In the Wake of the News
11:02 PM CDT, June 16, 2013
After a recent Blackhawks playoff loss, a friend clued Susannah Collins in to the Internet buzz comparing her legacy to one of Chicago's most infamous animals — not exactly the way she once imagined leaving her mark on the city.
"Somebody texted, 'You know, people are talking about a Susannah Collins Curse,' and I was like, 'Great, me and the freaking Billy Goat. Awesome,' '' Collins said with a laugh. "That's exactly how I want to be remembered in Chicago.''
More likely, Collins always will be known as the popular former Comcast SportsNet reporter who lost her job in one of the Hawks' strongest power plays of the 2013 postseason. Back when the playoffs started, CSN Chicago dismissed Collins after Hawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz objected to the station — partially owned by the Hawks and three other Chicago teams — about satirical videos she shot four years ago that pushed the boundaries of acceptability.
In a River West coffee shop over the weekend, Collins agreed to address the episode for the first time publicly with the understanding that terms of an agreement with CSN prevented her from discussing certain details. Collins came across in a 30-minute interview with the Tribune more buoyant about the future than bitter about the past, someone whose sense of humor and perspective survived the past six weeks.
"Did it suck going through this? Yes. It did,'' said Collins, 33. "But there are people with way bigger problems than I had. I keep that in mind every single day. I'll be OK.''
Yet even the healthiest of outlooks cannot make watching the Hawks any easier for Collins. As they have kept Chicagoans on the edge of their seats during the Stanley Cup Final with two straight overtime games, Collins crawled under the covers and did her best to ignore action she simply can't.
"Like the triple-overtime game (in Game 1), I'm literally in bed at midnight, checking my phone,'' Collins said. "I equate it to going through a breakup and then watching your former partner do really well and succeed without you. I'll flip it on to check the score. I'll check my Twitter feed. But I can't watch a full broadcast.''
She can hope the Hawks beat the Bruins. Collins' job status changed May 2, but a lifetime of allegiances for the Downers Grove native didn't — not for a woman who swears she used to say to herself driving to work, "I cannot believe I get to do this.''
"Some people are like, 'You must hate that team,' but for me it's separate,'' Collins said. "I'm a Chicago gal, a Chicago sports fan. I want the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup because I know how much it would mean to the city. I got to know a lot of those players. They're good guys. I would never root against them. But in terms of watching, the wound is still too fresh.''
The initial pain from losing her job sent Collins into an emotional tailspin. During the first couple of weeks, which she called "a blur,'' Collins turned off her phone, avoided Twitter and leaned on her husband of six years, Andy, and parents, John and Susan Martinek.
A flood of support also came from former bosses, colleagues and college professors. Chris Myers of Fox Sports called. But the outpouring Collins considers a silver lining of the dark cloud over her career slowly pulled her back to normalcy.
"I became social again,'' Collins said. "Once you get over that initial meeting with people, it's like the elephant in the room. People don't want to make you feel like you have to talk about it, but you feel like you have to talk about it because it's there.''
I wanted Collins to talk about whether she felt any remorse over the 16-video "Sports Nutz" series in 2009 that included jokes about graphic sexual exploits of athletes and reinforced racial and ethnic stereotypes.
"That's a tough one,'' she said.
For context, Collins never tried to conceal that part of her past. She refused to confirm it, but sources told the Tribune her involvement with the videos was no secret to the man who hired her, former CSN news director Charlie Schumacher. Schumacher, who left the station last winter, has not responded to interview requests.
In fact, the story of the Showtime producer for "Inside the NFL" emailing Collins for a job interview based on those videos is one she embraces.
"The content obviously isn't everybody's cup of tea,'' Collins said. "I never wanted anyone to be offended. I felt horrible if people were. It was meant to be a scripted, satirical thing. I did feel bad if anyone was offended. But I can't regret … everything that I've done in the 21/2 years that I started working in this industry ultimately led me to that job at CSN Chicago. I don't know if I would have gotten to where I was without those (videos).''
But, I asked, you can see how those blurred the fine line a TV personality walks separating entertainment and journalism?
"For sure,'' Collins answered. "But I don't think we did those videos with the intent of them being hard-hitting journalism. That was not the point. I have a musical theater background. That's what I did initially when I graduated (from Illinois). I was on stage, a singer and dancer. That was part of my life.''
The next part of Collins' life could include going back into locker rooms with a microphone. She says opportunities in Chicago and elsewhere "are percolating.'' If Collins does return, I wondered if she worries about the past affecting her ability to be taken seriously as a sports journalist.
"I don't think so,'' Collins said. "For 21/2 years I was working consistently. It wasn't an issue. The job with CSN, I had such a strange trajectory, an unconventional one. That was the job I really wanted. It gave me this platform to do so many things. I graduated with a broadcast journalism degree, so those skills were there.
"I had an opportunity to cut my teeth in the best sports town in the world, and I'm pretty proud of the work I did there. The body of work I put together in a short time will help me. It's a positive thing.''
Oddly enough, Collins feels blessed. Not cursed.
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