The most powerful anecdote in the legend of Jeannie Morris was about the time she traveled to Minnesota to cover a Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game and was barred from the press box – because women and children weren’t allowed.
Undeterred, Morris covered the game in a blizzard from a seat above the box.
“That wasn’t much fun, but it makes for a good story,” she later said in a Bears video.
At a time when Title IX was helping girls and women gain more opportunities on sports fields and courts, Morris was helping to fight battles in the media as one of the most influential women sports broadcasters in Chicago history. Those fights included being barred from access at the Indianapolis 500 trials and being called “a shrimp female” while Ted Williams ordered her out of the dugout.
Earlier this week, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the Tribune unveiled a list of 50 women who have made an impact in Chicago sports history. But we wanted to acknowledge a separate group of women who have influenced Chicago sports with their words – on air, on paper and online – despite a different set of obstacles.
From Morris to Melissa Isaacson to Leila Rahimi, here are 20 women who have stood out over the years in Chicago sports media.
Christine Brennan: Chicago can claim the longtime USA Today columnist, TV commentator and Red Smith Award winner because she’s one of a long line of distinguished alumnae from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, where she is a professor of practice. She’s one of two notable USA Today women sports columnists with Chicago ties, the other Nancy Armor. Brennan was the first woman sports writer at the Miami Herald, worked at the Washington Post and has written several books.
Lisa Byington: The versatile announcer has a lot of firsts on her resume, including becoming the first woman to work as a full-time TV play-by-play announcer for a major men’s professional sports team when the Milwaukee Bucks hired her in September. She also was the Big Ten Network’s first female play-by-play announcer to call a football game. A basketball and soccer player at Northwestern, Byington is also part of the Chicago Sky broadcast crew.
Toni Ginnetti: A sports writer for 33 years at the Sun-Times, Ginnetti covered multiple professional beats, including the White Sox and the Cubs. She started her career at The Daily Herald for nine years before moving to news at the Sun-Times but frequently pitched ideas to the sports department, according to a Robert Feder story in 2014. In that story announcing her retirement, she said legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko helped push her permanent move to sports when he asked the Sun-Times managing editor, “When are you going to put her in sports?”
Margaret Holt: She became the first woman sports editor at the Chicago Tribune when she was hired from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1993. Holt stayed in the role until 1995, just part of her 50-year journalism career, which ended when she left the Tribune in January after a stint as the standards editor. A Chicago Reader story documented a well-known spat Holt had with a Tribune copy editorafter she took away the department’s TV, which editors used to monitor scores and late games. Holt didn’t want it to be a distraction. But the story also interestingly detailed Holt’s move from only results-focused game stories, an approach many sports sections and sites have made since, especially in the internet age.
Cassidy Hubbarth: The Evanston native and Northwestern graduate has been with ESPN since 2010, working as an NBA host and reporter. She is the lead host of “Hoop Streams,” ESPN’s NBA pregame show for digital and social media, and has hosted “NBA Tonight” and “NBA Coast to Coast.” She started as a traffic reporter and also worked for CSN Chicago, the Big Ten Network and Intersport. She was a state champion soccer player at Evanston. She’s far from the only female ESPN employee with ties to Chicago. Broadcasting powerhouses Andrea Kremer and Bonnie Bernstein each made career stops in Chicago with the network, while Sarah Spain, who is on this list, is from Lake Forest.
Melissa Isaacson: She was the Chicago Tribune beat reporter for the Bulls during the Michael Jordan era and also covered the Bears in her 19 years at the Tribune. She later moved to ESPN and is now a lecturer at Northwestern. Isaacson wrote a book – “State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation” – about her experiences on Niles West’s 1979 state championship basketball team in the years immediately following Title IX. She is one of many successful women sports writers at the Tribune over the years, including Bonnie (then DeSimone) Ford, who went on to work at ESPN, and Shannon Ryan, who was the 2020 Illinois Sportswriter of the Year and now works for The Athletic.
Christina Kahrl: Now the San Francisco Chronicle sports editor, the University of Chicago and Loyola alum and former longtime resident of the city was a co-founder in 1996 of Baseball Prospectus, for which she became the executive editor and a columnist. She then worked for ESPN for 10 years. She was the first openly transgender sports writer when she came out in 2002-03 and was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame for her activism for the transgender community.
Linda Kay: She was the Chicago Tribune’s first woman sports writer, co-authoring the Odds & Ins column with Skip Myslenski and then Mike Conklin. She went on to become a lifestyle columnist at the Montreal Gazette and a journalism professor at Concordia University. She died in 2018 at 66.
