [of the Devils].

Copyright © 2001, Inc. All rights reserved.

Other interviews:
  • Sol Levine, former producer, CNN -- April 2001
  • Charlie LeDuff, reporter, New York Times -- March 2001
  • Pierre Thomas, correspondent, ABC News -- March 2001
  • Gene Roberts, former managing editor, New York Times -- February 2001
  • Sydnie Kohara, anchor, -- January 2001
  • Lowell Bergman, former producer, 60 Minutes -- January 2001
  • Joie Chen, anchor, CNN -- December 2000
  • David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, -- November 2000
  • Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
  • Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
  • Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss, reporter, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000