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Robin Herman, reporter who broke gender barrier in NHL locker rooms, dies at 70

She made history by interviewing players after the 1975 NHL All-Star game

Robin Herman.Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Two years after she started covering the National Hockey League for The New York Times, Robin Herman stood outside a locker room after the 1975 All-Star Game — a familiar place for her and other women sports reporters.

That night was different, however. Two NHL coaches said she and Marcelle St. Cyr, a reporter for CKLM radio in Canada, could go in and interview players after the game, something male reporters had always been allowed to do, but never women.

“I was allowed access that night in 1975, I believe, because responsibility is diffused at all-star games,” she wrote for the Times in 1990. “Coaches are in charge of players who aren’t their own. The coaches opened the doors on a whim, perhaps a dare.”

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Stepping through the locker room door, Herman made history: It was the first time women reporters were allowed inside a male locker room to interview players after an NHL game.

Herman, who went on to cover other topics for the Times and The Washington Post before becoming assistant dean for communications at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, died Tuesday in her Waltham home. She was 70 and had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven years ago.

“When you’re the first, you know you’re doing it for everybody, and boy, she was the perfect role model,” said Lesley Visser, a former Globe sportswriter.

Robin Herman, New York Times sports writer traveling with the New York Islanders, left after interviewing two Islanders in the visiting coaches office. Bettmann Archive/file

Visser, who became the first female NFL analyst on TV, used to call Herman “iron under velvet. She was lovely, and yet she was not going to be abused.”

In a reporter’s notebook for the Times a couple of weeks after the 1975 All-Star game, Herman recalled that on that historic evening in Montreal, “Marcelle and I walked in the dressing room door and for one brief, ridiculous moment I thought perhaps we would go unnoticed amid the crush of about 60 reporters in suits and ties.”

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Wishful thinking, she quickly realized. Everyone turned to look at them “as players scrambled for towels and photographers scrambled for cameras.” Though she had been assured the players would be told women were about to enter the room, they weren’t.

Robin Herman.Paul Horvitz

“Marcelle and I, not the All-Star game, had become the news of the hour,” she wrote. “Cameras hovered over our shoulders. Microphones poked at our mouths.”

Despite what she remembered as a “circus scene” that evening, “mini sports history was made when Marcelle and I crossed the threshold of that room,” Herman wrote. “It was an important moment, for it loudly heralded the fact that female sportswriters are a reality and that they must be dealt with.”

For Robin Cathy Herman, who was born in 1951, breaking the gender barrier for women sports reporters in professional sports locker rooms wasn’t her first “first.”

She was in the first Princeton University class that admitted women, and became the first woman sports reporter at the college newspaper.

In 1999, Herman became head of communications for Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Herman and her husband, Paul Horvitz, a former editor for the Times and the International Herald Tribune, lived in Newton for many years before moving to Waltham after their two children were grown.

“She was a smart, curious person who was perfect for journalism because she always was skeptical about things that were being placed in front of her as grand achievements,” he said. “She loved to research stuff and wrestle it to the ground.”

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In addition to her husband, Herman leaves their two children, Zachary Horvitz of Boulder, Colo., and Eva Horvitz of Victoria, Va.; her sister, Summer Pramer of Belle Mead, N.J.; and two grandchildren.

Herman’s ashes will be buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and the family will announce a gathering of remembrance.

Her barrier-breaking legacy continues today among women sports journalists.

“Without her bravery, I would not be in the position I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful,” Globe sports columnist Tara Sullivan said. “She had the guts to fight the good fight and open doors, both literally and figuratively, for those who followed in her footsteps. As legacies go, that is a pretty powerful one.”

A complete obituary will follow.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said Robin Herman and Marcelle St. Cyr were the first women allowed inside a male locker room to interview players after a professional sports game. They were the first in an NHL locker room.


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.