By Grace Raynor
Orlando, Fla. — Jodi Hebert wasn’t quite a teenager yet when she made the scrapbook.
She didn’t realize whose byline was at the top of each story, didn’t know any of the routine writers personally. All Hebert knew was that someone, somewhere was writing stories about her beloved Philadelphia Phillies in the 1990s, and that it had become routine to cut out the articles and put them in her scrapbook.
That someone was Nancy Cooney, now a coordinating producer at ESPN and one of four women to found the Association for Women in Sports Media. She and fellow co-founder Susan Fornoff were honored Saturday night in Orlando as the 2014 winners of the Mary Garber Pioneer Award, its highest honor.
Cooney worked at the Sacramento Bee, spent 17 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and has been at ESPN for the past seven. Fornoff, often remembered for receiving a live rat from Athletics designated hitter Dave Kingman, covered Oakland for the Bee in the ’80s and is now a golf writer. Her book, Lady in the Locker Room, is expected to be made into a film.
“I had certainly not considered sports as a profession, but (then) I met Jim Dawson, who was the sports editor at The Sacramento Bee,” Cooney said. “He hired three of the four women who started AWSM … and there was no diversity panel telling him to do so.”
Through their experiences, Cooney and Fornoff have laid the foundation for women who are following them into male locker rooms as sports journalists.
When they began their careers, it was uncommon for a female to be in sports reporting, and often times they would have to hear the chatter behind their backs, having to listen to people say that they were outliers and didn’t belong.
When someone asked Fornoff if her book deserved to be made into a movie and proclaimed that contrary to popular belief, she actually had it easy in the locker room, Fornoff began to reflect on the career that tested her patience, time and time again.
“I thought about how many times I was the only woman in the locker room. How many times I was the first woman in the locker room. How many times I was the only woman in the media room in a conference. And on a bus. And on a plane,” Fornoff said. “And then I thought about what you all are thinking and what we’ve seen. That 90 percent of the departments are still men.”
Fornoff was introduced by two students from the University of Maryland who are direct products of all of the hard work — and all of the pioneering — she has done.
Fornoff attended Maryland, and because she helped found AWSM, women just like her at her alma mater feel inspired to pursue a career in sports journalism.
Cooney was introduced by Hebert — the same woman who had no idea who Cooney was more than 20 years ago when she made the scrapbook, and the same little girl who also works at ESPN and is a member of AWSM.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Hebert said. “Nancy, you’re what I want to be when I grow up.”
Past Mary Garber Pioneer Award recipients include:
1999: Lesley Visser
2000: Claire Smith
2001: Michele Himmelberg
2002: Tracy Dodds
2003: Melissa Ludtke
2004: Christine Brennan
2005: Cathy Henkel
2006: Kristin Huckshorn
2007: Julie Ward
2008: Mary Schmitt Boyer
2009: Linda Robertson
2010: Julie Cart
2011: Rosa Gatti
2012: Sandy Rosenbush
2013: Lisa Olson
2014: Nancy Cooney and Susan Fornoff