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Jeannie Morris, Pioneering Sportscaster, Dies At 85

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

She was the first woman to write a sports column for a major metropolitan daily, but her byline was Mrs. Johnny Morris.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It did not take long, though, before Jeannie Morris was appreciated in her own right, moving seamlessly from newspapers to television, becoming the first woman to cover a Super Bowl live. This was back in 1975. Morris died yesterday at the age of 85.

CHANG: Jeannie Morris can lay claim to a lot of firsts. At just 5'2", she fought her way into the male-dominated world of sports journalism, all while wearing a press pass that stated, no women or children allowed in the press box.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEANNIE MORRIS: I had a memorable experience in Minnesota once. I had to sit on the top of the press box with the game camera in a blizzard.

KELLY: Then there was the time she stared down baseball legend Ted Williams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORRIS: And I said, this isn't your dugout. This dugout belongs to the Chicago White Sox, and they said I can be here.

CHANG: Before Morris would become a Chicago sportscasting legend, she helped cement the legacy of another Chicago sports legend. She wrote "Brian Piccolo: A Short Season," a book about the Bears running back who died of cancer at the age of 26, leaving behind a wife and three young daughters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORRIS: And I had no - I had never written a book, and I had no idea about publishing. But I thought, at the minimum, his little girls would know him. So even if it wasn't ever published, they could have it.

KELLY: The book was a bestseller and inspired the movie "Brian's Song."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BRIAN'S SONG")

JAMES CAAN: (As Brian Piccolo) This thing I got's bad. I know that. But, well, it's just a detour, Joy. I'm not going to let it stop me.

CHANG: Morris eventually left television, going on to produce documentaries on everything from breast cancer survivors to the politics of abortion. In 2014 came another first. Morris became the first woman to receive the Ring Lardner Award for excellence in sports journalism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORRIS: I think it's kind of sad that I'm the first (laughter). There should be more women in this business.

KELLY: Hear, hear. And no doubt partially thanks to Morris, there are more women in the business than when Mrs. Johnny Morris wrote that first sports column all those years ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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