Helene Elliott transcript
[00:00:01.450] - Todd Jones
Helene, it's an honor to have you as a guest on Press Box Access. Welcome.
[00:00:07.130] - Helene Elliott
Thank you. Thanks for asking.
[00:00:08.910] - Todd Jones
You were definitely a writer that I wanted to reach out to. And I'm so glad that you have agreed to join us. Your career here has been so wonderful. You've been a trailblazer for sports media for women and just set the standard for all journalists, men and women for many, many years in the sports world. So I'm real happy about this.
[00:00:40.770] - Todd Jones
And although I must say, Helene sources have told me that in 1978, you were bumped from the cover of People magazine by Lenny and Squiggy. Is that correct?
[00:00:54.530] - Helene Elliott
Oh, my God. Yes. You really did your homework, didn't you? Well, I don't think it was a cover.
[00:00:59.740] - Todd Jones
[00:01:03.570] - Helene Elliott
That was an interesting time. Whenever I tell people I was in People magazine, they don't believe it. I said, just look for the Lenny and Squiggy. I'm sure somewhere on Ebay, somebody has a tattered copy of it.
[00:01:17.800] - Todd Jones
Well, Lenny and Swiggy on the Levin and Shirley show in 1978. That's about as big as it got in America, right. So we'll forgive People magazine. And what was that about, Helen? You were just early into your career. What was that story about?
[00:01:33.690] - Helene Elliott
They used to have a feature called up and Coming, where they would feature young authors or writers or actors or whatever. And I think there had been an item in the Chicago Fun Times about me being one of the youngest columnists in the country. And I think somebody picked up on that and they sent out a photographer and the writer. And I remember they posed that it was in the I think it was in the locker room at Northwestern. And I remember somebody's big basketball shoes being placed next to me.
[00:02:07.640] - Todd Jones
[00:02:08.520] - Helene Elliott
That's a long time ago.
[00:02:09.760] - Todd Jones
Nice. Well, people might have bumped you for Lenny and Squiggy, but you haven't been bumped by the Hockey Hall Fame. You're enshrined there in 2005. You're plaque is there. You were honored with the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award and the first female to be enshrined into a major pro sport hall of Fame as a journalist.
[00:02:39.510] - Helene Elliott
Well, to be technical, no media members are actually enshrined. We're honored with a media award, and that applies to basketball and baseball and football as well. We're considered media honorees as opposed to honored members. But I always tell a story about how when I won the Alma Ferguson Award, and one of the perks is you get a jacket and they put a hall of Fame emblem on it. And it's really a nice jacket and I was wondering what was going to happen because they'd never had a female winter before.
[00:03:16.660] - Helene Elliott
So I get to Toronto for the ceremonies, and they're being lovely and treating me and my husband so well. And they took us to a tailor shop in Toronto. And I'm thinking, this is wonderful. They're going to such great lens, and they're going to tailor the jacket for me and everything except the tailor comes out from behind the back room of the shop, and he has two jackets in his hand. And he says, one is men's 54 short. The other is a men's 54 long. Which one is?
[00:03:43.860] - Helene Elliott
Yeah. No, that's what it was. And I was just in such shock, and I didn't want to be ungrateful because this is such an incredible honor. But I was just kind of stunned that there was no woman's options or certainly nothing even close to my size. So it was kind of a little story. I tell them whenever I read about another woman getting a media award or hall of Fame award now for female hockey players, I always say, just make sure you're Jackie, right.
[00:04:15.870] - Todd Jones
I think what that represents is what you had to overcome and what you did and so many other female journalists breaking down the walls that when you started in the late 70s, it was such a different business. And here they are, they're going to honor you and they give you a men's jacket.
[00:04:34.110] - Helene Elliott
Yeah. It's difficult for people now to imagine what it was like back then because now you turn on any sports event, and there's a female sideline reporter and increasingly often, and it's wonderful. There's female play by play announcers Leah Hextol and hockey just female analysts like Doris Burke, who is absolutely the best in the business. It's common to see female broadcasters and writers and columnists now. And it certainly wasn't back then. There were so few of us. We all knew each other, and we would kind of trade tips on which managers or coaches were hostile and which were welcoming and which players you would likely have difficulty talking to and which players would be supportive.
[00:05:23.850] - Helene Elliott
So it's a very different time now. And that's one thing I'm very glad to have seen after all these years.
[00:05:55.080] - Todd Jones
What is it about the career that you've had that comes to mind when you think about how special it's been all these years?
[00:06:18.930] - Helene Elliott
Well, just to pick up on your note about busy on Sunday, I was at the Chargers on Monday, I was at the Lakers on Tuesday. I went to the Kings practice on Wednesday. I wrote a column about the fact that Staples Center is going to have a name change. And yesterday last night, I was at the dock. So that gives you an idea of the variety. What was that intro from a wide world of sports, the infinite variety of sports?
[00:06:53.770] - Helene Elliott
I grew up in Brooklyn, in this tiny, little, far, remote corner of Brooklyn. And to have imagined then that I would have covered 17 Olympics and have been lucky enough to be a World Series and NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals and Super Bowls and all these other things. It's just incredible. I could not have fathomed it at that time. And I've been very lucky along the way. And the thing is, people will often ask me what's your favorite sport or what's your favorite event to cover.
[00:07:28.560] - Helene Elliott
And my answer is always the one I'm covering at that time because I think you have to approach it with a freshness or else you're cheating yourself and you're cheating your readers. That's the great thing about sports is that no two events are the same. I mean, it could be the same two teams, but the outcome isn't going to be the same. The tone may not be the same. The style of play may not be the same. The weather conditions or whatever may not be the same.
