No Girls Allowed
Diane K. Shah is no stranger to the world of sports. In this exclusive blog post, Shah recounts her journey as the first female sports columnist for a major publication. From interviews with athletes such as Mickey Mantle, Larry Bird, even Cary Grant, to dining with Frank Sinatra, flying a plane with Dennis Quaid, the author of A Farewell to Arms, Legs, and Jockstraps: A Sportswriter's Memoir shares with us the legacy of her career. Coming to a bookstore near you on April 28, 2020.
When I was 14 years old, I decided to mail myself to Mickey Mantle. I lived in a suburb of Chicago and the Yankees were coming to town to play the White Sox. I knew where the Yankees stayed -- the old Shoreham Hotel -- so why not fold myself into a big cardboard box, punch in a few air holes and arrange for a service to transport me? I even called the company, Railway Express, and told them how much the “package” would weigh.
Of course, I never did this, and 11 years later when I did meet Mantle to interview him, I did not tell him about my harebrained scheme.
I knew I wanted to be a journalist when I was 12. I grew up in a baseball-loving family, but I never imagined I would have a career as a sportswriter. Women did not do such things back then, and my high school guidance counselor told me – in no uncertain terms – that no editors would hire me.
Only they did. And I became one of the first female sportswriters to infest men’s locker rooms. Then I became the first female in the country to have a sports column in a daily newspaper. A lot of eyes lasered in on me.
One reason I wrote this memoir was to show what it’s like to be a sportswriter and to recount my experiences with athletes such as Mickey Mantle, Jim Brown, Jim Palmer, Jim Rice, Larry Bird, Reggie Jackson, Howie Long, Marcus Allen, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I still don’t know why, but I always managed to get what I needed. Instinctively, I knew how to deal with athletes, as well as the scowling men who barricaded the locker room doors. When Raiders coach Tom Flores told me no, I could not go in, absolutely not, he asked if I knew that the year before some Raiders had dumped two male sportswriters in a garbage can? I took a deep breath. “Well, if they’re really, really mean to me,” I said, “I’ll cry, and I won’t come back.” Flores relented. I never cried and I often came back.
While writing my sports column I also did cover stories for GQ. Since the magazine typically put athletes or actors on the cover, I had some amazing experiences with – among others – Sean Connery, Denzel Washington, Dennis Quaid, and most incredibly – Cary Grant. He had actually phoned me out of the blue to compliment me on a column I had written. Even more unimaginable, we became friends, Grant calling me at home to compliment me on something I had written. And me, picking up the phone and not believing I was hearing that voice.
Still, it is sports writing and being one of the firsts that I am most proud of. Today, many smart, polished women are writing or broadcasting sports. So, I find it odd when I meet a woman for the first time and she says, “Why did you become a sportswriter? Did you, uh, like sports?”
In truth, I don’t really know how it happened – exactly. The stages of my career were shaped by a few lucky breaks. But perhaps the best answer is what Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett told me when I asked him (he was flirting with a .400 batting average) how he was hitting so well.
Brett shook his head and laughed. “I have no idea,” is what he said.
Diane K. Shah is a former journalist and sports columnist hailing from the suburbs of Chicago. Throughout her career, she has written for publications such as GQ, The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Additionally, she has written four mystery novels and co-authored (with Daryl Gates) Chief: My Life in the LAPD, a New York Times bestseller, and Relentless, photographer Neil Leifer’s memoir. She currently resides in New York City. Her new book, A Farewell to Arms, Legs, and Jockstraps: A Sportswriter's Memoir , will be available wherever books are sold on April 28, 2020.