For years, ESPN viewers have been accustomed to seeing women anchoring the network’s flagship news and information program SportsCenter. Hannah Storm, Chris McKendry, Linda Cohn, Sage Steele, Lindsay Czarniak, Sara Walsh, Jade McCarthy and many others are known as voices of authority to sports fans far and wide.
As it has been in many other areas, ESPN was and remains a leader in providing opportunities for women, and that was certainly the case in 1981 when Rhonda Glenn sat down behind the SportsCenter desk. Two years after ESPN launched in 1979, Glenn, at the age of 34, made history as the first fulltime female sportscaster for a national television network.
“The fact that I was on what you would call the ‘cutting edge’ really didn’t make an impact on me,” said Glenn, who left ESPN after two years and has worked in communications for the United States Golf Association (USGA) since 1996. “It wasn’t something I strived for. I never wanted to be the first, I just wanted the job.”
A standout amateur and collegiate golfer, Glenn had been working in television since 1969, starting as a sports reporter in Norfolk, Va., and had been a women’s golf analyst for ABC Sports for three years when she started with ESPN.
“The difference then was that wherever I went, I was the only woman,” she said. “I just felt, ‘Well, I can do this, and I’m going to apply.’”
Once she arrived at ESPN, Glenn quickly fit in.
“It was a very casual atmosphere then,” she said. “ESPN had not been on the air that long. We had a really nice studio building and a nice newsroom.
“It was a little crowded because I think they were having to hire more people than they may have thought they would, but it was 24 hours so you had to have a lot of people to do that.”
Glenn has fond memories of people she worked with, including ESPN mainstays Bob Ley and Chris Berman and former anchors Greg Gumbel and Tom Pipines. She did live SportsCenter shows at 11 p.m. ET and 3 a.m. and often co-anchored with either Berman or Pipines.
“Chris was always so kind to me,” she said. “And of course, ‘Boomer’ [Berman] has a very big voice. I wasn’t intimidated by anybody until I got on the air with Chris.”
“He didn’t really need a microphone,” she said. “He could have reached downtown Bristol without one. And I’m a girl, and my voice doesn’t project as much.
“So at first he just blew me out of the seat when he’d talk, and I felt a little intimidated, but then I got used to it.
“He would sit there when we were doing the 3 a.m. show and say ‘Rhonda, Rhonda, just think, it’s 12 o’clock in San Francisco, they’re all watching!’ Because you’re not so sure at 3 in the morning that anyone’s watching.”
After leaving ESPN, Glenn continued doing women’s golf analysis for ABC, working with the legendary Jim McKay, and her lifelong love of the sport eventually led to her current position with the USGA.
She will be retiring in May, about a month before ESPN televises the first two rounds of the USGA’s U.S. Open tournament June 13-14.
“They say I’ve really been with the USGA for 49 years,” said Glenn, who has written eight books on golf. “I’ve loved the USGA since I played in the girl’s junior in 1963.
“Because of my father and mother I had a great respect for the history of the game so it was just natural,” she said. “It’s like they say, find something you like to do and make a career out of it, and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that.”