[00:07:53.860] - Helene Elliott
So it's never the same experience. There's always something different. There's always a different motivation on the part of the athlete. So that's what keeps me doing this. And I think it's a question we all have you're sitting in your living room watching a game and you go.
[00:08:11.380] - Todd Jones
What was he thinking exactly?
[00:08:12.840] - Helene Elliott
Right after the game? I can ask him, what are they thinking? What makes one athlete thrive under pressure and another one gets nervous? What makes one athlete be a leader and another one a follower or whatever else it is. There's just such an infinite variety of the human condition for lack of a better term. It makes people tick. And being a journalist to a degree is a license to be nosy to ask questions that you really couldn't if you're in a social situation and the answers you get are sometimes really mind blowing right.
[00:10:18.590] - Todd Jones
Yeah. And you have covered so many great events. You mentioned 17 Olympics, World Cup, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series, Wimbledon. We're going to talk a lot of hockey in Olympics. Let's start with hockey when you came out into the business in 1019 and 77. And were you a hockey fan? Did you really enjoy that at sport as a child in Brooklyn, or is it hockey, something that just grew on you?
[00:10:47.290] - Helene Elliott
I had a friend whose dad played semi pro hockey, and one day he took me and his daughter and another friend of ours to a Rangers game, and I just was hooked immediately. I just couldn't believe that this sport existed, and I hadn't known about it. I grew up a baseball fan and I loved baseball, and I love basketball. But after I saw my first hockey game and went, wow, where has this been all my life? And I just loved it. The fact that these folks are so coordinated, I can barely walk without tripping over my own feet.
[00:11:21.670] - Helene Elliott
And here these people are skating and doing all these incredible passing and shooting and everything they're doing while they're skating. I can't walk straight. So I was fascinated by the skill involved. And again, from where I grew up, places like Toronto and Montreal seemed so exotic and far away. That was another part of the attraction as well. I used to have a little transistor radio, and I don't know how many of your listeners would remember what a transistor radio is, but I used to have this little transistor radio that I would listen to at night and at night you could get all these stations from Boston and used to get stations in Canada, which I thought was just incredible and used to get WMA Key, Chicago, Clear Channel station so strong and KDK Pittsburgh and some of these other wonderful radio stations.
[00:12:14.130] - Helene Elliott
And it just got me dreaming about what else was out there in the world. And it was hockey kind of set off that idea of all these wonderful places that I hoped I would visit some day.
[00:13:18.140] - Todd Jones
I think when you think about the events and you think about hockey, there's the event that really transcends the sport because it brings in people who maybe weren't hockey fans or aren't hockey fans. But in 1019 and 80, obviously, the miracle on ice happened in the Olympics up in Lake Plasma, New York, and you were one of the fortunate ones to actually be in that building that night. What was it like that night inside that little building?
[00:13:58.610] - Helene Elliott
Well, the whole thing I think you have to put in the context of this is the pre Internet days. This is pre cable TV days. This is when Lake Placid, which is a lovely little village in the Adiron Deck Mountains in New York State. It was pretty remote. So being there, you had a hard time getting a sense of how big this was becoming. The one thing I remember is that as the team kept winning and personalities were developing like Jacob Callahan and Mark Pavlic and Jim Craig and all these things, all these people were becoming better known.
[00:14:38.750] - Helene Elliott
People would send fans would send telegrams. And those telegrams were taped to the wall and the ring. I have a very clear memory of that. All these telegrams and just the number of telegrams was absolutely astonishing. But there were no cell phones. You couldn't pick up a cell phone and read a story on your phone and figure out what the impact was. I mean, this was kind of isolated. It was a little village. It was hard to realize what the impact was, obviously playing the Russians.
[00:15:14.010] - Helene Elliott
Given the political tensions of the time, the game took on aspect bigger than just a hockey game. It was held up as our system versus their system, which obviously it wasn't. But that's the meaning that other people brought to it. And I just remember coming out of the arena and people dancing in the streets and just the impact was so much bigger than any of us thought it could possibly have. I think at that point, people were looking for a reason to be happy was that around the time of the gas lines and the time of.
[00:15:54.530] - Todd Jones
Iranian hostage situation.
[00:15:58.590] - Helene Elliott
The US image in the world was kind of not as shiny as it had been. I think people were looking for a feel good story. And this certainly was these College kids. The coach who had set him up, set himself up as the bad guy. Capital T, capital B, capital G, the bad guy, Herb Brooks and Craig Patrick set himself up as the friend of the players. And he did all the press conferences. When Herb refused to do press conferences and the guys came up with little phrases and just wonderful personalities on that team, people wanted a feel good story.
[00:16:39.360] - Helene Elliott
And this was just an incredible feel good story.
[00:16:42.070] - Todd Jones
How do you remember it as a hockey game when you are covering it, the actual game itself.
[00:16:48.450] - Helene Elliott
I remember the American speed that was one of their biggest weapons was their speed. I mean, Herb put them through such incredible conditioning drills. And his famous saying was the legs feed the Wolf. Meaning if you can skate, if you can run, you can outlast your opponent, you'll get the spoils, you'll get the hunting trophy and the shop. When Russia pulled their goalie with 1 second left in the period there nobody knew what was going on. That was just incredible. And later, of course, the player said they didn't understand it either.
[00:17:25.700] - Helene Elliott
But it was this incredible sense of you knew you were an at an event that was memorable, but certainly nobody could have imagined that. We'd still be talking about it 40 plus years later.
