Locker room pioneer: Memoir details what it was like to cover Red Wings as female beat writer

Feb 6, 2018
Originally published on February 5, 2018 4:46 pm

Cynthia Lambert had the title many others dream of: sports reporter. She worked for the Detroit News covering the Red Wings for 12 seasons, including their Stanley Cup wins in 1997 and 1998.

Now she’s taken those seasons of sports reporting and packed them into her new memoir Power Play: My Life Inside The Red Wings Locker Room.

Stateside host Cynthia Canty sat down with Lambert to talk about her time in sports journalism.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On starting from the bottom

When she started covering the Red Wings in the mid-1980s, the team was the worst in the league. Nicknamed the “Dead Wings,” they would soon rise to the top as Stanley Cup champs in 1997 and 1998.

“It was really an evolution, and you can look at the different chapters almost in Red Wings history of that pocket of time,” Lambert said.

Emotions shifted, she said, when in 1986 the team hired as head coach Jacque Demers, someone she describes as “a very affable coach who was very good with the media.”

“People who started watching the Wings really got behind them in the mid-80s and then late-80s," Lambert said. "The fruits of that labor really paid off as they saw them steadily progress into the Stanley Cup team that we witnessed."

On her connection to sports  

Lambert was introduced to hockey when her father flooded the backyard of her home on the east side of Detroit so her and her brothers could ice skate.

“When you grow up on the east side of Detroit in a house that had about a thousand square feet and a dog of course, you had to be outside a lot.”

She would go on to letter in tennis, volleyball, and softball in high school.

Although she said playing sports eased her way into the world of reporting, she doesn’t think it’s necessary for aspiring sports journalists. 

“You’re not playing the sport that you’re covering," she said. "You’re not doing a first person story. You’re there as the observer, and you’re there as the investigator.”

She noted that a lack of background in sports, in some cases, might actually be to a reporter's advantage. 

“If you have the guts and if you can leave your ego at the door and just go into a coaches room or talk to the general manager or scout or the player and just say ‘I don’t understand why you did this?’ or ‘Why did you make that play decision instead of this?’ or ‘Why are you doing this?’ you can get a lot of great information,” she said.

On being a woman in sports journalism

“There weren’t many women at all,” she said of the mid-80s. 

“I was pretty much on my own,” she said, adding that, although they were small in numbers, she enjoyed spending time with the other women sports journalists she met while on the road.  

On the wide range of personalities she worked with

Former head coach Scotty Bowman, she said, was complex.

“One minute you think that you’ve got a great relationship, and that he’s being honest, and you’re having a great dialogue, and you had a great interview," she said. "And the next day, he won’t look at you. Or the next day he tells you ‘Oh, Chris Osgood’s gonna be in goal,' and then Mike Vernon comes out as the goalie. So there was a constant off balance with Scotty.”

Steve Yzerman, former team captain, she said, was unusually pleasant to work with as a reporter.

“I never had a bad experience with Steve Yzerman,” she said. “Interviewing him, if he had an issue with something I wrote, he would walk up to me, look me in the eye, speak his piece very respectfully, open it up for dialogue. We could agree, we could disagree, he could persuade me, I could persuade him, but there was never any lingering animosity or passive aggressiveness. He was just complete class.”

On the loneliness of the job

“I was with the team much more than I was with my own family, more than I was even at my own office,” she said.

After five or six years of the job, in fact, she was told to clear out her desk and work from home to make room for someone else.  

“So I was around all these people who were more like my colleagues … but they weren’t. It felt like they were, but they really weren’t. They were my subjects, and I had to cover them, and so I had to keep a distance.”

“I loved my job, but I knew that last year I couldn’t keep up this pace,” she said of her decision to leave. “There are women and men who still cover hockey, baseball, football, basketball, have families. They’re fine. I wasn’t one of those people. I knew I couldn’t do that.”

Though it was a tough decision, she says leaving sports journalism opened up other areas of her life.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

 

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