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Originally published Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Former Seattle broadcaster Linda Cohn looks back at career in sports

Former Seattle sportscaster Linda Cohn returns to city to pitch new book.

Seattle Times staff reporter

As Alaska governor Sarah Palin makes "hockey moms" a demographic, ESPN sportscaster Linda Cohn made a distinction about her connection to the sport.

"Good for her, carpooling and all that, but I actually played," Cohn told about 20 people at Elliott Bay Book Co. on Monday. "But it is interesting how sports are playing such a role for our future women leaders."

A pioneer in that effort, Cohn, 48, made her first trip back to Seattle since calling a first-round Storm playoff game for the sports conglomerate in 2006. She's pitching her autobiography, "Cohn-Head: A No-Holds-Barred Account of Breaking Into the Boys' Club." She showed off her Rangers ring tone and related to the audience with cracks about the Oklahoma Thunder and Seahawks being "ripped off" in the Super Bowl.

Afterward Cohn reminisced with some former KIRO-TV colleagues: anchor Steve Raible, cameraman Aaron Stadler and producer Gail Neubert.

"Seattle was a turning point for me because I was able to step off that treadmill and have the best of both worlds — starting to have children and slow everything down," said Cohn, who worked 1989-92 for KIRO. "I realized there was more to climbing every mountain. Before, I was not about stopping and smelling the roses. Honestly. I don't think I would be the same person if I didn't have those close to three years that I spent in Seattle."

While working in Seattle, Cohn learned about the passion of college football, covering Washington's 1991 championship, and she developed professional relationships with athletes Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. She did take some lumps, stumbling over high school names and working to establish a rapport with viewers who preferred weekend anchor John Procaccino.

Cohn spent about two years writing the book; she chose a conversational style she felt would relate to her fans and those curious about the life of a female sportscaster.

ESPN is known for diving into stories, breaking news on everything from athletes' drug addictions to the network's in-house sexual harassment cases. But Cohn's book doesn't have the same journalistic quality. At times she changed names "to protect the innocent."

In writing about one incident that female sports reporters can relate to — being berated by players for being in the locker room — Cohn chose to omit the name of the now-deceased Seattle pro athlete who verbally attacked her.

The player she calls Mike was a friend before "screaming at [her] at the top of his lungs" for being in the locker room postgame; he assumed she was only there to make advances on the players. Years after the tirade, he apologized through a mutual friend and then in a letter, asking Cohn to call him. She hesitated, wondering if his candidacy for public office was the reason he wanted to make amends. Just as Cohn was about to call, she learned "he died tragically in an accident."

Cohn, when asked, would not divulge who "Mike" was.

In contrast, Cohn, an avid hockey fan from Long Island, N.Y., who used sports to overcome a troubled childhood, writes revealingly about her personal life. She writes about her marriage to Stew Kaufman that ended in divorce.

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"I thought I loved Stew and I said 'I love you' to him frequently," Cohn wrote. "I had to admit that, emotionally, I was always holding a little bit back. I was afraid to give everything I had, because I wasn't sure it would come back to me."

Cohn has stopped hosting "SportsCenter" to spend more time with her family, but her demanding career still puts a damper on holidays and evenings.

Cohn said the locker-room harassment was one of the hardest issues to tackle.

"That was a difficult part to write just because I didn't think it was necessary to release the identity of the player, especially with how it turned out and how it was a wake-up call in my young career," Cohn said. "I wanted to do it delicately, but I still wanted to get the message out."

Cohn's overriding message is that women who are knowledgeable about sports can succeed despite it being an industry dominated by men.

When Cohn speaks with women throughout the country, she said she's amazed at how many more women are entering the field who have the brains and ambition to reach the highest levels. But Cohn also has noted the trend of hiring young, model-esque female sportscasters.

"You still have to know your stuff because sports fans can pick out a phony," Cohn said. "Some women are being hired for their looks and, 'Oh, by the way, they know sports.' The ones I've seen, I think they do a good job. ... People never thought that I, this 40-something woman, would have a major role at any TV network. I hope that I'm proving that stereotype wrong and that there's room for everybody."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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