Peggy Kusinski: She has been a part of the Chicago sports media fabric for three decades, most notably with NBC-5 for nearly 20 years. She started at CLTV before becoming the first woman to host a Chicago sports talk show, WMAQ-AM 670’s “Sports Huddle.” She was a sports anchor and host on ESPN’s WMVP-AM 1000 and is now back on the station hosting a Saturday show with Dionne Miller. She also hosts podcasts “The Sportscaster And Her Son” and “Pass the Mic.” Kusinski is one of a long list of talented women’s TV sports anchors / reporters that also includes former CBS-2 reporter Megan Mawicke and Miller, who is on ABC-7.
Sarah Kustok: The former Sandburg and DePaul basketball player became a Blue Demons assistant coach under Doug Bruno and began her broadcasting career in Chicago with CSN Chicago, NBC-5 and FOX-32. After serving as the Brooklyn Nets sideline reporter for the YES network, she became the first woman to be named the solo color analyst for an NBA team for a regional network in 2017. She also has worked for Fox Sports and CBS ‘“We Need to Talk. ”
Jeannie Morris: During a 24-year career as a broadcaster, Morris made her mark on the Chicago sports scene despite battling sexism. She did sportscasts with her husband, former Bears wide receiver Johnny Morris, for NBC-5 and CBS-2 and co-hosted “The Mike Ditka Show” with him. Morris was the first woman to report live from the Super Bowl in 1975. She was also a writer, starting with a column in the Chicago American and continuing with the Brian Piccolo biography, “Brian Piccolo: A Short Season.” She’s not the only area woman who had access issues. A 1972 Chicago Tribune article described the removal of Lynda (Morstadt) Fillmore from the Comiskey Park press box. Morris died in December 2020.
Beth Mowins: Last season, she became the first woman in Chicago Cubs history to serve as a play-by-play announcer. She had extensive experience before that calling multiple sports, including NFL and college football games and NCAA championships in basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball.
Carrie Muscat: She covered Major League Baseball for four decades, including the Cubs for MLB.com from 2001-18. She is also an author of books about the Cubs, including “Banks to Sandberg to Grace: Five Decades of Love and Frustration with the Chicago Cubs” and “The Big 50: The Men and Moments Who Made the Chicago Cubs.”
Sharon Pannozzo: She worked for the Cubs for 24 years, including as director of media relations, holding a high-ranking position in baseball at a time when few women did. After resigning in 2006, she went on to become vice president of entertainment publicity at NBC Universal, which included working as a spokesman for “Saturday Night Live.”
Candace Parker: The only woman to make both our lists of 50 women in Chicago sports history and 20 women in Chicago sports media, Parker has made a splash as an NBA analyst for TNT and NBA TV. The Chicago Sky player and Naperville Central alumna is part of a TNT Tuesday crew that includes Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade. She also has done work as a producer, including a recent documentary: “Title IX: 37 words that changed America.”
Leila Rahimi: She is the first woman to be a full-time lead sports anchor at NBC-5. Before that, she was a full-time weekday host on WSCR-AM 670 with Dan Bernstein, one of the few women to have hosted on the station, a list that includes Julie DiCaro, Maggie Hendricks and Julie Swieca, who was a reporter and host for the station for 10 years. Rahimi still appears at the station on Wednesdays. She previously worked in Chicago at NBC Sports Chicago and covered the Olympics for NBC.
Cheryl Raye-Stout: Now a sports reporter for WBEZ-FM 91.5, Raye-Stout has been in Chicago sports radio for nearly four decades. She started at WMAQ-AM 670, producing Chet Coppock’s show and hosting “One-on-One with Cheryl Raye.” She later reported for WMVP-AM 1000, including covering the Michael Jordan-era Bulls. She had a hand in breaking two of the biggest Jordan stories – his move to baseball and his return from retirement.
Krista Ruch: She has been the executive sports producer at CBS-2 since 2003, leading all of their daily coverage as well as coverage of Chicago’s sports championships along the way. She started at WGN-9 in 1993, working her way up to supervising sports producer in 1999, becoming the first woman and youngest person at 28 to hold the top sports producer job at any Chicago TV station.
Mary Shane: She became the first woman regular play-by-play announcer for a Major League Baseball team when the White Sox hired her in 1977. Shane started her sports journalism career in Milwaukee doing freelance writing and radio, and it was while covering the Brewers at County Stadium that Harry Caray noticed her. He invited her to join him in the booth during the game that day and the next. The Sox hired her to the broadcast team next season, and she did play by play and color commentary on radio and TV.
Sarah Spain: The ESPN TV / radio / podcast host and writer is from Lake Forest, where she played basketball, field hockey and track. She went on to be a heptathlete at Cornell. Along with Malika Andrews, the ESPN NBA reporter and host whose Chicago connection is a brief career stop at the Tribune and ESPN as a Bulls writer, Spain is one of the most high-profile – and social media-savvy – Chicago-area women on the network. She is also a co-owner of the Chicago Red Stars.