Jeannie Morris, pioneering sports journalist, dies at 85

Photo courtesy of the Morris family

Trailblazing sports journalist, author, and adventurer Jeannie Morris died on Monday after undergoing chemotherapy for appendiceal cancer earlier this year. She was 85.

Morris began her career as a sports journalist in 1968 after her then-husband, NFL player Johnny Morris, was asked to write a weekly column for the now-defunct Chicago’s American. Johnny declined, but suggested Jeannie for the job instead.

Her column, which was called “Football Is a Woman’s Game,” was written under the name “Mrs. Johnny Morris.”

“I didn’t think it was odd at the time to go by that name until someone wrote to me asking, ‘Don’t you have a name?'” Morris wrote in 1993.

Morris went on to spend 24 years as a sports reporter, producer, and host for two Chicago stations: first for NBC-owned WMAQ and then at CBS-owned WBBM.

In a 2015 interview with the Chicago Bears, Morris recounted how some press credentials read “no women or children allowed in the press box.” Once, she traveled to Minneapolis to cover a Bears-Vikings game in a blizzard, but was told she couldn’t report on the game from either the field or the press box. Instead, she watched from on top of the press box, beside the camera operator.

In 1975, she became the first woman to report live from the Super Bowl. In addition to helping with the pregame show, her main assignment was to “talk to the wives,” she recalled in her 2015 interview with the Bears. “It wasn’t difficult, but it was nice to break the ice and have other women have the opportunities that they certainly earned.”

In addition to her work in sports journalism, Morris was also the author of Brian Piccolo: A Short Season, Adventures in the Blue Beast, and Behind the Smile: A Story of Carol Moseley Braun’s Historic Senate Campaign.

She produced multiple documentaries and television specials, including a series for PBS called “Adventure Divas” that she worked on with her daughter Holly Morris. She also worked on “Science Held Hostage: RU 486 and the Politics of Abortion,” in which she told her own story of traveling to Mexico to have an abortion.

In 2014, Morris became the first woman to receive the Ring Lardner award for excellence in sports journalism.

Morris is survived by her four children – Dan Boorman, Debra Dimick, Holly Morris, and Tim Morris – and seven grandchildren.

Be sure to follow On Her Turf on Instagram and Twitter.