[00:17:40.800] - Todd Jones
Right? Do you remember having to write? Was it a type of event we were like, oh, my gosh, this is pretty big. How do you remember it?
[00:17:48.220] - Helene Elliott
As a writer, I remember that an editor changed my and I still kid him about it for all these years later.
[00:17:58.700] - Todd Jones
Wait a minute. What did you write? What was the change to?
[00:18:02.370] - Helene Elliott
I wrote about walking outside and seeing people jumping up and down and dancing in the streets. And I was on the street and I was standing next to a guy who was wearing Russian team jacket and hat and one of those furry hats. And he was watching it and kind of half smiling. And he saw me and saw my American credential. And he said he put up his finger as a number one sign and goes, One, you are number one. And I had that in my lead.
[00:18:33.060] - Helene Elliott
And somebody changed that, too. Going into the Olympics, everyone said the Russians had the team and the US had the dream.
[00:18:41.010] - Todd Jones
Well, the miracle on ice is something out. Like you said, who would have thought 40 years later when we're still talking about it? It transcended the actual sport of hockey. It brought in non hockey fans. And when you think about it, the hockey player who transcended the sport and brought in non hockey fans is Wayne Gretzky.
[00:19:19.050] - Todd Jones
And you had the fortune to cover him a lot.I wanted to ask you first about him as a player. I stood next to Gretzky. I'm six foot one. They list him at six foot. He's not six foot tall, right?
[00:19:47.830] - Helene Elliott
[00:19:48.520] - Todd Jones
How big is he?
[00:19:51.310] - Helene Elliott
Like hockey rosters, six foot one, Canadian. And then you convert it to us, which is less. But yeah. And I think that's part of Gretzky's appeal was you look at LeBron James, you know, he's a basketball player. You look at football players, beefy lineman, you know, they're football players. Wayne Gretzky looked like any guy walking down the street. I mean, maybe thicker thighs because of the skating. But he looked human. He looked approachable. He was relatable in terms of his stature, the way he thought the game, the way he saw the game, the way he saw plays before they developed was incredible.
[00:20:37.830] - Helene Elliott
And I always say that as many points as he got in his career, think of how many more he could have had if he had wingers who were close to his skill level. Think of all the passes he made that were so good that people may not have expected them and so couldn't finish them off and score goals. He probably could have had another 500 points.
[00:20:57.370] - Todd Jones
He only had 2800. I mean, his numbers are insane. I mean, 61 NHL records, 894 goals, 2857 points. It's the type of thing. When you look at it, it's almost hard to comprehend what number jumps out to you the most about Gretzky. When you think about his career.
[00:21:23.030] - Helene Elliott
That if you subtract his goals and just his assist, he'd still be the leading score.
[00:21:27.590] - Todd Jones
[00:21:35.070] - Helene Elliott
It's a wonderful discussion and argument to get into is comparing athletes from one era to the next, which is impossible to really do. But it's one of the things that makes sports fun is you bring your favoritism or your knowledge or to an argument like that. But Gretzky just was like no one we had seen before in terms of Bobby Ore comes closest in terms of just that incredible vision, that incredible ability to project what was going to happen, to know where to be, to know where to just pass the pocket.
But when you think about that era, the speed of the game, the openness of the game. Was Gretzky just part of making teams play that way? Or was it just that was the era of hockey?
[00:23:56.890] - Helene Elliott
I think that was part of the era of hockey. Eight, six scores. And I can remember Kings and Edmondson playoff games eight, six and six, four, those kind of scores. And now it's a three, two League, as Daryl Sutter famously said. And he's right. I think one of the things is that people like Gretzky and the scorers are so rare. The people with natural goal scoring talent are so rare that the NHL seems intent on instead of making everybody catch up to that level, the NHL seems intent on dumbing it down.
[00:24:36.410] - Helene Elliott
They allowed for so long, they allowed interference and hooking and holding because people couldn't possibly reach Gretzky's level. And the only way they could compete was by bringing Gretzky and great players down to a lower level. And you look at the NHL and go, you have this incredible talent let them use their talents, but get rid of the hooking and holding an interference and hacking and whacking. But that would mean that probably 200 players couldn't play in the League anymore.
[00:25:06.250] - Todd Jones
Why do you think that is, Helen? Why do you think hockey as a League, Danny Chel? Why didn't they take that approach again?
[00:25:15.310] - Helene Elliott
Because there's just not as many talented people as there are average players. And no offense, please, to be an average NHL player is still infinitely much more talented than any garage League player. I don't know if that's going to come out sounding right, but what I mean is that there are so few extraordinary players. Why not feature them and cater to them rather than allowing the lesser talented players to drag them down?
[00:25:47.860] - Todd Jones
[00:25:48.400] - Helene Elliott
Why not encourage people to rise instead of dragging down the best players and the coaching?
[00:25:55.250] - Todd Jones
Why turning into a street fight? And when you can use the talents of a guy like that and players who have that ability again, there are few. But the sport could maybe go in the direction that the fans would like to see more of?
[00:26:12.950] - Helene Elliott
Yes, absolutely. I think there should be more rules that cater to scorers that cater to freedom, to skating, to again encourage people to lift the level of the game rather than dragging the superstars down to the level of the average player.
[00:26:31.550] - Todd Jones
Well, Helene, you got to Los Angeles in 1989, and that was a year after Gretzky was traded there. Can you put into context what it meant for hockey for sports when Gretzky went to Los Angeles in one 9000, hundred and 88?
