Early in her career, 40 years ago, Rachel Blount was given an assignment:
Profile star Alabama running back Cornelius Bennett. As a woman sportswriter, Blount was often written off and ignored, including by Bennett’s coach, who sneered that the “little lady” didn’t belong there when she arrived for an interview. But even after Bennett went to the locker room without speaking to her, she was determined to get her story.
“I waited, and I waited, and I waited for a good 3 ½ hours. It was dark,” she recalled before Bennett emerged and told her she had five minutes to interview him.
“So I sucked it up. I talked to him for five minutes and extended probably to 10,” Blount said. “Then I drove back to Atlanta and wrote my story, because you know what? This is my job. I like my job. I want to do my job. And you’re not going to stop me from doing my job. I waited you out. I figured it out. And I wrote a story, one that I was proud of too.”
Blount, a sports reporter with Minnesota’s Star Tribune since 1990, has stories of personal triumphs and defeats through decades working in a male-dominated industry.
Blount grew up in an athletic household in Iowa with a father and brother who played college sports. In this world, she was also exposed to sports journalism.
“We were playing a game or watching a game or talking about a game all the time,” she said, noting that when she attended college in the early 1980s women were starting to emerge in sports journalism.
“I thought to myself, how cool would that be? To be on the leading edge of this thing?” Blount said. “It felt fun and exciting to me to not only have this opportunity to write about games and athletes, which I found so fascinating, but also possibly pioneering something for women.”
And pioneer she did. After starting her first job as an intern at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Blount eventually made her way to the Star Tribune, where she has covered six Olympic Games. Among her personal favorite moments: When St. Paul gymnast Suni Lee won the all-around gold medal at the 2020 Summer games in Tokyo.
“I’ve seen a ton of cool stuff at the Olympics, but seeing Suni Lee was one of those moments where I’m watching it unfold in front of me and I’m thinking, ‘How am I gonna write this? What words am I going to choose? How am I going to tell the story? How am I going to do this justice?’ I couldn’t help but think there weren’t any words.”
But then Blount did what she does best: She wrote.
“I found myself so energized and so inspired, that particular day at the Olympics was like 27 hours from start to finish and I wrote 120 inches of copy,” Blount said. “It was unbelievable. And I never felt tired. The words just kept pouring out of me. It’s so funny to me because as I was watching it, I thought this is beyond words. And then when I sat down to start writing it, I couldn’t stop writing. It just absolutely poured out of me.”
Even through the triumphs in her career, Blount said she has faced sexual harassment, humiliation, and above all, discrimination. Whether it was sports teams barricading locker rooms, newspapers being taped on windows to block any view, Blount has seen and been through it all.
In one of her first assignments with the Star Tribune, she said Minnesota North Stars owner Norm Green approached her in the press box, pushed her hair aside and kissed her on the back of the neck or massaged her shoulders.
“Sometimes he would sit down and tell me stories about how he had a yacht in the south of France, and all the women were always naked because that’s how he liked it,” she said. “They paraded around naked on his yacht and told me I should go over some time; I should fly to the south of France and go on his yacht because it’d be really great.”
Not wanting to get reassigned, Blount didn’t mention Green’s behavior to anyone… until he was being sued by one of his employees for harassment.
“I was very reluctant to talk to my editor about this because I knew what would happen, which we do see happen frequently to women in journalism; it becomes our problem.” she said. “I think it’s a little better now, but back then in particular, I knew that if I told my editor I was being sexually harassed, the answer would be, ‘well, we’ll just put you on another beat. We’ll just move you.’ But I didn’t want that, I liked what I did. I loved covering the team. It was wonderful. Why would I have to be punished? So I was just really careful about what I said.”
Now, her resilience continues to show through a new obstacle: cancer. Blount has been fighting gallbladder cancer. Diagnosed in August 2022, Blount has undergone surgeries and chemotherapy leading her to her current clean CT scans. She documents her journey on Caring Bridge.
Through her treatment, she has continued working and covering all sports, ranging from curling and horseback riding to gymnastics, hockey, soccer, and so much more. It’s because of journalists like Blount; hardworking, determined, and strong, that women in sports journalism have become more widely accepted and appreciated.
Blount encourages young people interested in the profession to network; introducing themselves to a reporter for coffee to talk about the job. But she offers caution that it’s not a nine-to-five job, particularly in the world of sports journalism.
“The hours are unpredictable. You cover a lot of games at night and on the weekends, you’ll get called in on your day off because your team made a trade or the news breaks, and so you work a lot of weird and unpredictable hours,” she said. “It’s important, I think, for people to know these things before they get into the profession.”
At the end of the day, to Blount and many other journalists, along with their readers, the satisfaction and passion makes everything worth it.
“I wouldn’t change any of what’s happened to me for the world. I hope others can find the solace I found within words and writing.”
- Movies and TV shows: It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes. I love movies, but that one, that one I can watch it, you know, three times at Christmas. Everyone ends up crying every time.I just finished season two of the White Lotus which I really liked. My husband and I are also huge fans of The Sopranos. We’ve watched those many times… and also the Godfather trilogy.
- Book: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Actor: I like Jon Hamm a lot. And from back in the day, I liked Paul Newman a lot. Another sports writing memory, Paul Newman raced cars for a while. He did the kind of racing that they had at this circuit in Atlanta. So when I was in my first year as a sports writer, I got to interview Paul Newman. I was talking to him about car racing, and he was so into it. He was so excited to talk about something he was passionate about. It was so cool to see this man who was a master of his craft in this hobby. That he was also trying to master and was very good at it.
- Music: I like all kinds of music. I like listening to The Current radio because I like the eclectic nature of the music they put out. But specifically, Hippocampus comes to mind.
- If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you want to wake up: Oh gosh, in my own bed. I love to travel, but part of the fun of traveling for me is coming home.
This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.