South Florida cottons to Ross' spunk Ex-TV reporter is full-time mom with fond memories of Oklahoma

John Rohde Published: August 12, 2001
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On Dec. 16, 1992, the expansion Florida Marlins held a news conference to announce the signing of catcher Benito Santiago.

Karie Ross, a reporter from KTVJ-TV in Miami, chatted with Marlins general manager David Dombrowski.

Ross didn't know it, but she had just met her future husband.

Four months later, Santiago hit the first home run in Marlins history.

One month after that, Dombrowski hit a home run himself. He gathered enough nerve to ask Ross out on a date.

Cotton-eyed Karie

Born in Norman and raised in Clinton, Karie Ross always kept busy.

She was sports editor of the Clinton High School newspaper. At OU, she was a bat girl for baseball, a mat maid for wrestling, on the pompon squad for football and basketball, and at one time held two part-time jobs.

"She's always been a doer, had multiple projects going," said Ross' father, Lanny, who still lives in Clinton with wife, Janet.

In 1981, Karie Ross was crowned Maid of Cotton. As such, she became America's ambassador to the cotton industry and traveled abroad promoting the use of cotton.

"It literally was a free trip around the world," Ross said.

Within three months, a 21-year-old Ross visited the White House and met Ronald Reagan.

She even kissed the president in the oval office.

Hmmm.

"That means something completely different today, I know," Ross said with a hearty laugh. "But I did ask if Nancy would mind before I did it."

Two weeks later, on March 30, 1981, Reagan was shot.

Ross was touring the Orient at the time. Despite what Ross' sash said, people had little interest in discussing cotton.

After a full debriefing from White House officials, Ross was allowed to speak of her visit with Reagan.

She wound up defending the honor of her country. "It was pretty wild," Ross said.

For an internship her senior year at OU, Ross did news spots on KOKH-TV. That's when sports regained center stage in her life.

She worked 18 months at KOCO-TV; four years at WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio; two years at ESPN in Bristol, Conn.; and nine months at SNN based in Washington, D.C.

Unemployed for nine months - "It was very scary," she said - Ross sent resumes nationwide.

She landed a job at KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, becoming the town's first female weekday sports anchor. Within a year, Ross was out of a job.

"They just did not accept me whatsoever," Ross said. "Basically within a month, the news director called me in and said, 'We can't have a woman doing the main sports.' A (radio) DJ team there ran a pool to see how fast they could get me fired. It was awful."

Good times gone bad

Beauty can get pretty ugly.

More than once, Karie Ross was told she was too attractive to do sports on TV because people would rather look at her than listen. Being a blonde with a southern accent created two more credibility hurdles.

There was the constant discomfort of being around too much testosterone.

Ross was stalked and her life was threatened.

Her problems with sexual harassment are documented in the book "ESPN: The Uncensored History."

"There were some very horrible times there. It was a very, very hard time for me," Ross said. "I was shocked when I read the book. I thought it (the sexual harassment) would end after I left there, but it just got worse."

In 1990, Ross turned down a chance to co-host a show with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Bubby Brister when she learned its purported orientation was "an undertone of sexual nuances."

It wasn't all horror stories, however.

"It was a positive experience for her 95 percent of the time," Lanny Ross said. "But she had a shoulder to lean on in us if she asked."

Karie Ross said she still cherishes the guidance and laughter Jerry Park, Mick Cornett and Tony Sellars provided when she was at KOCO.

"I miss those guys," Ross said. "I'll never forget all they did for me."

Sellars still has a promo picture of the foursome.

"I knew Karie was going to places in the business," said Sellars, now sports information director at Oklahoma City University, "but I wasn't so sure it would be sports. My thought was she was going to become a news anchor and make big bucks doing that.

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