A leader on the court and the classroom

Karen Turner was a trailblazer in basketball before she changed lives at Temple.

By Johnny Zawislak

Karen Turner was sitting at The Liacouras Center on press row with some of her students during the Nov. 28 Temple men’s basketball game against La Salle.

The soon-to-be-retired Temple journalism professor promised herself that if one team seemed to be pulling away with five minutes left, she would head out to beat the traffic and get home to her dogs Macy and Luke, who were waiting for her about 30 minutes away at Turner’s South Jersey home.

That didn’t happen.

Just as Temple seemed like it had the game in hand, La Salle closed an eight-point deficit and Explorer guard Jhamir Brickus hit a three-pointer with five seconds left to force the first of three overtimes. 

For each one of those overtimes, Turner was glued to her seat and locked in on every play, just like the diehard fan she is. 

Turner has been a Temple men’s basketball season ticket holder for 15 years, but her excitement during the game came from her love of basketball as a sport, just as much as her love for Temple. 

“The excitement, the skills, the teamwork and the camaraderie,” Turner said of her favorite aspects of the game of basketball.

Turner’s love of the game is based on a foundation that grew roots during her time as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, where she made some history along the way. 


Turner had two twin cousins growing up, Donald and Ronald Henley. They lived right across the street in Ewing, New Jersey, and were three months older than her. The three of them were raised like triplets.

”It was great,” Donald Henley said. “It was like having a sister around us all the time. We did a lot of things together, and we were always so close with each other. We developed a really close relationship. We were inseparable.”

Ronald and Donald were athletically gifted and played a plethora of sports, including soccer, baseball, football, and basketball. Donald ended up playing with the Oakland Athletics’ high-A minor league team and Ronald excelled in basketball and played at West Virginia.

Because they were so close, and a large part of her cousin’s lives were their athletic careers, Turner found herself watching most of their games. 

“In terms of my love with sports,” Turner said, “it was following them around, watching them and going to their games.” 

Turner consistently went to as many of her cousins’ games as possible. Donald and Ronald were on the Ewing Township team that won the Babe Ruth League team championship in 1970, and the only game  Turner missed during that run was the championship because it was in California and she couldn’t get any transportation there.

“It was really cool to have her there,” Donald said. “It was so supportive and uplifting to know that she was there watching us.”

Turner played basketball herself in high school at Princeton Day School. She said she wasn’t a good player, but she found an appreciation for the game nonetheless.

I liked playing. I got to understand the game of basketball,” Turner said. “In high school, I developed a real love for basketball through [Ronald]. A lot of [my cousins’] male friends became my friends. They were all on the basketball team.”

After Turner graduated high school, she attended Dartmouth, where she was a part of the first class of women to matriculate as freshmen.

Because Turner played basketball and was around the men’s team throughout her time in high school, it was natural for her to get involved with Dartmouth’s basketball team. 

“My friend [JB Redding] and I approached the athletic department,” Turner said. “We said, ‘We want to be the managers of the freshman basketball team.’”

And so in addition to Turner and Redding being  part of the first class of women to enroll as freshmen at Dartmouth, the pair were also the first women to work with the men’s basketball teams.

They were the only two people at Dartmouth who stepped up and volunteered to be managers for the freshman basketball team, and they jumped right into their numerous responsibilities. When Turner accepted the job as a manager, her male peers at school were very confused. They wondered why she wanted to do it. 

Turner was in charge of running the game clock, and Redding was on the bench in charge of getting water and towels to the players. After games, the two of them had to wait until the entire team was done in the locker room before they could go in and grab the laundry. 

The typical rule when it came to the Dartmouth basketball team manager role was that one of the freshman managers was moved up to the managerial staff on the varsity team.

That didn’t happen for Turner or Redding. 

“One of us should have moved up, but neither one of us did,” Turner said. “The team was fine with us. It was the administration and even the other managers. I heard that we were not supported by the other managers to make that move up, which is very disappointing.”

The administration was extremely nonchalant about the denial of Turner and Redding. From what Turner remembers about the discussion, it was as simple as a ‘We don’t want you back.’