[00:27:10.230] - Helene Elliott
Well, as you say, I wasn't in La then, but I think the NHL owes Wayne Gretzky a greater debt than they can ever pay. The reason we have a team in Anaheim, the reason there's a team in Arizona. The reason there's a team in San Jose is because of Wayne Gretzky and the interest he sparked in hockey again. As we said before, he gave the game a human face. He gave the game an appealing face, a relatable face. You look back at some of these old pictures and you see of hockey players and you see all these stitches and square jawed guys with black eyes and stitches or whatever Queen Gretzky was modest in stature, appealing looking guy, a good, decent looking guy.
[00:28:05.650] - Helene Elliott
People could relate to him. People who didn't know hockey at least had probably heard of him. What he did for hockey is still being felt here and throughout the NHL now it's not the first generation. What we're seeing now, I think, is the kids of people who started playing because Gretzky came to La every year. You look at major College programs. You look at junior hockey, you look at all throughout youth levels of the NHL of hockey. Excuse me. And you'll see kids from California, and they started because it's all because of Gresky, whether it's first generation, second generation, maybe even third generation.
[00:28:50.780] - Helene Elliott
[00:28:50.940] - Todd Jones
And it's not just boys and men either, right. It's females playing, right?
[00:28:54.850] - Helene Elliott
Exactly. Absolutely. The Ducks have an incredible girls and women's program. The Kings have had youth programs for years that were accelerated by Gretzky's arrival. There's a woman on the US Olympic team women's hockey team who from Southern California, Angela Rossiero, for many years played on the US Olympic team, and she's from Southern California. But it's not just making it to the NHL that matters. Hockey has become a recreational sport in the sense that if you're working in a company and you get a lunch break, maybe you go play basketball somewhere in Canada that would be you go play beer League hockey somewhere.
[00:29:40.890] - Helene Elliott
Hockey is part of the culture here now. I'm not saying it's ever going to rise to the level of basketball or whatever, but it is an accepted part of the culture here. You can't build enough rings for it here. I mean, the Ducks just opened a four rink facility in Irvine, which is a suburb south of Los Angeles, and that place is going 24 hours a day. Almost. It's incredible to see they have a ring for world class figure skaters. World figure skating champion Nathan Chen trains there.
[00:30:14.880] - Helene Elliott
But there's always constant recreational hockey games there and youth League games there. Wayne Gretzky had an incredible impact on the NHL that I don't think many people realize the full extent of that.
[00:30:29.560] - Todd Jones
I think it's not just because he was a once in a lifetime player on the ice. It was because he embraced being an ambassador, right?
[00:30:38.210] - Helene Elliott
Exactly. He always had time for autographs. He always had time to make an appearance somewhere. He always had time to shake a hand and make eye contact and to be relatable to be interested. And there's a lot of things he did behind the scenes as well that he doesn't like to talk about and told people to please, not publicize, that things that he did in the community or for individual players. He made himself part of the community, and I think he was embraced here and certainly everywhere else.
[00:31:13.740] - Todd Jones
You have behind the scenes moments that stick out in your mind about covering him. Maybe it's something how he related to other players or something off the ice or just him as a human, I guess not just a hockey player.
[00:31:27.230] - Helene Elliott
Well, one of my favorite memories does involve hockey, but it was the Islanders and Edmonton Oilers played in the Stanley Cup finals in the fourth Islander's fourth straight back when Bill Smith was the goldtender. Oh, boy, it was Bill Smith who said that he was a constant critic of Gretzky. He had to take him by the hand and introduce him to his own goaltender and all that kind of stuff. But if I recall correctly, Billy Smith won the cons my award as the playoff MVP, and we were standing next to this.
[00:32:09.790] - Helene Elliott
I remember standing backstage behind this, next to a platform where Bill Smith was getting the award, or Bill Smith was speaking during an interview, and Gretzky walked up and was waiting his turn at the podium. And here I am, standing next to Wayne Gretzky. He's just lost his game and lost a chance at the cup and everything. He's standing there waiting his term. Billy Smith comes down off the podium and starts walking past, and Gretzky stuck his hand out, shake his hand, Shakespeare's hand, and Smith hesitated.
[00:32:46.710] - Helene Elliott
But then he shook. And I always thought that was really incredible, Gretzky to do that, particularly because again, Smith is somebody who wasted no opportunity to make fun of Gretzky and to demean Gretzky and criticize him. And here Gretzky was being the guy to extend the olive branch.
[00:33:06.670] - Todd Jones
I think that's the kind of moment that does show the genuineness of when a person is playing an ambassador role. You're always sitting there wondering, is he doing this for other reasons? But it just seems like Gretzky was just a genuinely decent guy.
[00:33:21.210] - Helene Elliott
Absolutely. He never forgot his roots. He always had a sense of responsibility. He wasn't just in La to play hockey. He was there to promote the game, to grow the game. And he took that seriously.
[00:33:34.410] - Todd Jones
But he didn't like to fly, though, right?
[00:33:37.830] - Helene Elliott
That is correct. I have another story on that as well.
[00:33:40.100] - Todd Jones
Okay. All right. Here we go.
[00:33:46.270] - Helene Elliott
My memory is a little faulty here, but the year that the Bruins and Eulers played the Stanley Cup final, power went out in Boston Garden, and the game had to be suspended. The Bruins had just tied the game on a powerplate, I recall correctly. And the power went out. And Boston Garden what a dumpster garden didn't have air conditioning. Oh, man, that place was and the lights go out and you hear the scurrying at your feet. And you know, there's rats running around at your feet, which is another pleasant experience.
