“As a kid in Westwood, Massachusetts, all I ever wanted to do was play street hockey. My house was at the flattest part of the street, so the games were always right in front. I was the only girl, and some of the older boys weren’t too keen on letting me play, so my dad […]
By Todd Balf
Oct 12 2007
As a columnist for the Boston Globe and a regular pundit on radio and TV talk shows, Jackie MacMullan is known nationally as one of the most trusted voices in sports. She grew up south of Boston and started at the Globe in 1982. At age 23, she was thrust into an almost exclusively male sports world.Photo Credit : Mindell, Doug
“As a kid in Westwood, Massachusetts, all I ever wanted to do was play street hockey. My house was at the flattest part of the street, so the games were always right in front. I was the only girl, and some of the older boys weren’t too keen on letting me play, so my dad bought me a street hockey net. Then they had to let me play because nobody else had a net.
As time went on, the regulars had no problem with me, but if a new kid came around, he’d be like, ‘What’s with the girl?’ I learned pretty early that no matter what you did, there’d be somebody who didn’t want you around.
“In high school I complained to my dad because the local paper was always writing about the boys. It ticked me off. My dad told me to stop bellyaching and call the editor. When I finally got the courage to call him up — he was a classic cigar-chomping guy, Frank Wall from Norwood — he said, ‘I’d love to write about the girls, but I have a staff of one — me. Why don’t you write something?’ So I wrote about a friend of mine, a swimmer who’d broken both the boys’ and the girls’ records. Later I ended up doing a column with a friend. I loved it.
“When I started at the Globe in December 1982, it was a very big deal about whether women should be allowed in the locker room. It was awful. At a UMass football game — I’d been working at the Globe less than a year — a security guard pushed me up against the wall when I tried to get past him. Another time, a priest at St. John’s stood outside the locker room and refused to let me in.
“Once, after a Patriots game, I went over to [Philadelphia Eagles defensive end] Reggie White — he’s fully dressed, mind you — to ask a question. He turned to me and said, ‘I don’t talk to women.’ I heard myself saying, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘I’m married.’ I said, ‘So am I,’ because I was. He said, ‘You’re going to have to leave,’ and I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’
“[Boston Celtics coach] Red Auerbach didn’t think women should be in locker rooms, but with him it was different. The first time we met, I was covering a Boston College — St. John’s basketball game at the Garden when he walked in and sat down right next to me. I was young, and this was Red Auerbach, and I couldn’t think of anything smart to say to him.
“Well, it gets to halftime and I still haven’t said anything, and we’re watching the cheerleaders do whatever it is they do. He turns to me and gestures at the court and says, ‘What do you think?’ Well, I just let loose about how [St. John’s point guard] Mark Jackson is defending and why the 1-3-1 trap isn’t working, and he’s like, ‘No, no, I mean, what do you think of the girls? You’re the cheerleading coach, aren’t you?’
“Red never changed, but we became close friends. When I started covering the Celtics in 1988, they were great, too. They liked to tease me, but they teased everyone. Bird, McHale, Parish, K.C. Jones — they were fair and just wanted to see what you could do.
“In the early 1990s a local story involving a female Boston Herald reporter named Lisa Olson made people ask all over again: ‘Should women be allowed in the locker room?’ I couldn’t believe it.
“Everybody started taking sides, and it led to one of my worst moments as a professional. I was outside the Yankees clubhouse when this fan started heckling me: ‘Are you Lisa Olson? Huh, are you? You slut.’ I grabbed him and screamed, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’
“I just had had it. Luckily somebody pulled me off him, but I just felt like, hadn’t we already proved ourselves? It’s hard to explain to the younger Globe reporters I work with. They’ve never walked into a place where there’s only one of them.
“The one thing I had in my favor was my name. A lot of people thought I was a guy, which so saved me. It gave me a chance to have a chance. I might meet somebody after years of talking to him on the phone and he’d look at me like, ‘What — you’re not a guy!’ “