Cheryl Raye-Stout has covered sports in Chicago for more than 30 years, and this weekend the WBEZ reporter is ignoring the unwritten rule, “No cheering in the press box,” as she openly roots for Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl. During his days as a quarterback, Harbaugh spent seven seasons with the Chicago Bears, but it was something he did off the field that earned Cheryl Raye-Stout’s loyalty. She joined Bill Littlefield to explain.
BL: You started covering sports in Chicago back in 1982. Give us an idea what it was like being a female sports reporter in your early years on the job.
CRS: Well, you know, I started slowly. I had a great boss that was, you know, introducing me to different teams. We were doing a sports talk show at night, I was producing that, and then they started letting me go to games and doing post-game. There was some issues, but not horrible issues, I had to deal with. I did have Tony La Russa open the door for me for the White Sox, which I appreciated. At some point, [my boss] said, “Okay, we’re going to have you cover the Bears.”
BL: You started covering the Bears in ’85. They went on to win the Super Bowl that year, so your timing was terrific, but when did your problems covering the team begin?
CRS: I went and covered games in ’85, did the Super Bowl in ’85, and then in ’86 my boss said, “Well, we want you to go out during the week and start covering some of the practices.” And I got in my car, I go up to Halas Hall, waiting with the other reporters, and when the media person opened up the door to let the media go in, there was not a big group. There was maybe six, seven people at that time. I got barraged with angry taunts and swearing and, you know, all sorts of vicious things by the players. The media director said to me, “Look, you have to leave the room.” And the other reporters just stepped aside and kind of smirked as I walked out. But I still had to do my job, so what I would do is, I would sit on the floor outside the locker room and wait for players to come in and out, and sometimes I would get the media director to get players to come out and see me.
BL: The Bears drafted Jim Harbaugh in 1987. Tell us what happened that fall when you asked a Bears staff member to bring him out of the locker room for an interview.
CRS: Well, I was sitting on the floor like I usually was, you know. It was a few weeks into the season and the PR director went and got Jim and brought him to me. And Jim just looked down at me and looked at the PR director and said, “Well, why is she out here? Why isn’t she allowed in the locker room? She’s allowed to go into the locker room after games, so what’s the difference here?” I don’t think it was like, you know, a moment of enlightenment by him. I think it was just a time when he just saw something, and he reacted. You know, one thing you learn about Jim is that he says what he means. And that was it. I don’t even remember what we talked about it after that point because I was stunned, ‘cause I’d been sitting there for quite a while, and then he opened the door, and we walked in. And there was no problem.
BL: I gather things changed for good after that particular interview.
CRS: I always was able to go in the locker room. Was it easy in the locker room? No, but there was no being told I had to leave, and I was always waiting for somebody to come up to me, and it didn’t happen, and I was able to do my job.
BL: Did you ever have a chance to talk with Jim Harbaugh about that moment and the way things changed?
CRS: I’m one of those people – and this is very uncomfortable for me to even talk about; I blogged it because my boss asked me to – I just didn’t want to [call] too much attention to it. And when I thought about it as the years went on, I wrote him a letter when he went to the Colts. And I wrote him a letter to thank him, just to say, you know, “What you did, you didn’t have to do. Nobody asked you to do it – I didn’t ask you to do it, the team didn’t ask you to do it. And you took a stand when other people wouldn’t be so bold to do.” And I just thanked him. That’s the best I can do.
BL: Did you ever hear back from him?
CRS: No, no. He may not even remember – that’s the funny part about this. And that’s ok.