[00:34:22.540] - Helene Elliott
But the game had to be suspended, even though everybody in the world knew Edmonton was going to win the game and win the cup. But we had to go back to fly back to Edmonton. And in those days, the League ran charter, airplane flights and media were allowed to buy tickets on the charter because it was just more efficient and to get back and forth, you can't go nonstop Austin to Edmonton. So it worked out. And I remember being on the plane and sitting in my seat.
[00:34:54.870] - Helene Elliott
And before the flight took off, Wayne was walking up and down the aisle. He was very nervous. In fact, he used to be so nervous that he would go up to the cockpit. He would have to talk to the pilots before the flight took off.
[00:35:07.620] - Todd Jones
But wait a minute. He was asking questions that do know how to do your job.
[00:35:11.260] - Helene Elliott
Yeah, I was looking for Reassurance basically. And I remember he just had this look of just such anxiety on his face. So as he walked by me, I remember asking him a question. I don't remember what I said, but just to get the I figured if he got involved in a conversation, maybe he'd forget his anxiety and maybe he'd feel a little bit more comfortable. I don't remember what I said. But he stopped and we started chatting and we kept chatting. And the longer he's standing there, people start, other writers started leaving their seats and coming over and joining this group.
[00:35:44.660] - Helene Elliott
And I remember looking around. At one point there was a group of probably 15 or 20 writers just standing around and he's chatting. Nobody's recording, nobody's taking notes. It's just Wayne Gretzky talking hockey.
[00:35:54.750] - Todd Jones
[00:35:55.850] - Helene Elliott
And he completely forgot the anxiety. And then to be nervous about flying. And I always remember that as just a moment of just pure Wayne Gretzky. He just was standing there. We're talking hockey and we're better to talk hockey.
[00:36:11.990] - Todd Jones
But Wayne Gretzky forgot exactly right. If you're going to chitchat about hockey. Hey, you got the great one right there on the flight with you. Well, Grassky certainly took the NHL to new heights when I think about it in the late 60s, 1019 and 67 as late as then. Gresky is just a little kid growing up in Canada, and the NHL only had six teams, the original six. And you think about it now. It has, like, 32 teams and it's everywhere. Like you said, even in sunny California, the rinks are just full all the time.
[00:36:45.570] - Todd Jones
The kids playing hockey. And I think one of the things that's been interesting about your own career when you were covering a lot of hockey, starting back in the 80s, even seeing it grow, you have seen the sport mushroom into this. What have you enjoyed about being a hockey rider?
[00:37:13.230] - Helene Elliott
I think hockey players have always been the most humble and approachable of all the athletes I've dealt with. And I hate to make blanket statements because within every group of athletes, there's good ones and bad people who are nice and people who aren't nice. But on the whole, hockey players have always been the most humble, the most down to Earth, the most approachable, the most open.
[00:37:37.630] - Todd Jones
Why do you think that is?
[00:37:40.530] - Helene Elliott
I've always theorized that because so many of them were from Canada and everybody in Canada seems to be service. But I think it's the team ethic. And you can say that the team ethic is what makes hockey wonderful. But it's also something that I think has held the sport back. Held the NHL back because you look at the NBA, the NBA is built on personalities, right. And that's great.
[00:38:06.780] - Todd Jones
It's like pro wrestling that way, right. You got good guys, bad guys marketed.
[00:38:10.780] - Helene Elliott
Yeah. Absolutely. You say LeBron, and people know who you're talking about. You say Kairi, you say whatever name that you put out there, people know who you mean because it's built around the personalities. Hockey. The players seem much more comfortable as a unit rather than being single bowed. And that's wonderful. The relative lack of egos is just wonderful. It's admirable. But it also, I think, holds the sport back in terms of promotion. And I've always felt that that's one thing that is, among other factors, kept talking from really exploding in terms of audience.
[00:38:51.770] - Helene Elliott
[00:38:51.890] - Todd Jones
I think it's almost related to what you were talking about with how the League tried to dumb down the game and hold a guy like Ritzky in check. Right. It's almost like it's a natural reaction that the sport has to somebody rising up too high as an individual. It's all about the room as a player. Say, the room.
[00:39:12.630] - Helene Elliott
I think there's actually a name for it. I don't know where it comes from. It's called Tall Poppy syndrome. Like, if you are the tallest, you immediately get cut down. You're not supposed to stand out, stand above the rest. And that is something I've seen very frequently in hockey. The money has changed things, certainly. But I think it's still the best on the whole, the best group of athletes to cover.
[00:39:41.920] - Todd Jones
Also, I think with hockey is the passion of the sport itself. Despite its growth, it's still more of a niche compared to, say, the NFL or the NBA. But within that hockey world, the fans are really into it. And I'm sure, as a reporter or a writer, you know, that more than anybody because you hear from them, right? You hear from them?
[00:40:07.120] - Helene Elliott
Oh, absolutely. Because there's this sense of, well, the Lakers got a story on the front page of the La Times. How come the Yellea Kings didn't? Fans are passionate because they know there's so many factors working against their team being covered or being featured on TV or how many times when they're featured on TV, the names are spelled wrong or local TV? Certainly. I've seen Wayne Gretzky's name spelled wrong so many times. It's just crazy. But, yeah, there's this sense of you're not just a fan. You're an advocate of the game.
[00:40:41.540] - Helene Elliott
And the passion is there. The passion is one.
