|Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland Browns Beat Reporter|
“Every single day, I’m grateful for the fact that I’m getting the privilege of doing a job that is a 100 percent, a dream-job for some people.”
This is the mantra Cabot has clung to through the obstacles she says she’s faced over the years as one of the earliest women to cover professional sports in the Cleveland area. She’s been a beat reporter for the Cleveland Browns for over 20 years.
Cabot grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, Ohio and went on to study journalism at Kent State University. She says getting into sports wasn’t her initial plan. She did an internship with the Cleveland Plain Dealer between her junior and senior years.
“The internship was in the sports department, which was kind of out of the blue,” Cabot said. “But I was really excited about it because it was something I wanted to try.”
The PD ended up hiring her back right after college where Cabot would climb the ladder. She says that ladder wasn’t always easy.
In the beginning of her sports writing career, Cabot says there were a lot of doors she had to kick down- almost literally. She recalls a time when she went to cover a Bengals, Redskins game in Washington. They wouldn’t let her in the locker room.
“I had deadline looming, and you know my paper was expecting to be in there,” Cabot said. “Even though the policy was that I was allowed to be in there, they wouldn’t let me. That was a time I literally had to barge through a door that was closed to me.”
And then she had to deal with push-back getting to the players she needed to interview. There were many more experiences like this one, Cabot says she had to overcome early on. She says that, back then, some of her colleagues were OK with her covering football and getting in the locker rooms, but others were not. Same with the players.
When she first started, Cabot says she was fortunate enough to have another woman with whom she could help battle sexism through the field: Marla Ridenour. Ridenour had been covering the Browns for five years with other area newspapers like The Dayton Daily and The Columbus Dispatch when Cabot joined with The Plain Dealer.
“It was nice to have someone else who understood what you were going through,” Cabot said. “Because it was a real trailblazing thing for both of us way back then.”
Cabot says today she hardly experiences the tough times she did a decade and more ago. She attributes a great deal of the progress to efforts made by the Association of Women and Sports Media. AWSM is a nonprofit organization that was created in 1987 as a support network and advocacy group for women who work in sports.
“It’s a tremendous organization,” Cabot said. Because of its efforts, “you really don’t have to beat your head up against a wall like you used to have to back in the day.”
One thing Cabot says she always did to help herself early on – and still does - is make sure she knows as much as possible about football. She describes learning the sport as something that has been ongoing. She says she watches a lot, including Browns film, and reads a lot to stay in the know.
“I did do a lot of extra stuff, because people are always kinda on the lookout,” Cabot said. “Or want to watch you fail. So you just have to make sure that you know exactly what you are talking about or you are gonna get called out on it.”
Cabot says people can be very judgmental, especially when a woman is covering a “man’s” sport. But many of those harsh voices are limited to social media.
“They’re what I call a ‘vocal minority,’ ya know people who can hide behind an anonymous Twitter account,” said Cabot. “The way I deal with that now, is ignore it all.”
Cabot says there’s so much more to the job that keeps her going. She’s covered Super Bowls, the Olympics, and enjoys the fact that her summer job involves being at Browns training camp every day. She looks at how far she’s come in the industry and the reward it’s been, obstacles and all.
“I can honestly say now that we brought down a lot of barriers,” Cabot said. “We worked our tails off to basically help this next generation of female reporters not have it so hard.”
Gab: Have you always been the only female to cover a Brown's beat? I've just noticed, I know now, with the Northeast Ohio Media group online, I know you're the only woman.
Mary Kay: You know what, ya for the most part ya. But throughout the times that I was covering the Brown’s, there was another lady who had been covering them longer than me and she was covering it for different newspapers in Ohio than me, like the Dayton Daily and the Columbus Dispatch. Her name is Marla Ridenhouer, and she still works for Akron Beacon Journal as a columnist. But she was covering the Brown’s probably about 4 or 5 years before I did, so it was nice to have someone else who understood what you were going through. Because it was a real trailblazing thing for both of us way back then. You know there was a lot of battles that you had to fight and doors you had to kick open- literally. I can honestly say now that the people who did that ya know we brought down a lot of barriers and worked our tails off to basically help this next generation of female reporters not have it so hard.
Gab: What were some of those initial challenges you had to overcome?
Mary Kay: Oh, you know you’d go to cover a game and I once had to cover a Bengals, Red-Skins game in Washington and they wouldn’t let me in the locker room. I had deadline looming, and you know my paper was expecting to be in there. Even though the policy was that I was allowed to be in there, they wouldn’t let me. And so that was a time I literally had to barge through a door that was closed to me. And you know, some of my male colleagues were on board with it and some were not back then. There were some that had a problem with it. There were some players who were fine with it, and there were other players who had huge problems with women being in the locker room. So we had to ya know, fight all those battles in addition to getting the job done effectively.
