Jayne Kennedy is a woman of many firsts. For starters, she was the first black Miss Ohio in 1970, becoming a semi-finalist in the 1970 Miss USA Pageant. She became the first black celebrity to be on the cover of Playboy magazine. Thus far, we see Kennedy as a model and as a pageant contestant.
The pretty woman, however, had more to give, emerging as a sportscaster and one of the most culturally influential women in the country in the 1970s. Not only was she the most prominent African-American woman on television, but she was also one of the rare female television announcers who worked in the world of sports.
In 1978, Kennedy joined The NFL Today program on CBS as the first female correspondent for a national sports program and while presenting for the station, won an Emmy award for her work reporting on the Rose Bowl Parade in 1977. She later received another Emmy nomination for her coverage of the South Korean soldiers in the DMZ.
But while everything seemed to be falling in place for Kennedy, a sex tape of her and her ex-husband was leaked, effectively ending her broadcast television work. Following the divorce from her husband in 1982, the tape was stolen from their home and leaked to the media. In the early ‘80s, a sex tape of a public figure was not looked on kindly so the leak sullied her reputation.
Kennedy attempted to recover from the fallout but it was tough. The deals were drying up.
While filming the workout series Love Your Body in the early ‘80s, Kennedy was diagnosed with endometriosis. The excruciating pain of endometriosis disappeared during her first pregnancy only to return, requiring three laparoscopic surgeries in order to remove tissue in her uterus.
She decided to raise a family and moved away from on-camera work. She remarried actor Bill Overton in 1985 producing Savannah Re, Kopper Joi, Zaire Ollyea as well as Cheyenne whom Bill brought to the union.
“I put off having a family because I knew that I wanted to be there for my family and I was traveling a lot. At that time, the industry was not ready to allow pregnant women the opportunity to still be on camera or on the silver screen. Today it’s a completely different story, but back then, I would have lost my contract. I would have never been hired again because people were just not ready for that at that particular time,” she noted.
In 2013, Leon Kennedy, her ex-husband, filed a $1 million lawsuit against Ebony Magazine claiming that the publication listed him as the culprit behind the release of the sex tape.
While Kennedy might not be the cup of tea of many folks today, her excellence as a broadcaster and actress as well as trailblazer in the 70s and 80s cannot be denied.
She won a 1982 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture award for her performance as Julie Winters in the 1981 film Body and Soul co-starring alongside her then-husband Leon.