[00:40:45.310] - Todd Jones
Well, it's certainly there in the spring during the playoffs, which, to me, NHL playoffs, the Standing Cup playoffs are unlike just about anything that I had the fortune to be around as a writer, you pretty much covered every Stanley Cup finals just about since what, 1980. I think you haven't missed any of it.
[00:41:17.190] - Helene Elliott
I mean, the Stanley of playoffs is just the intensity of it. And in hockey, the whole thing where they're growing the beards, where teams promote unity by having all players grow beards, love that they turn into Lumberjacks. It's great. But there's a sense in the Stanley Cup playoffs of that's harder. The Stanley Cup, I believe, is the hardest trophy to win. I really do.
[00:41:51.910] - Todd Jones
Why do you believe that?
[00:41:53.850] - Helene Elliott
I've written that and had people say, oh, why do you say that? Because of the physicality of hockey, because of the condensed nature of a playoff series, you're playing one team best of seven. There's a lot of opportunity for personal rivalries for fans to hate each other for just the physicality to ramp up the trail of the Stanley Cup, I think is tougher. I've covered NDA playoffs and yeah, that's pretty grueling, too. But when you add the physicality of hockey that I think makes it just physically more demanding.
[00:42:34.430] - Todd Jones
Do you have a favorite anecdote that sheds light on just how tough it is for the players? A memory of covering all the different playoffs?
[00:42:44.070] - Helene Elliott
Not really. It's just a sense of just every year, the unwavering commitment it takes. It's just been so different these last couple of years because of COVID and bubbles and lack of travel that I haven't covered the last two stand like a finals, for example. But it's just a sense of you're all in for two months. It's just two months of exhilaration and exhaustion.
[00:43:19.800] - Todd Jones
What's it like for a writer?
[00:43:22.890] - Helene Elliott
Two months of exhilaration and exhaustion and terrible deadlines. They're very long days. You go to the morning skate, you check the line up, you check to see who's doing what, to who and who's on which line. And you talk to the coach and you ask who the starting goalie is and you're told, no, we're not telling you. But it is a very long day. You go to morning skate. You write something, you have to go to the game later, have to write something. If your deadlines are early, you may have to write two or three different versions of your story or column.
[00:44:02.970] - Helene Elliott
So it does become plus overtime, unlimited overtime. And the playoffs has a way of wreaking havoc with deadlines.
[00:44:10.950] - Todd Jones
Now, that's one thing I wanted to ask you about covering overtime hockey. What was the worst night for you covering Stanley Cup playoff hockey that went into overtime?
[00:44:25.510] - Helene Elliott
Gosh well, the Islanders Capitals was quadruple overtime. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
[00:44:35.860] - Todd Jones
They might still be playing.
[00:44:38.650] - Helene Elliott
It ended at 157 in the morning, and the shots on goal were 75 to 57. I always remember that but.
[00:44:47.390] - Todd Jones
Yeah, 75 shots, the goalie, the goaltender had to look like Bonnie and Clyde's Car. I mean, come on.
[00:44:56.860] - Helene Elliott
Kelly, Rudy was one. And I want to say Bob Mason was the other. But again, my memory is somewhere. I lost my memory changing planes in Chicago at some point, but just 157 in the morning. And I remember afterwards going down to the locker room to talk to players and the Capitals PR guy walking through the locker room and saying, Room is closed at 230 in the morning. And it's like, oh, my God. The absurdity of it was just ridiculous. I mean, I've covered quadruple over time.
[00:45:31.910] - Helene Elliott
I've covered quintuple over time. As a writer, you're not rooting, but you're on edge because as soon as something happens, you have to send a story. You have to make sure you're getting it. All right. Update the statistics, provide context and then go downstairs to do interviews. So it's just a jumble. And it's a lot of fast thinking and fast typing, and it's just very chaotic sometimes quite an adrenaline rush. Yeah, absolutely. And I guess that's why those of us are still doing this. Still do it.
[00:46:12.440] - Helene Elliott
It's the adrenaline.
[00:46:15.310] - Todd Jones
Well, you covered so many great hockey moments. We talked about the miracle and ice, and we talked a lot about the Stanley Cup playoffs. I did want to ask you about one particular moment in the Stanley Cup finals, and that's in 1094, when the New York Rangers ended their 54 year drought. And you were in the Madison Square Garden that night when they beat the Vancouver Canucks three to two in game seven. What do you recall about that night? Especially since you grew up in New York?
[00:46:43.950] - Todd Jones
You grew up in Brooklyn. You know what that meant? What was that night like covering that game?
[00:46:53.690] - Helene Elliott
Just the whole sense of euphoria of how long it had been all those years. Islander fans would chant at the Rangers 1940, and they didn't have to hear that anymore. I remember somebody in the crowd holding up a sign. Now I can die. Happily. I wish people would point out a bit more often that the Rangers haven't won the cup again since that day. So that's one cup in 81 years, just one.
[00:47:28.490] - Todd Jones
It was a good one.
[00:47:29.470] - Helene Elliott
Yeah, it was a good one. But, yeah, one just that sense of so many years of waiting. And just to see it actually happened to see Mark Messier will that team to a Championship was just really astonishing.
[00:47:48.030] - Todd Jones
It was a special moment you mentioned earlier about athletes who were able to do it when the stakes are the highest. And that's when I think about that game. And Messier, like you say, willing his team to victory. What have you learned about athletes in those moments when a guide, man or woman performs at their best, when the stakes are highest?
