It’s fitting that Robin Herman, the first female sports journalist to enter a men’s pro locker room for a post-game interview, has been named AWSM’s Mary Garber Pioneer Award winner for 2015.
Herman is set to receive the award at AWSM’s annual convention, May 23-26 in Denver, 40 years after a chaotic night at the 1975 NHL All-Star Game where she made national headlines as a beat reporter for The New York Times.
Herman began her pioneering ways when she entered Princeton University in 1969 in the first class of women admitted to the 200-year-old institution. There she joined The Daily Princetonian newspaper, its only female staffer, and when she was assigned a news beat but not a sports beat as others were, she confronted the sports editor.
“It was a matter of equity,” she said. “Why should I do half the work of everybody else?”
She started out covering men’s rugby and went on to become the paper’s first female sports editor and later a managing editor.
On graduation in 1973 she was hired by The New York Times as the first woman on its sports staff at a time when most major newspapers had no women in their sports departments. An NHL beat reporter, she entered the All-Star Game locker room in 1975, followed closely by Canadian radio reporter Marcel St. Cyr, making history and controversy against the background of the women’s liberation movement.
“Breaking the locker room barrier” was seen as a symbolic assault on traditional male privilege and power. As the only female member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the time, Herman stared down intimidation and eventually pried open the locker rooms of all but four NHL teams before leaving sports for political coverage in 1979.
Having earned both fame and notoriety, her name showed up on the game board as an “answer” in a subsequent episode of “Jeopardy”.
She eventually transitioned to writing health and science for the Washington Post and wrote a history of science book “Fusion: The Search for Endless Energy.” (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
“It’s a cult favorite among nuclear physicists,” she said with a laugh. “It’s in a lot of libraries.”
A move to academia came in 1999. She served as an assistant dean at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, establishing its first office of communications and a state-of-the-art webcasting facility and Forum series. She retired from Harvard in 2012.
Still, being named winner of the Pioneer award caught her by surprise.
“I was nonplussed, then I got all choked up, then I was overwhelmed,” Herman said by phone from her Boston-area home. “Even though I know factually, I am a pioneer, it’s quite special to be recognized for it and from an organization that is so special and that I have so much respect for — my fellow women sports journalists.”
Herman is the 17th winner of the Pioneer award, AWSM’s highest honor. It goes to a person showing distinguished work in the sports media industry and commitment to upholding and advancing the values of AWSM.
“AWSM is very excited and proud to be able to honor Robin with the Pioneer Award,” AWSM President Jennifer Overman said. “She has been a pioneer throughout her career, no matter what she has tackled, and is very deserving of our most prestigious honor. On behalf of all of us at AWSM, we congratulate Robin.”
Herman’s five-year career as a sportswriter may have ended half a lifetime ago, but for her, sports and journalism have been lifelong touchstones.
She writes about women’s issues, including sports, on her website, www.girlinthelockerroom.com, created a decade ago when few public blog platforms existed. She has written guest columns for espnW.com and attended AWSM conventions.
She said the idea for her blog was sparked when George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004.
“I felt that women’s rights and integrity were being undermined by the Bush administration and that younger women did not realize that their standing in society was being eroded,” Herman said. “I wanted to voice a warning that they need to pay attention. I thought my experience as the ‘girl in the locker room’ was shorthand for the barriers we had to break and the case we had to make that we deserved equal opportunity and treatment in the spheres of employment and other rights.”
Nowadays Herman has begun a third career and works as a professional artist, specializing in watercolor and pastel. Her paintings can be seen at www.robinhermancreative.com
A photo that ran on AWSM’s website recently shows her flanked by up-and-coming female sports journalists at a past AWSM convention.
“I love that photo,” she said. “It was a camaraderie I didn’t get to have when I was a sportswriter.”
Forty years after she took her symbolic steps, Herman will have lots of company when being named a pioneer.