The Globe's Bob Ryan has a terrific column today about former Westwood High basketball standout Jackie MacMullan, who will get the Curt Gowdy Award for her basketball coverage in the Globe and other media.
Ryan's column is below. And here is a link to a piece in the University of New Hampshire alumni magazine.
By Bob Ryan, Globe Columnist | August 12, 2010
Did you hear the one about the hockey-crazed girl who becomes a college basketball player and then a news intern at the Boston Globe, and later a basketball writer whose stature grows to such an extent that it is necessary, as Yogi Berra might say, to bestow upon her a prestigious award.
You’re about to.
They’re giving her the Curt Gowdy Award for distinguished basketball writing at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame tonight, and everyone in the business knows she deserves it. Lacking a huge ego (but loaded with confidence, which is a much different matter), she finds it a bit hard to believe this is really happening.
“I just wanted to work for the Boston Globe,’’ explains Jackie MacMullan. “I didn’t dare dream more than that.’’
And she has — twice. Her stints at this newspaper were sandwiched around a five-year run at Sports Illustrated. She has likewise become a familiar television presence with the likes of ESPN and NESN. She has collaborated on books with Geno Auriemma and a couple of basketball players you might have heard of: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. She has been on the nomination committee for the Gowdy Award for several years, and it was just a matter of time before she became a recipient herself.
Fred MacMullan was a sports guy and a newspaper junkie. He read the Globe and the Herald every day, and he would come home with the New York papers, as well. His main man was the late Ray Fitzgerald, as classy a gentleman and graceful a stylist as this sports department has ever had. Jackie was both athletic and smart. She played sports, she watched sports, and she read about sports.
“I read Ray Fitzgerald, Leigh Montville, Bob Ryan (aw, shucks), Peter Gammons and Fran Rosa,’’ she recalls. “I was a huge hockey fan.’’
“I was a diehard hockey fan, even though I didn’t skate,’’ she says. “I played street hockey. Fred MacMullan was no fool. He bought me a street hockey net. That way I got to play.’’
“I didn’t play until my junior year in high school,’’ she explains.
It wasn’t just any high school. It was Westwood High School, where the females had terrorized the competition from approximately the beginning of recorded human history. You didn’t just sashay onto the floor for Kathy Delaney-Smith and say, “Here I am.’’
Jackie MacMullan, though a late bloomer, had something going for her. She was 5 feet 11 inches. And she was, as it turned out, pretty darn good.
Once she got into basketball, she really got into basketball. She was good enough to play at the University of New Hampshire. I would venture to say that not too many people I’ve run into in this business during the last 40 years were good enough to play college ball. (Bill Reynolds, the top-flight columnist for the Providence Journal, does come to mind.)
Gender is simply not an issue if you prove that you know the game. MacMullan is not much on talking about herself, but with a little prodding she offers this: “I do know the game. I could talk to someone once, and they’d see it.’’
Of course, there were the stupid locker room issues that have forever plagued female scribes. They’re sadly unavoidable. Red Auerbach, for example, immediately liked and respected MacMullan, but he made it clear he still didn’t want her in the Celtics locker room. After she convinced Red that it was not fair for her to operate at a competitive journalistic disadvantage, they hit upon a simple solution: bathrobes.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“Near the end of his life, I would look for excuses to call him up,’’ she confesses. “I just loved listening to him talk.’’
She did more than write about basketball games. She very quickly established herself as a superior reporter and perhaps an unsurpassed interviewer. Ask any of her three Globe bosses over the years, and they will tell you that she was their go-to writer for the tough stories.
“She has an innate ability to draw people out,’’ marvels Vince Doria, who hired her, watched her grow as a journalist, then handed her the Celtics beat when there was a vacancy prior to the 1988-89 season.
Don’t let anyone kid you. Being a female in the sportswriting world is not easy. You are judged — or, worse, prejudged — in ways a male is not. You have to establish your sports credentials and you have to position yourself as someone who is just one of the crowd, when, well, you’re not. The trick is to make people feel you’re just one of the boys without sacrificing your basic femininity. It’s not easy, but Jackie has mastered the art. Any young lady seeking entry in our business need look no further than Jackie MacMullan for a role model, although thinking you’re actually going to be as good is another matter entirely.
“She assimilated herself very easily in what was, and is, a heavily male culture,’’ confirms Doria, “and she did it without making any kind of compromise.’’
She also has handled the trickiest balancing act of all, that of combining a fast-lane career with being a wife and mother of two. It doesn’t hurt when you have an understanding sports fan of a husband such as Mike Boyle. Those of us in this business with wives know how important it is when you don’t have a spouse whining, “You have to go where?’’
And so tonight we will gather in Springfield for the formal acknowledgement of something we already knew. Journalistically speaking, Jackie MacMullan can play.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.