[00:48:14.970] - Helene Elliott
I've heard athletes say that things slow down for them, like a batter who hits a game winning home run might say that a 94 miles an hour fastball or whatever looked like a grapefruit to him or just some sense of in different contexts, different sports that time slowed down for them, that they were able to focus and react in a way that they hadn't been before. I think it takes a certain amount of calmness, of confidence. There's really no one answer to say what makes one athlete great.
[00:48:59.250] - Helene Elliott
It varies from player to player. It varies from team to team. But that's part of the fascination of why were you able to do it today? There are athletes who have had great shining moments and never came close to that again. And then there are people like Tom Brady who does it again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. So that, I think, is what makes sport so interesting is the thought, the preparation that goes into it and just that magical ability to see things unfold before they actually happen.
[00:49:39.260] - Helene Elliott
And to anticipate I mean, Wayne Gretzky's anticipation of what should happen next and what would happen next is unlike any other players.
[00:49:49.510] - Todd Jones
It'S like they can see the chessboard and everybody else is playing checkers.
[00:49:54.370] - Helene Elliott
[00:49:55.800] - Todd Jones
Well, Mesa certainly did that in 94, that night in the Garden for the Rangers. I wanted to ask you about something about seven years prior to that. I don't think you were there, but on February 4, 1987, the Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, he wouldn't allow the media into the locker room. And the reason he did that is because the NHL decreed that he must give equal access to females. And I wanted to ask you about this topic because again, you started in the late 70s, and there were just not many women in sports media at the time.
[00:50:32.110] - Todd Jones
And I was curious about your approach when you first started and the determination that you had to prove yourself. How did you handle that? And what was it like for you at the start of your career?
[00:50:49.510] - Helene Elliott
Well, as I mentioned earlier, there are so few female sports writers that we all used to trade information as to which locker room was a good place where players would be nice to us and which ones weren't. I think the thing that was maddening was that it was kind of a patchwork of rules. There was no one set rule from the major sports League. So within the NHL, you'd get teams that would allow you in and teams that wouldn't. I remember being at the Sun Times and covering a College football game at Notre Dame, and obviously I wasn't allowed in.
[00:51:30.160] - Helene Elliott
I was supposed to wait for the sports information director to bring players out. And quite often that didn't happen. And I remember the security guard kept pushing me further and further away from the door to the point where I was outside.
[00:51:44.210] - Todd Jones
What you were outside the Stadium.
[00:51:47.410] - Helene Elliott
Yeah. I just pushed outside.
[00:51:50.530] - Todd Jones
What did you do? What did you do?
[00:51:53.000] - Helene Elliott
Well, I got back in, but I think that among our colleagues, there were some men who were very helpful and either would help us advocate for equal access or would help by bringing out players or quotes or bring out quotes for us when we couldn't go in. And there were some who didn't care, there were some who said, hey, tough. This is the way it is and who I think could have and should have been more helpful. But it just took it as an opportunity to beat us on things.
[00:52:32.520] - Todd Jones
Yeah. To me, Helen, I think when I think about that issue, it's about fairness. I mean, when you're closing the locker room to women only, but allowing men in that's absurd. I mean, you're allowing the male reporters to have an advantage, right?
[00:52:50.410] - Helene Elliott
That was the case. Absolutely. It was. And people seem, I don't know. It gets very contentious. And I've gotten emails over the years. And now with social media, you get social media comments and all these things, just some horrible, horrible things. Are you going in there looking for a husband? Do you have a notebook on the naked men that you see that kind of thing? And that's not the issue. The issue is equal access if it's equal access in a Press conference or equal access wherever it is, that's the point is the equal action, right.
[00:53:26.110] - Todd Jones
How do you handle all that negativity coming at you like that? Just the absurdity of it. And the meanness. And how do you handle that as a person?
[00:53:34.690] - Helene Elliott
I mean, there are times it bothers me. And I think you ask any female sports writer or sports broadcaster and they'll tell you they've gotten some pretty horrible comments that have made them feel bad. But if you let other people comments from other people and their attitudes run your life, then you're living their life, not yours.
[00:53:56.710] - Todd Jones
That's a great way to look at it.
[00:54:00.010] - Helene Elliott
I'm going to do my job. You don't like it? Sorry. That's your choice to not like it. You don't get to tell me what to do.
[00:54:07.470] - Todd Jones
And you mentioned along the way that there were many people who were helpful helping how wrong it was to have women treated differently in terms of getting access to do their jobs. I think there was a time with even like Daryl Strawberry helped you once, right?
[00:54:25.250] - Helene Elliott
Yeah. But Ken Griffith was another wonderful guy. And Ken Griffith Jr. As well. Because when I worked at Newsday, I used to do a lot of backup baseball. So I do a lot of Yankees, Yankee stuff. And at that point, King Griffith Jr. Was one of the little kids who used to hang out in the hallway with all the other players, kids. And Billy Martin on days when his hangovers were particularly bad, would yell at those little kids. And that's one of the reasons Griffith wanted out of New York.
[00:54:56.020] - Helene Elliott
But Ken Griffith junior, was always nice to me on the occasions when I would see him because I was actually hired at the La Times as a baseball rider. I covered the Angels for three seasons, my first three years at the La Times, and then I covered the Lakers before I did any real hockey riding at the La Times. But there are athletes over the years who were classy who were helpful. There was a time I was in the Metz clubhouse with another sports writer named Marty Noble, and Marty was kind of introducing me around to people.
