Linda Cohn will anchor SportsCenter for the 5,000th time on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 8 a.m. ET, by far the most of any anchor in ESPN’s 36-year history. (News release).Today, she participated in a media conference call to discuss the milestone and her 23-year career at ESPN:
LINDA COHN: Thanks, everyone on the line. Really appreciate you taking the time. I know there’s a lot going on, obviously, but yeah, I mean, I’m really excited about this. I never thought when that number was thrown at me that that’s how many I have done, but when you think about it, I’ve been here for 23 plus years, and SportsCenter has been my top priority throughout this incredible journey here at ESPN and all the growth that I have seen within myself and those around me, and it’s just sort of made sense, and it’s one of those milestones where when you think about I’ve covered athletes for so long, all my professional career, when they talk about, not that I’m comparing myself to a professional athlete, but someone that has reached a pinnacle in their profession, you don’t think about a number or the accomplishments until it all stops. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
So ask away, and it doesn’t just have to be about the milestone, could be about anything going on.
If SportsCenter did not exist or ESPN did not exist, what would you be doing right now with your career?
LINDA COHN: Good question. I know that I can’t even hesitate. It would be something with sports. It would be because I couldn’t of course become an NHL goalie, they still haven’t allowed women to compete, and that’s okay, but I would want to get that fix from sports because it’s just part of my bloodline. It’s that roller coaster that I love being on, the ups and downs, because that’s what made me the most happy growing up, and enjoying that ride and looking, having something to look forward to. So I wanted that feeling to continue, and it’s something that I do for a living, and by the way, get paid for it. So it would probably be. I always had a backup plan, for instance, if sports broadcasting didn’t work out for me, I probably would be in PR in sports and be a public relations person for one of my favorite sports teams.
I wanted to ask you, the sports calendar can be pretty repetitive after a while year after year, so I just wondered after 23 years, how do you keep your enthusiasm? How do you keep it fresh for yourself?
LINDA COHN: I’ll tell you, the reason why I do keep it fresh is because I am a sports fan first. What I mean by that, we know what a sports fan is. I’m someone that still follows my teams religiously, so I have a fresh feeling from that, and that’s sort of like a legal drug for me, where here we are in February right now, one of the dog days of the sports calendar, and there’s always something going on, and I think it’s easier if you take the fan element out of it for me, that in this day and age with social media and everybody knowing everything about everybody, athlete, team, fan, you name it, the branches that come off of a team or a story, I mean, take what’s going on, the life of Cam Newton following the Super Bowl loss. That hasn’t ended two weeks after the Super Bowl loss, or this whole Peyton Manning thing of 20 years ago, this story from 2003. As a journalist, as a broadcaster in this field, I don’t think there’s ever a dog day anymore. There’s always something new to talk about and give a fresh spin on.
I want to take you back to SUNY Oswego and some influences you had there. Who are some influential people that set you on your way and that you still think about today?
LINDA COHN: Yeah, some of the best years of my life took place at SUNY Oswego, no question. Got me off on the right track, allowed me to explore my dreams and the passion that I had for sports, and I wrote about this in my autobiography, “Cohn Head,” when it came out in ’08, a professor of mine, Fritz Messere. Fritz was awesome because his special contribution to my growth was explaining how I lose my thick Long Island/New York accent, and maybe it’s not lost in this conference call, but when the red light goes on, it usually tones down quite a bit, and I owe it to Fritz, and what the two things he said to do so, and by the way, this works with any accent for those two choose to lose an accent, is you talk slower and you open your mouth wider when you speak, and it really seemed to sink in for me and really get instant results, and it must have, because after like years and years of doing New York sports radio and local Long Island cable TV, I was able to get the big job at KIRO TV in Seattle, Washington, which was the lift off point for ESPN hiring me, and you can’t have a thick Long Island accent in Seattle and especially nationally. But once in a while, certain words, people chime in and say, Linda, you know, that New York accent is coming on and coming in, and that’s okay, because honestly, I love the fact that I still have this accent and I don’t talk just one way, that broadcaster type voice. I don’t think I’ve ever had that kind of voice, but I’m not defined by what I do when the red light is on, and I still keep my roots, which is, I guess, speaking like someone who grew up in Long Island.
You’ve done so many shows, but is it a little extra special when you get to do it with a fellow Oswego alum Steve Levy?
LINDA COHN: It’s really amazing. When Steve and I … we haven’t done shows lately because we work on opposite ends of the calendar, he’s at night, I’m in the morning. But we’ve done so many shows together, and we look at each other, and it’s amazing that when we were that – let’s just say when we were sitting in that auditorium in freshman orientation, and anyone can relate to this when they’re going to college and especially going away to college, and you see all those great videos and they put nice music behind it and all that, you never would have guessed, both Steve and I, that we would be not only at the worldwide leader, but both of us there for such a long amount of time, and both of us so associated with ESPN. So it’s really a fabulous thing when I look back on everything. That’s going to be one of the great things that I was a SUNY Oswego graduate, and I just went there for the sunsets and play hockey.
