Jennifer Frey threw her entire being into the career she envisioned: becoming a sportswriter for a major metropolitan newspaper.
To that end, she did what was necessary to get the story. She would travel long distances at the drop of a hat. She would go into men’s locker rooms after games and sometimes get sexually harassed. She once developed a friendship with a highly-paid player in order to get to know him, ruffling the feathers of some of the pack of writers who angled for access.
And she didn’t care what others thought of her. She turned any doubt and fury into her work, consistently fashioning excellent stories in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., amongst other locales.
It was a hard life. And the hard life caught up to her in the form of health problems that plagued her for much of the last decade and a half.
The news came about three weeks ago: because she was not a suitable candidate for an internal organ transplant, she had only weeks to live.
Jennifer and I honed our craft at our old college newspaper. In her final opinion column in 1990, she wrote a passage that rings so incredibly true a quarter of a century later, especially in the dustup over the weekend between UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy:
[I]n a lot of ways, I have sacrificed my opportunity to boost women’s sports at Harvard for my chance to be a woman sportswriter. For that, I apologize to the women athletes at Harvard. Women at Harvard have won more Ivy titles and more MVP awards than the men. In the past four years, women’s teams have been dominant in swimming and basketball, lacrosse and crew. Some of the top women’s teams in the country have participated under the Harvard name.
Professional women sportswriters have told me that the only way to make changes is to make it to the top first. The Harvard women’s lacrosse team made it to the top last weekend. And when they took the field for the NCAA Final Four, they wore uniforms adorned with orange ribbons–ribbons that protested the cancellation of women’s lacrosse programs at UMass-Amherst and Rutgers. They did not celebrate their triumph without recognizing the battles women in sports have fought all over the country.
I hope I can do the same.
Needless to say, she did. Long after our graduations, I encountered her at a sporting event in Washington. I congratulated her on the publication of Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Baseketball, an autobiography of WNBA megastar Chamique Holdsclaw. The text opened a window into the life of a complicated professional athlete, and it foreshadowed some of the events that later ended her professional career far too soon. These are the most difficult stories to write, and she did a fine job with it, and I told her so.
It was at the end of that conversation with Jennifer that I expressed my hope to meet up with her for dinner and/or an adult beverage. Regrettably, that never happened because of her change in career (having moved from sports to features) as well as her health.
Jennifer did great work as a writer, telling good stories, and standing up for herself in the face of sometimes withering criticism in the days before the Wild West of comment sections in weblog networks and under-moderated message boards.
And now, I’m feeling the realization that there are many stories and storylines that she will never get to chronicle at all. In writing this, I’m feeling profound loss, and profound emotions. I’m shaking as the fingers are striking the keys.
Of all the people in the business I have ever known, Jennifer Frey did not deserve to go this quickly.
I, for one, will never forget her.