Gab: Do you fight any of those battles still today? How's that transition over the last ten years been?
Mary Kay: Not so much, not really. Through the Association of Women and Sports Media which is a tremendous organization that fights for the rights of female reporters and journalists and just from all the things that all of us old timer’s had to go through, you really don’t have to beat your head up against a wall like you used to have to back in the day.
Gab: So are you involved in it (AWSM) or has it just influenced you?
Mary Kay: I haven’t been as involved in it as I should but early on I did go to some conventions and things that they had but then I got really busy with my job. I also have three children.
Gab: That’s a full time job in itself! Moving back more a little towards the Brown’s part, how did you um get so involved in football, being a sport that’s kind of hard to cover since we don’t really play it?
Mary Kay: Well I started covering college football to start off and then I don’t know it was just sort of a natural transition after that and it was just something I felt really comfortable with and I liked a lot and I don’t I think they were pretty set on some of their other beats like baseball and it was something I was just really interested in.
Gab: Did you have to learn more about the sport as you went a long? Was it hard at first?
Mary Kay: Yes, and that’s ongoing. And that’s one thing I always wanted to make sure was that I always knew what I was talking about and id watched a lot of things, read a lot of things. I actually at certain points was invited to watch the film with former Brown’s head coach, Bill Belichick, and a reporter who was a good friend of his. I would go watch film with them sometimes on Mondays after the game, and I learned a lot from doing that. I did do a lot of extra stuff, because people are always kinda on the lookout or who want to watch you fail, so you just have to make sure that you knew exactly what you were talking about or you were gonna get called out on it.
Gab: How have you dealt with that criticism, especially when people may be, uh, hyper-conscious of a woman covering a man’s sport?
Mary Key: Well, over the years, it wasn’t too bad, but the criticism wasn’t something that you were necessarily aware of. But now of course, with social media and you’ve got all the people on twitter and the comments on the stories and stuff like that, but I will honestly say, I don’t read the comments and I usually don’t look at my mentions on twitter, because you know there is a lot of prejudice out there. There really are a lot of people who are still unwilling to accept a female in this role. So unfortunately, even though I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, you still run into that. So the way that I deal with that now, is I ignore most of it. It’s not gonna do you any good to read that stuff or listen to it. They’re what I call a “vocal minority,” ya know people who can hide behind an anonymous Twitter account. But you know the people that I meet out on the street and the fans and the people at games and training camp are overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly supportive. So I really ignore the anonymous criticism on social media.
Gab: I know how you go through some of those hard times, what has been the most rewarding part, what has kept you going for the last 20 years?
Mary Kay: You know what, every single day, I’m grateful for the fact that I’m getting the privilege and honor of doing a job, that, is a 100 percent, dream-job for some people. And I do realize that, and I don’t take it for granted. Ya know I’ve been to super bowls, I’ve been to Olympics, ya know I go to Brown’s practice every day in the summer for my job ya know. And you know, just the travel is amaxing, and the people that you meet. You know just the relationships that you build with people over the years, with your colleagues, in some cases with players, ya know ive had some players who I might not have gotten along with at the time that they were playing for the Brown’s then they’d leave and come back and they’re so happy to see me, and they wish that I’d stay in touch with them- ya know you build through the war of a season with everyone ya know this whole unbelievable thing that happens over the season. Theres so many great things about it. And ya know,now- I minored in telecommunications is what they called it back then, which is on-camera stuff. So now I get to do all that. I do a lot of television, I do a lot of radio, do internet chats and all those things. Now I do a little bit of everything, which is what makes the job so great! It has evolved over the years. And it’s evolved into things that I really love to do. It’s always new, and fresh and different and exciting, and it never gets old.
Gab: What’s your favorite part of the multi-platform duties, do you like on camera the best?
Mary Kay: Yes, I do, the thing I like about the on-camera, whether it be a stand-up, or on television or whatever the case may be, is, you get to be yourself. And maybe show a little flare, or personality with it.. and then you’re done. Ya know, when you’re writing for the newspaper or even for the web or whatever, you gather all your facts and get all your interviews, and you transcribe and you do all that, sometimes it could take you seven or eight to put a whole good story together. And I like the immediacy of standing in front of the camera with the michrophone and ya know you do your bit. For Cleveland.com I do the stand-ups, but I also do stuff for the Bleacher Report, Fox Sports 1,NFL Network, I’ve done some stuff for ESPN over the years and locally for Sports Time Ohio.
Gab: Have you ever thought about covering other uh, teams besides Cleveland? Or has it always been your passion and everything to stay here?
Mary Kay: Well I have had uh, numerous opportunities to do some national things, including ESPN several times. But for whatever reason, including the fact that this is where my family is, my husband and three children live, there’s a lot of things that I haven’t been able to go take. But I have had plenty of great opportunities and I’ve been grateful for those. But for now, this is the place for me.