Linda, you’ve talked about this a couple of times, but how did you find out that you were the all time leader in SportsCenter anchoring?
LINDA COHN: Well, once in a while, one of my greatest bosses of all time here, a guy by the name of Norby Williamson, I think he’s been in a few “This is SportsCenter” commercials, as well, and we were just talking about stuff, and then he turned to me, and by stuff I just mean what’s going on in sports and how things are going, kind of just having laughs, and then he turned to me, and he said, you know what, Linda? He might have called me L Co, but he said, I think you’ve done the most SportsCenters here ever, and he sat there with a – he took out a pen and paper, the old fashioned way, and he’s like, how many years have you been here, and I’m like, 23 and a half, and he’s like, okay, let’s figure this all out. We’ll think about your vacation, and he starts doing the math in front of me to get a rough idea, and that’s how he got the number 5,000, and we just sort of looked at my schedule, and this happened a few months ago when he was doing this, and I’m sitting across from him, and he’s got the pad and paper, and he looked at my schedule, and he’s like, you know what, your 5,000th is going to be on this day, Sunday the 21st, and there it is. History was born.
It’s been said to me by women on TV that the greatest sin you can have as a woman is to age, and I would like to ask you the fairness and unfairness of that as you’ve dealt with that through the years, and also what you’ve done physically, emotionally, any which way to stay so vibrant and to combat that I guess is the way I’d put it?
LINDA COHN: Yeah, you know what, just that statement that you heard from women in the business, when I heard that statement that you just said about it’s a sin in aging? I’m like, wow, that’s so negative. So once you start thinking negatively and think the end is near, you’ve already lost the battle, and so I’ve never had that situation. When I felt early on in my career, I’m 56 now, I don’t hide my age, it’s out there, just go online and find it, but probably when I turned 40 I made a big decision where I decided to really be concerned about what I put in my body and how much I work out, but the nutrition aspect to me turned everything around, because I play hockey, and you know, and I’m always active, not obsessively active, but it was the nutrition that changed everything. I went gluten and dairy free, I became – the foods I ate were more alkaline, and now everyone is talking about that alkaline, alkaline, alkaline, but back then people didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, but the 15 year heads up basically, because it happens over time, it really helped me stay vibrant emotionally, physically, mentally, and there’s nothing else really that I can attribute it to because I sometimes say to myself, women always will look for the negatives. I’ll still look in the mirror and say, oh, I can see this line, I can see this line, but then I always look big picture and say, wow, I know I don’t look my age, and all that hard work and sacrifice has paid off. But I just came back from a four day vacation in Miami, and trust me, I wasn’t alkaline on that trip. The point is you still have to live, but you have to pick your spots. I just got rid of all the negativity and didn’t look. It sounds cliché, but that’s the problem with a lot of women and men. They just think they hit a certain age that they’re supposed to have a big tummy and the core is going to go and all this is supposed to happen. Well, guess what, it’s not supposed to happen, and on my website, LindaCohn.net, I really, really kind of detail that with the whole alkaline and this great product that I use, this 7.2. But this is what’s significant to me, and I love proving them wrong. I think it’s like great. I get a kick out of someone that says, wow, you’re 56, wow, that’s amazing, because all that hard work paying off, and I’m on television, and I’m still more than relevant, I’m better than ever on television. I’m more alert, I’m better at what I do, I’m more confident, all of the above. You know, and I’m not ready to stop. It’s good to talk positively. It’s not being cocky, it’s putting out there positive reminders that the hard work pays off, and next time a woman says that to you when you interview any women in the business, you must tell them what I say, to not put out that negative vibe and start thinking positive about their age, whatever their age is.
For Sunday’s milestone SportsCenter, are there any special surprises planned, like is Cal Ripken going to walk onto the set?
LINDA COHN: Well, here’s the thing, if there are special surprises I’m not supposed to know. It’s supposed to surprise me. So I have no idea. I’m braced for anything. I’ve been surprised when I’ve hosted SportsCenter before. I think one time there was a time where it must have been I was working, I think I was working Christmas Eve or some holiday or something like five years ago, and they had Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers call me out of the blue, and it was just crazy. I think it was after a big game on a holiday where everybody was complaining why are we working, and then they arranged for Derek Stepan to call me. Who knows what’s going to happen, but I’m just excited for this opportunity. Whatever it is, it is, and I will do my best to be ready for it, but surprises usually make me laugh out loud, so just for that, people should tune in.
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