After being denied the ability to move up to the next level, Turner and Redding both decided to join the cheer team during their sophomore year. While it wasn’t the same as being a manager, she still got to be around the team and sport she adored.

Turner only cheered her sophomore year before studying abroad her junior year before graduating. Even though she got to be in the gym, she was still not happy with how her time as a manager ended.

“I was pissed that we weren’t able to move up,” Turner said. “But, [cheerleading] was more acceptable by my male peers. It was more girly, I guess, so it was more acceptable if we just did cheer. We were darn good cheerleaders, too.”


Turner always wanted to have a job in sports broadcasting or journalism, but there weren’t any female role models she could look up to, so it only made her path more difficult. 

After Turner’s time at Dartmouth, she graduated from Northwestern with a Law degree in 1970. After five years, Turner went back to school where she got a degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1985.  

Turner took a class at Columbia just before graduating where she got the opportunity to shadow Roy S. Johnson, a New York Knicks beat reporter. But after the game came another obstacle:  she wasn’t allowed to go into the locker room to shadow interviews because she was a woman. 

Turner, however, never associated the discrimination with the game itself and always found a way to separate them.

“What it did was undermine me wanting to figure out a way to work within basketball,” she explained. “I never found mentors, and perhaps if I had some who were in the business, I think that would have made a difference.”

After graduating from Columbia, Turner launched her news media career. She was hired as a reporter at New Brunswick radio station, WCTC-AM. Turner was there nearly a year before leaving to be a news and public affairs director for WIZF-FM in Cincinnati.

From there, Turner returned to the East Coast to work at WPEN-AM in Philadelphia. Following three years at WPEN, Turner worked as then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell’s first press secretary. Turner always planned to teach, so after six months as a press secretary, she thought it was the perfect time to make the transition.

Turner began to work at Temple in 1992 and taught multiple classes throughout her 31 years with the university, but she never got to scratch the sports journalist itch she had growing up.

Like she had before, she pivoted unselfishly and gave back by mentoring aspiring sports journalists. She taught multiple sports classes, including ‘The Influence of Sports Media in Modern Society.’

Turner co-taught the class up through December with Klein College professor Claire Smith, a highly-decorated former Major League Baseball beat reporter whose career included stops at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times and ESPN. 

That class anchors Klein College’s new Sports Media Certificate as its required course. 

“I’ve really been cognizant of the role that I can play as a mentor,” Turner said. “Not just to women, but to all students. I’m certainly thinking of if I had a mentor and what that would have meant to me.”


Following the fall semester of 2023, Turner announced her retirement from teaching at Temple full-time. 

But she doesn’t like to call it a retirement. Instead, she prefers to call it ‘refocusing.’

Turner still teaches ‘Race and Racism in News’ asynchronously, which allows her to teach from home. 

“In my case, it isn’t that I can’t do it anymore,” Turner explained. “It’s like I’ve done what I could do at this point. There are some other things that I want to do. But it’s not like I have cut off ties completely. I knew that after 31 years at Temple University, there was no way in this world that I would not set foot back on this campus. I knew that I would continue to be a season ticket holder for the men and the women. It just seemed like it was the right time.”

Turner recently came back to campus in late April for an event that celebrated the graduates who earned the sports media certificate.

At the event, Turner was sitting at a table next to Smith, listening to Temple graduates Sam Cohn and Breland Moore talk to so many of the same students she mentored. 

As she sat there, she asked herself a question as she pondered her retirement … or refocusing:

Do I regret it?

“I don’t,” Turner said. “Sometimes when I come back to campus, it’s almost like doing a check. When I decided to refocus last year, there would be little points where something would happen and I would tell myself, ‘You know you’re not going to experience that next year.’ Then in my mind [I would ask], ‘How do you feel about that?’ and I could never feel bad. That’s how I know I did the right thing.”

There isn’t much in the world Turner cares more about than her dogs. Turner has a specific dog sitter for Macy, who has special needs. Turner also sends Luke to doggy day care and looks forward to picking him up every day.

The fact that Turner stayed for each of the overtime periods in Temple’s matchup against La Salle is a testament to her love of basketball. 

After all, it’s t been one of the only things that could  keep Turner away from her dogs for a little while longer.

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