*Ground-breaking, ahead of her time, consummate professional, the first African American woman to grace the cover of Playboy, the first woman to join the staff of CBS Sports’ “NFL Today,” the first Black Miss Ohio.
She was also only one of only a handful of black actresses to consistently get work in the 70s. The list of accomplishments and accolades for the legendary Jayne Kennedy is as long as your arm, but the list falls short of measuring her true impact on society as it is today.
Seriously, how many firsts can a woman have? Though certain aspects of her career had been cut short by endometriosis, a debilitating and painful disease, Kennedy’s recent absence from the limelight has been mostly due to her being a full time parent to daughters Savannah, Kopper and Zaire. Savannah is working behind the scenes at FOX, Kopper is a senior at Pepperdine and a Magic Johnson Foundation Taylor Michaels Scholar. Her kids have certainly taken to picking up the torch! Now that Zaire is 2 years away from graduating high school Kennedy tells EURweb.com’s Lee Bailey that she’s planning on doing on a thing or two as soon as the nest empties out completely.
“I’ve been working on a couple of projects,” said Kennedy. “I have a movie script in development called ‘Maggie and Jeanette.’ It started with the profile of Jeanette Rankin, who was the first woman voted into the United States Congress and was an advocate for peace. She voted against World War 1 and World War 2. She was blasphemed and kicked out of Congress, but she didn’t stop. So, her life is just an amazing story. It started with writing about that, but I wanted to make it more contemporary and have it be more about what vets are going through today. So we had this idea to also incorporate the peace movement with not only Jeanette’s story, but some of the problems that the returning vets are facing when returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
That’s a golden idea if we’ve ever heard one. Timely and relevant as well.
“A lot of it deals with the medical issues,” continued Kennedy. “We have an antiquated system. Some of the vets that did not return from previous wars are now returning thanks to modern technology and kevlar. Now that the numbers are so great we don’t have facilities to deal with the numbers. We don’t have services to deal with the mental problems … PTSD and all of that. So, a lot of that is incorporated into the story as well.
Kennedy says she’s working on the script in conjunction with the National Veterans Foundation. In addition, Jayne says she has been working on an autobiography that’s ten years in the making. It should be a doozy.
“You know how things are in this business,” she told Lee. “You gotta plan in advance. My gears are in working order so as soon as (Zaire) graduates I will be on my way. She’s a 10th grader now and she’s a straight A honor student and she’s very bright. I love her to death. She’s such a joy. I listen to her talk and say ‘Wow, you’re only 15?'”
You remember that long list of titles we ran off in the opening paragraph of this story? We neglected to mention yet another, soccer mom. Though all of her children played soccer, Jayne believes Zaire is the truth on the field.
“She’s also an amazing soccer player. She plays defensive center midfield, she’s also a goalkeeper depending on whether she’s playing on her club team or her high school team. I’m a diehard soccer mom,” she continued. “My kids will laugh and say you do not want to get (me) talking about soccer. I love it. All my girls played. I’ve been in soccer for like 22 years now. I love it, I was glued to the World Cup. Savannah was the first. She started soccer at 4 years old, that was 21 years ago. It was a great opportunity for girls to be involved in sports. Savannah also played basketball. So, I was a gym rat and on the sidelines of the soccer field with the baby in tow, diaper bags. Used to have a little playpen that had no bottom and had stakes sticking out. I would stick it in the ground and put Zaire in it so I could watch the games.”
Prior to joining the staff of “NFL Today,” and before becoming an actress, Kennedy says she had always been a sports fan. That almost seems to be a prerequisite growing up in the Cleveland, Ohio metropolitan area. That had to go double back when Jim Brown was playing. She continually uses that love for competition to empower her daughters and a few of their friends as well.
“I’m such an advocate of youth and sports and the whole process,” she explained. “I really believe that sports teaches a lot in developing character, especially for our young women. Women’s sports programs get pushed on the backburner. With Title 9 you think that would change, but there’s still no equity. With Savannah, when it rained the boys got the gym and the girls got sent home. Boys get the best uniforms, boys get the best schedule. So, I was just always there fighting for my girls. When Zaire was 9 I didn’t have anymore babies in tow so I said I’m going to start coaching. So, I coached her for a year. There were 11 of these girls who I thought were amazing. So, I took these girls, went and talked to their parents and told them I thought they could compete in club. The first step is we started a traveling tournament team and we took the girls to certain tournaments around Southern California. Statistically, when you look at women that are the heads of major corporations you will find that most competed in some form of athletics.”
Jayne Kennedy was recently featured on an episode of TV One’s “Way Black When” when the show gives props to the 70s. Kennedy says she didn’t know what to expect during the taping.
“I really didn’t know what they were going to be doing. All I knew is they were going to be celebrating and paying tribute to the 70s, 80s and 90s. When they told me Sinbad was going to be the host I was hooked. I was like ‘OK, great!’ Because I just love him. I think he’s amazing. We talked about sports a little bit, but we talked more about me being a pioneer and about the obstacles that I faced in the late 70s.”
[Scroll down to see a clip of Jayne on TV One’s ‘Way Black When’ chatting with host, Sinbad.]
There has to be another word to describe Jayne Kennedy. As flattering and ego-stroking a word as pioneer is it somehow seems to fall flat when compared to her accomplishments. Here’s what she had to say when asked of the impact being on NFL Today had on her career as a whole.
“I only did that for two years and I hosted greatest sports legends for three years, but it was definitely impactful,” Jayne told EURweb. “I knew that if I had a chance to get that job I would be a household name. I had been working as an actress for seven years before I got that job. My very first job was as a dancer for “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In.” People were saying that I couldn’t do that because if I wanted to be taken serious in acting I couldn’t diversify. I couldn’t do commercials, can’t do singing, can’t do modeling, can’t do any of that stuff. Well, I thought that was a bunch of malarky. The bottom line is if you were going to sit around and wait for a job as a black actress in the 70s you might get 2 jobs in ten years. The fact is I succeeded at a time when Hollywood wasn’t ready for a black woman to succeed at that point.”
She’s not tooting her own horn, she’s just stating a simple fact. She kicked in the door of mainstream Hollywood with her 5 foot 10 inch frame causing the sun at her back to cast shade on LA-LA Land’s racist casting practices.
In a future edition of EURweb we will bring your more from Lee Bailey’s interview with Jayne Kennedy. She will explain just how she got that improbable NFL Today job. Trust us you won’t want to miss it.