Growing up as a young girl in Western New York, Karen Kornacki didn’t have many sports-related opportunities, on the playing field or off.
“There were no sports for girls,” Kornacki said. “We had gym classes and if you were fortunate enough to pay for tennis, gymnastics, or golf lessons, you could be active that way. But there were no sports for girls to participate in.”
Kornacki didn’t set out to become a television sports journalist. Mainly because women weren’t part of the sports journalism world when she was growing up.
“I did not pursue a career in sports journalism,” she said. “There were no women in those roles back in the 70’s.”
Despite not initially pursuing a career in sports journalism, Kornacki ended up becoming a pioneer in her field. For the last 40 years, she’s been a mainstay in Kansas City for KMBC, covering nearly every major sporting event in the state. And her impact and influence on female sports journalists and broadcasters is so immense it’s difficult to measure. For those reasons, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Kornacki with the Class of 2023.
It may be hard to imagine now, but in the late 70s, there were few – if any – women working in sports journalism. Sports Illustrated’s Melissa Ludtke drew national attention in 1977 for simply trying to do her job. Ludtke and Time, Inc., sued Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees, and others after being denied access to the Yankees locker room during the 1977 World Series. The case not only drew national attention, but it also ended up opening the proverbial door for aspiring female broadcasters across the country.
Enter Karen Kornacki. A recent graduate of the University of Denver at the time, Kornacki answered the call when WBNS-10TV in Columbus, Ohio, went looking for a female sports reporter.
“A station in Columbus, Ohio, thought it would draw in viewers to have a female sports reporter,” Kornacki said. “Funny thing is no one wanted the job. So, the news director started looking at audition tapes from women just out of college. That’s how he heard about me. He invited me to Columbus for an interview and offered me the job.”
Kornacki spent four years in Columbus, covering sports, breaking barriers and dealing with male colleagues who were less than pleased to be sharing workspace with a woman.
“There were no female colleagues to turn to back then,” she said. “The males in my profession were often threatened because the athletes treated me better than them. I remember one guy when I was covering the Cincinnati Reds said, ‘Maybe Johnny Bench would be nice to me, if I wore panty hose.’ ”
Despite the challenges, Kornacki persevered, eventually moving to KMBC in 1983. She’s been a fixture on the Kansas City sport scene ever since.
Of all the great moments of which Kornacki has been a part, it’s pretty clear her heart lies with baseball.
“Covering the World Series is the best,” she said. “I love baseball and I’ve been fortunate to cover the Royals in 1985 and then again in 2014 and 2015.”
While Kornacki has rubbed elbows with the Kansas City sports elite in her 40 decades in the City of Fountains, she cites the colleagues who helped her tell the stories as those who made the biggest impact.
“I’ve worked with wonderful photographers over the years,” she said. “Great video and good interviews make wonderful stories. They helped me do my job.”
While Kornacki doesn’t shy away from being a pioneer in her field, she’d rather be remembered for something else far more important in her eyes.
“I want my legacy to be a testimony to God,” she said. “That when you give your life to Him, He will do incredible things. That is for anybody at any time. What God does for one, He will do for another. He has a specific calling for each one of us. When you answer that call you will watch His greatness in your life.”
After 40 years, it may seem as if nothing could surprise Kornacki. But when she got the call from Byron Shive of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, she was admittedly caught off guard.
“My initial reaction to getting the call from Byron was shock,” Kornacki said. “A wave of emotions, gratefulness and being humbled, feeling I wasn’t deserving, but appreciating so much the honor.”