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Read the obituary for Robin Herman, who broke gender barriers in sports journalism

“She was determined, in her personal decisions, to stand up for a more just world.”

Robin Herman. – Provided

Loved ones are remembering Robin Herman, who broke gender barriers in sports journalism, for her “doggedness” and “grit in every arena she entered.”

Herman, 70, passed away Tuesday in Waltham from ovarian cancer. 

“She was most widely known for breaking gender barriers in sports journalism,” her loved ones wrote in her obituary. “She was also a steadfast parent in guiding her two children through the daunting mental health challenges they faced from their teen years. As a resourceful journalist and intuitive writer, she worked for two of the world’s great newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post. She was committed as well to her work at the Harvard School of Public Health as Assistant Dean for Communications. And she was determined, in her personal decisions, to stand up for a more just world.”

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Read her full obituary, shared by Levine Chapels, below: 

Robin Cathy Herman, who died Feb. 1 of ovarian cancer at the age of 70, defined intelligence, doggedness, and grit in every arena she entered. But she was most widely known for breaking gender barriers in sports journalism. She was also a steadfast parent in guiding her two children through the daunting mental health challenges they faced from their teen years. As a resourceful journalist and intuitive writer, she worked for two of the world’s great newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post. She was committed as well to her work at the Harvard School of Public Health as Assistant Dean for Communications. And she was determined, in her personal decisions, to stand up for a more just world.

Robin spent five sometimes tumultuous years as the first female reporter in the Times sports department. It was her hockey coverage that catapulted Robin into the public eye in 1975 when, at the age of 23, she pressed coaches and general managers to provide equal access to post-game locker rooms so that she and other female reporters could interview players with the same access afforded to male reporters. While male reporters routinely obtained post-game comments from inside the locker rooms, she and other women were excluded and had to implore players to come to the locker room door with a towel around their waist to provide post-game comments.

When the two coaches at the 1975 National Hockey League All-Star game in Montreal equivocated about whether they would bar her from the post-game locker room, Robin walked in. Behind her was a local radio reporter, Marcel St. Cyr. The act cause a sensation. It was the first time women had entered the locker room in North American professional sports, and the cameramen and male journalists already inside turned to interview and photograph Robin.

“I kept saying, ‘I’m not the story; the game is the story,’” she later told an interviewer, reflecting on that night. “But of course that wasn’t the case. The game was boring. A girl in the locker room was a story.”

Her action prompted national news coverage of the broken gender barrier but also generated hate mail and vulgar comments from some players and their wives. She was call a “whore,” a “prostitute,” a “women’s libber,” and worse. Other players, however, supported equal access. At the time, Robin was the only female member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

“It was at the height of the women’s movement,” she said years later. “It was important to be bold. It was a matter of equity.” In a blog post years later, she wrote: “I found myself forced to muster Supreme Court-worthy arguments for an inane, essentially logistical problem that could easily have been solved by a few big towels.”

Before she moved on to covering New York politics in 1979, Robin had broken the locker room barriers of all but four NHL teams. She was among the groundbreaking female sports reporters featured in the 2013 ESPN documentary “Let Them Wear Towels” and was awarded the Mary Garber Pioneer award by the Association of Women in Sports Media in 2015.

Robin’s path to sports coverage was anything but direct. When she was applying to colleges, her father noticed a news item about a decision by Princeton University to admit women for the first time. Robin leapt at the chance and was admitted to the Class of 1973. Entering Princeton with a pre-med curriculum in mind, she switched to English literature and joined the campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian. The Prince, as it was called, normally assigned each campus reporter a general news beat and a sports beat. When the editor posted coverage assignments, Robin noticed that she was the only reporter without a sports beat; the editor didn’t think women would want to cover sports. Robin replied, “Why should I do half the work of everyone else?” Of the sports that were left, she picked rugby, and her first article began, “Happiness is a warm scrum.”

Shortly after graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, Robin was hired as a clerk in the Sports Department at the Times and soon was elevated to reporter. She later covered politics and health. In 1982, she wrote the first Times story on an unusual and deadly disease among homosexual men that came to be known as AIDS, and she covered the city’s homelessness crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She also covered New York state politics from Albany and wrote the Metro section’s Day by Day column. After leaving the Times in 1984, Robin authored “Fusion: The Search for Endless Energy,” a history of international fusion energy research published by Cambridge University Press. She later reported on health issues for The Washington Post and joined the Harvard School of Public Health in 1999 when it was led by Dean Barry Bloom.

Robin worked either as a full-time or freelance journalist in New York, Paris (seven years), and Washington, D.C., while raising her family. Her articles also appeared in the International Herald Tribune.

In retirement, Robin took up art, working in pastels and watercolor. She also initiated an effort among Princeton alumni to lift the stigma of mental illness among young adults, revealing her own family’s struggles. She was a keen bird watcher and devoured detective mysteries, in addition to books assigned by her Princeton women’s book club, which allowed her to retain her intellectual edge and fast friendships. Robin’s politics were progressive, and she often carried signs at public demonstrations against the politics of xenophobia and racism. Her favored charities were the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and food banks across the country. Her favorite travel destinations were France (food, fashion) and Iceland (landscapes). Her favorite beaches were in Montauk, N.Y., and Turks and Caicos.

Robin’s ashes will go into the earth near a pond at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, where she often walked with friends and watched birds. A gathering of remembrance will be held at a later date. She is survived by her husband, Paul Horvitz, a former New York Times editor; a son, Zachary, of Boulder, Colorado; a daughter, Eva, of Victoria, Virginia; a sister, Summer Pramer of Belle Meade, New Jersey; and two grandchildren, Gabriel and Rafi.

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