When it comes to females who blazed a trail in the male-dominated world of sports journalism, the name Jeannie Morris rarely gets mentioned. It should be mentioned often.
Morris died Monday at the age of 85. More than 45 years ago, she became the first woman to report live from a Super Bowl.
“Well, they had me talk to the wives,” she’d later joke, via her obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times. She also interviewed Art Rooney Sr. in advance of Super Bowl IX.
On the reality that he paid $2,500 for his franchise, Rooney told Morris during the interview, “I think that had I kind of dickered with them I could have gotten it a little less.” He also explained to Morris that the hardest thing for him was to tell a coach he had to make a change, something the Steelers have down only twice since 1969.
“It was nice to break the ice and have other women have the opportunities that they certainly earned,” Morris said regarding her reporting from Super Bowl IX.
She served as a sports reporter with WMAQ-TV and WBBM-TV in Chicago. While covering the White Sox and reporting from the dugout of the visiting Texas Rangers, manager Ted Williams told her that he didn’t want her there.
“‘This is my dugout, get outta here, no women in my dugout,’” Morris recalled Ted Williams saying. “I said, ‘This isn’t your dugout. This dugout belongs to the Chicago White Sox, and they said I can be here, OK?'”
In the early 1970s, she wrote a book on Brian Piccolo, the Bears player who died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 26.
Jeannie Morris, photographed with Hall of Famers Franco Harris, Walter Payton, and Jim Brown, had entered the business through her former husband, Bears player Johnny Morris.
“Someone from the Chicago American asked him if he could write a newspaper column on football,” Jeannie Morris once told the Chicago Tribune. “He said, ‘I can’t, but my wife can.'”
Her column, debuting in 1969, was called Football is a Women’s Game. Her career launched from there, and it endured for decades.
“Jeannie welcomed me to the Bear family when I first met her my rookie year and she was always so nice to Stephanie and I,” former Bears linebacker and Washington coach Ron Rivera said via text message. “Such a true professional at her job as well. She will be missed.”
“It was the middle ’80s, long before women were given reign of the NFL locker room but Jeannie Morris was an icon that not only gave the ‘other side of pro football’ to the viewer, I believe she was instrumental in humanizing the game enough to where a huge new audience of women took notice and started truly loving the NFL,” Bears Hall of Fame defensive end Dan Hampton said via text message. “She had no peer on earth and now in heaven.”
Days before her passing, Jeannie Morris had a request: That any donations in her memory go to the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.
“There’s so many women now doing what Jeannie did, and she was the first,” Peggy Kusinski, a former WMAQ-TV sportscaster, told the Sun-Times. “All it takes is one for one little girl to know it’s possible.”
We extend our condolences to Jeannie’s family, friends, and colleagues.