Hockey Headlines

Monday, 14 November 2016

Open Up The Hall

With the induction of four more men into the Hockey Hall of Fame today, it has become glaringly apparent that there's a distinct Y-chromosome influence at the Hall of Fame. While a vast number of players from great teams of yesteryear are still trying for their inclusion into the Hall of Fame, there's an entire segment of the population that gets looked over year after year despite the inroads and efforts made by these players. If there are four Hall of Fame spots each year that seem to go to the men, perhaps it's time for the Hall of Fame to open a spot each year for a woman who has changed the way the game is played, brought millions to their feet, and who may have changed hockey for the better.

While a vast number of women's players can and should be included, I think one woman should be included in the builder's category whose induction, if it were to happen, should be unanimous. She changed the sport of hockey in a major way with her insistence that she be included, and her involvement opened the door for millions of other women who may have never had the opportunity to be involved the game of hockey. The woman I speak of is pictured above, and that woman is Robin Herman.

The life of Miss Herman is, without question, a groundbreaking and trailblazing career littered with amazing achievements. She was the first female sports reporter for The New York Times when she broke that barrier in 1973 after graduating from Princeton. She was part of the first class of women who enrolled as students at Princeton in 1969. She joined The Daily Princetonian newspaper as its only female staffer, and asked for sports reporting duties when she was assigned news reporting duties. Her encounter with the editor led to her covering men's rugby at the school, and she would later become the paper's first female sports editor and eventually a managing editor. Robin Herman graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor of Arts in English in 1973 as one of the first female graduates from the Ivy League school. In 2015, Miss Herman was named as the 17th recipient of the Mary Garber Pioneer award, Association of Women in Sports Media's highest honor, that is awarded "to a person showing distinguished work in the sports media industry and commitment to upholding and advancing the values of AWSM". Needless to say, Miss Herman's life has already changed the course of history for many women in the US and abroad.

It was what she did in 1975, however, that should put her into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder. Thanks to her work with The New York Times, Miss Herman was seen as a new and different voice in newspaper reporting when it came to sports. She and a few other women were the only people with XX-chromosomes to wander into the male-dominated world of newspaper sports reporting, and it was clear that she was in a brave, new world when it came to doing her job. Her dedication and perseverance led her to become one of the more astute and respected reporters in the hockey world, but her articles were always missing a key piece of the narrative: post-game quotations from players and coaches.

On January 21, 1975, a 23-year-old reporter stood at the doors of the NHL locker rooms at the NHL All-Star Game. Alongside her stood Marcel St. Cyr, a CBC Montreal radio reporter, who were about to make history. TV cameras focused on them, and Miss Herman insisted they were not the story. After all, the Wales Conference had just handed the Campbell Conference a 7-1 defeat on the ice of the legendary Montreal Forum. This was more than just about being the New York Islanders beat reporter.

"Immediately, reporters started asking me, 'Are you going to do it?'" Herman told Lynn Zinser of The New York Times in 2010. "I had been lobbying for this for a long time, so when the opportunity presented itself, I said I'd better do it."

The two coaches that day were Bep Guidolin of the Wales Conference and Fred Shero of the Campbell Conference, and it was Herman who went through the doors first as the first woman to gain access to what was an exclusively-men's area in professional sports locker rooms. Both coaches had maintained that access would be given to any accredited member of the media earlier that day in a scrum with reporters, and the first female member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association was granted that access. Robin Herman walked into a professional sports locker room as a female reporter for the first time in history with Marcel St. Cyr right behind her.

However, the NHL All-Star Game was a one-off event. Miss Herman wanted access like every other male member of the press to NHL locker rooms throughout the season in order to do her job. Her first advocate came from an unlikely source.

"Don Cherry was the first coach of an NHL team to allow me into the locker room as a matter of policy," Herman told Jamie Sturgeon of Global News in 2013. "He was my hero."

Cherry had began to allow Herman into the Bruins' locker room in the second-half of the 1974-75 season, long before any other team - including her own Islanders who she covered for The New York Times - but Herman had to plead with team officials and the league itself for the better part of a year to be let into other dressing rooms. Five years after she walked into an NHL All-Star Game dressing room, there were still teams who would not grant Herman or her female colleagues access to their dressing rooms. As you can imagine, filing a story when waiting for hockey players to emerge from dressing rooms in those days made her job a lot harder to do.

"I was up against a Draconian news deadline. Working for the Times I had to have my stories in by 11 p.m. or die," Herman said. "Every minute that I stood there waiting for someone to come out of the dressing room to talk to me was excruciating."

Eventually, teams began to allow Miss Herman and other female journalists access to the players in order to do their jobs just as the men were allowed. While not all teams were initially willing to make this change, it seems that certain personnel were more attune to the women's liberation movement in the 1970s. As Bob Mitchell of the Toronto Star wrote,
Herman also mentioned how former Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher agreed to let her into the Atlanta Flames dressing room if his players agreed in a vote that she had requested. Apparently, the vote was in the bag because Herman was friends with player rep Curt Bennett and he made a case to the rest of his teammates in the dressing room.

Despite several times agreeing to let females into their rooms, Herman still had trouble convincing the teams she actually covered — the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders — to allow her access. But Rangers GM John Ferguson allowed her once Emile Francis was gone.

She and Lawrie Mifflin, who covered the Rangers for the New York Daily News apparently, just asked Ferguson if they could go into the dressing room.
Robin Herman left her post at The New York Times in 1978, and it was a few years later that the NHL made it mandatory for all reporters to have access to players. While we laud her for making history, Miss Herman's efforts were about a much larger issue in terms of equality in the workplace for women.

Jane Gross was a pioneer when it came to basketball's closed-door policy while covering the New York Nets. Melissa Ludtke took Major League Baseball to court in 1978 so she could gain access to baseball clubhouses to cover the World Series. And there are examples in the NFL where a lot of ground has been broken as reported by Miss Herman in her espnW piece.
In 1975, a former Miss America, Phyllis George, was given a showcase stint on an NFL pregame show. More than 20 years after that gambit, a longtime sports journalist, the multitalented Lesley Visser, established several real beachheads for women -- the first on a Super Bowl broadcast (ABC, 1995) and "Monday Night Football" (ABC, 1998) and the only to handle the Super Bowl trophy presentation (CBS, 1992). She did provide TV anchor booth color commentary during a 2001 NFL preseason game, then she resumed the assignments for which she is best known: pregame sports shows, NCAA basketball tournaments and her high-profile and acclaimed NFL sideline work.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is about amazing achievements, historical moments, and people who broke new ground and opened new doors for generations to come. Miss Herman's work strikes all three chords, and because of what she did we have many female reporters working in and around the NHL, a myriad of female bloggers covering all facets of the game, and many more women who look up to the faces of the female media who get to cover sports. Sports are not a male-institution any longer. Miss Herman proved that in 1975 when she demanded equality so she could do the same work as the men. She is a builder by every definition as she made this game inclusive for all and inspired millions of women to follow their dreams.

There are four women who have been selected as part of the Hockey Hall of Fame - Angela James, Cammi Granato, Geraldine Heaney, and Angela Ruggiero. There are zero women in the builder category. Robin Herman changed the game of hockey in a dramatic way and, in turn, also changed how every sport treats female reporters. If she's not a builder, then I don't know what the term means. For every step that women have taken in professional sports, they are walking on a road that Robin Herman helped to pave with her tenacity, dedication, determination, and perseverance. Her blood, sweat, and tears. Every letter of every word in every article she penned and typed.

That, readers, is the definition of a Hall of Fame-caliber builder. Make it right by including her in her chosen sport's Hall of Fame.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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