The first thing you notice about Linda Cohn is the voice. It's a definitive Long Island accent that is so pronounced it sounds like someone doing a bad Long Island accent impersonation. "Coffee Talk" in the flesh. And she laughs a lot. A giddy, crazy laugh that ‘s a bit jarring. We met in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel on Tuesday night to go on our "date" as some sort of convoluted scheme I cooked up to help promote her book. She shook my hand like a professional. The book, from what I've read, is much different than what I expected. It's a very personalized memoir that covers all aspects of her life and her eventual ascent to ESPN prominence. It's a little uncomfortable to read about Linda Cohn's love life and the unraveling of her marriage. But, you know, that's why I figured a date would be appropriate. She's newly single, I'm newly single, let's let the ponies roam, right?
Well, Linda's PR team agreed to the date, but kept saying it in a way that they made sure I knew it was just a "play date" and not a "DATE-DATE".
"She just doesn't want to be a part of anything that might embarrass her kids."
Fine. Fair enough. To be honest, I've never really been on too many dates in my life. I'm one of those get-drunk-and-hook-up-with-the-first-person –who-talks-to-you-types. Hey, it's better than eHarmony.
Again, no. That won't happen, Linda Cohn's PR Machine told me.
"She has a very busy schedule and needs to be done by 9 and up early for an interview the next morning."
Fine. No binge-drinking. There went my plan of heading over to Cheap Shots in the East Village, chugging Cuervo and playing air hockey. This had to be a little more fancy and required more effort. So, I booked a reservation at Insieme, on 51st and 7th, which was near her hotel. I picked up a $5 bouquet of flowers at a random bodega and debated about the color. White seemed to be the safe choice. We walked over to the restaurant and started chit-chatting about the Mets and Phillies. She's one of those "my Mets"-types and she gets all fired up about it. Things are good, now, obviously for the Mets. She blabbed about Carlos Delgado and I briefly considered shoving her into traffic. I did not.
We arrived at the restaurant before 7, little lady by my side, and I opened the door all gentleman-like and we made our way over to the table. As soon as she Ms. Cohn squeezed into the booth she knocked a glass off the table next to us and it shattered all over the place. Out came the laugh.
"That's funny, right?" she asked.
As soon as we sat down, I had to ask her about that accent. That accent could break glass on its own.
" I talk about it in the book. While I was in college, Oz-wego State, I had a profess-er, great prof-esser, his name was Fritz, he said, ‘You know yer gonna have to lose that accent when you go on TV.' And he told me to speak slow-er and open my mouth wider when I speak. And then I started dooo-in it and it worked, but what's cool is that I can instantly revert back to Lind-er that grew up in Long Island, that's soo-aw Long Island." It's like magic. She's like Meryl Streep.
She asked for a Shiraz from the waiter. They had none. He trotted out something fancy. She liked it. I had Grey Goose on the rocks with olives. We shared octopus carpaccio. She had some sort of fish with the skin on it. I had the veal chop. We went back to the Mets/Phillies. She's says Billy Wagner being out of it "will be good for the Mets." Then she starts talking about "Chawk-lit" and it hurts my ears. We move on to her job, which she loves whole-heartedly.
"Baseball Tonight is the most challenging show to host out of all of the shows at ESPN. Everything is on the fly. "
I ask her if she was pissed about monitoring the trade deadline all day with a roomful of ESPN's baseball experts only to have the Manny trade come across her desk at the last minute.
"That was so frickin' exciting, though! That's what makes ESPN News great. You see, ESPN news is what Sports Center used to be. You know, boom, instant, nuts and bolts. Yeah, but so much for that deadline, you know? But it was great to break that story through our family of networks…"
A lot of Cohn's book is focused on what it's like to be a woman breaking into the sports media industry, the pitfalls of her gender, the locker room leering, etc. This brings us to America's sideline princess, Erin Andrews and the dress saga. She empathizes with the plight of Erin.
"You know that happened to me years ago when they with a couple of incidents when I did stand-ups. But I gotta tell you this: there's a lot of pressure on women to look the best that they can look. And the thing with Erin, she's got a lot to work with, you know? And Erin does such a great job, she's always prepared and when that red light goes on, she kicks butt. Guys don't have that pressure to look as hot as they can look. And women feel that pressure – but that's all it is: pressure. But bottom line, A.J., if you're prepared and you kick butt, that's all that matters."
In her book, Cohn talks about an ad that was pulled from ESPN which featured her in a soak tub with the Rams' enormous offensive lineman Orlando Pace. The way it was shot, it looked like she was naked. Norby pulled the photo. ("They burned it!", she said.)
But on the front of the book, she's wearing a long hockey jersey as an homage as her time as a goalie at Oswego State. It's a little skimpy. It was intentional, I think. I nudge this topic a little bit because, you know, it's Linda Cohn and that seems a bit of an odd approach. There's also a portion of the book where she talks about Playboy and fantasizing about it when she was younger. This leads to a rant about how female athletes "showing off the female form" by posing naked are really undermining the sport. But would she still pose for Playboy now?
" Nobody asked! Oh…you know what. Who the heck knows? Nobody's ringing my cellie off the hook, though. "
The real deal on Cohn: she's a tremendously nice woman, but it seemed a little weird to be promoting the book so heavily that ultimately has an unhappy ending with her divorce from her husband. I ask her about it. She's still healing from it, she says, but this is the process you go through with these sorts of things. But why write about it to begin with? Why not keep it personal?
"He's been in my life for so long and it's a memoir, so how could I not?" She maintains that she was very careful not to write anything that would upset her kids, but at the same time, she wanted to get it all out there. Still kind of weird, though, right? She says they maintain a friendship and are still finalizing the divorce.
We had dessert. She had sorbet. I had figs. A lot of figs. Linda Cohn and I shared a fig together and she said to mention that fact that she had a fig. We wrap up and the check comes. $205. Fuck me. How much was this lady costing me? She eyed the bill. She was impressed. "You do it right," she said.
Kind of. We walk back to the hotel and it's extremely awkward. She's holding her $5 flowers and neither one of us knows how to end this evening. It started with a handshake and ended with a "Thank you, very much for all of this, A.J." She disappears into her hotel lobby. I've officially come to the realization that I have absolutely no game.
At this time, I began walking south, thinking over the evening, figuring out where I'm going to stay that night and then it hits me. Hard. In the stomach. You know that scene in "Trainspotting" when the heroin suppository kicks in? Yeah. Just like that. At this point, I'm starting to sweat and frantically try to find a bathroom. For some reason, it appears I've wandered onto the only three blocks in Manhattan that don't have any goddamn bars nearby…then….splat. Seriously. Stuff just came out of me. I finally found a bar and gingerly walked inside, covered in sweat, soccer jacket now around my waist to conceal any evidence of my accident. I ask the bartender for an Amstel Light, plop the money on the table, then take two quick sips, attempt to make a face that looks refreshed then amble down the stairs into the bathroom. Christ. This is a mess, but manageable. Ten minutes later, back upstairs, I take two more sips of my beer, leave a $5 tip and skip out of there trying to ignore the bartender's withering expression and trying my best not make a face like a guy who just shat himself.
As I'm back outside , stiffly walking toward my friend's house, The Linda Cohn PR Machine calls to tell me that "Linda had a really good time." I tell him that's great, she was nice, but I'm actually feeling a little ill at the moment.
"Oh, I hope my client is okay…"
Yeah, I wonder if Linda Cohn shit her pants?
I found out, today, that no, she did not.