[00:55:30.000] - Helene Elliott
And Dave Kingman started following us around and kind of like mimicking, like taking notes, writing in a notebook and all. And it was just very creepy. It was just very uncomfortable. And Marty went off to do his own thing. So I was talking to reporters and Kingman would just be lurking over my shoulder. And this happened more than one game. And finally I talked to somebody at the Mets, and I said, this is just really not necessary. This is really creepy and uncomfortable. And the manager was Frank Howard, and he apologized to me and it became a story.
[00:56:07.760] - Helene Elliott
Ap wrote a story, and it just became a story. And I wish it hadn't. But after it became public, Daryl Strawberry came up to me and said, Next time something like that happens, you come to me, I'll take care of it.
[00:56:19.680] - Todd Jones
[00:56:20.650] - Helene Elliott
Which I thought was really incredible. Yeah.
[00:56:22.570] - Todd Jones
Great. That's really great. I've read where you have said before that the journalist and you, as always, I don't want to be part of the story. I don't want to be the story, right. But I do think it's important to document what this was like because I feel like the people who had doors opened up to them and rightfully so should know what it was like, should know what you had to deal with you and other women, the women, especially in the late 70s, early 80s. And really the unfortunate thing is, it's still a problem.
[00:56:58.650] - Todd Jones
It's still a societal problem. How it happened with Jared Porter, right earlier this year, got fired by the general manager to Metz. And you wrote a really moving column about that. And I encourage people to read that particular column because I think it humanizes, the reporter and what they're dealing with. Why did you feel it wasn't important in that column to really specify some of the things that you had to deal with.
[00:57:33.750] - Helene Elliott
Sports writers have, what other people perceive to be a dream job. And in many ways, it is absolutely it is. I've seen sports events I never dreamt. I'd see. I've been to places around the world I never imagined. I'd get to visit. And I think on the whole, people don't want to know about the problems we have. I know on planes, you talk to the person next to you or used to in precova days. And they said, what do you do? I do this. What do you do?
[00:58:05.260] - Helene Elliott
I'm a sports. Oh, wow. You are so lucky you get to see the Lakers play, but there is some work involved. They don't want to hear that part of it. And I've always just kind of taken the position of I don't want to spoil somebody else's dream. They don't need to know what goes into the sausage. And I'll just say, yeah, it's been a wonderful experience. But I think it's also important for people to know that there are still difficulties in the workplace. There are still people like Jared Porter.
[00:58:40.250] - Helene Elliott
There are still situations where women are afraid to report misbehavior because they're told or they have reason to believe that reporting it would be would mean they're labeled a troublemaker. They're labeled a problem, not a team player because a person in power has control over their job or their future. Power corrupts in many cases. And it's about power. It's about Jared Porter exercising his power over people or other executives, exercising their power over people to frighten them or coerce them into doing things that they don't want to do.
[00:59:25.510] - Helene Elliott
It's still out there. And I think, sadly, it's part of human nature. It will never disappear. The idea that you can use power to have a hold on other people. But I think it's worth talking about in the sense of you don't have to put up with that anymore. You should not have to put up with that. And the important thing is to change the attitude of somebody who reports it is not a troublemaker, exactly. Somebody who reports it, who has been victimized is not a troublemaker.
[00:59:57.380] - Helene Elliott
They're not somebody who should be labeled as, oh, she's not a team player. This is a human being whose rights to calm, respectful workplace are being violated.
[01:00:09.850] - Todd Jones
Do you take a lot of pride in knowing that you were part of a wave of female reporters and sports media that did make a difference in regards to this?
[01:00:22.190] - Helene Elliott
I think that the attitudes in society were changing at the time as well. If I played a small part, and I want to mention also that there were some women before me. Laurie Mifflin at the New York Daily News, Mary Flannery in Philadelphia, Joan Ryan, there were Robin, Herman, Jane Gross. We're all writing a little bit ahead of when I was there, but if I played any small part in it, I'm happy that people might think that, but I don't know how many people women out there today know what it used to be like or care of what it used to be like.
[01:01:47.770] - Helene Elliott
Sometimes I wonder if I've had any impact at all. And other times I'll hear from readers who say such and such a column really meant something to me. Like the column you mentioned a few moments ago about harassment. I wrote about harassment I had experienced as a young reporter and the fact that I did not really know how to handle it. I heard from other women saying, yes, I know exactly what you mean. And a number of them shared their stories of what had happened to them.
[01:02:22.240] - Helene Elliott
And some of it was absolutely horrific, absolutely horrible, horrible stuff about how people in power took advantage of them, treated them terribly, coerced them, terrorized them at work. It's just awful, awful stuff. So when you hear from people who say that story, I identified with that or people who say I've been reading you, I felt like I was there when I read your column. I felt like I was there. That, to me, is the ultimate compliment. And that's why I keep it to hear things like that.
[01:02:57.780] - Todd Jones
Well, it's amazing that you're still just doing it at such a high level with such great passion for it, the energy, like you said, keeping it fresh, the unknown of the daily sports world. What's going to happen? Who's going to win this game? What's going to make that trade? Has it really been a dream job when you think about it?
[01:03:19.670] - Helene Elliott
Absolutely. Again, here I am, this kid from such a far corner of Brooklyn that it hasn't been gentrified. Here I am all over the world. 17 Olympics, World Cup, soccer, semica finals, NBA Finals, World Series. I mean, it's just stuff I could never have dared to dream of. And absolutely, it's just been an amazing experience.
[01:03:47.710] - Todd Jones
Helen, I really do appreciate you joining us. You've made a real difference in sports media. I know your peers all agree with me on that, and I just want to say thank you again for joining us.
[01:04:12.450] - Helene Elliott
Well, thank you.