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Girls & Women

A Female Broadcaster Will Call an NFL Game For the First Time in 30 Years

Women’s involvement in football has been widely limited to waving pompoms on the sidelines.

But that’s about to change.

ESPN broadcaster Beth Mowins will call the play-by-play between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Broncos when Monday Night Football returns on September 11, Sports Illustrated reports. It will be the first time a woman calls a nationally televised National Football League (NFL) game in almost three decades.

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It won’t be Mowins’ first rodeo. The long-time broadcaster has worked for ESPN since 1994, doing play-by-play for college championships in baseball, softball, soccer, and volleyball. As for football, she’s previously called college games and Oakland Raiders exhibition games. Due in great part to Mowins, the latter broadcast received a Northern California Area Emmy nomination.

Mike Tirico, a former Monday Night Football Broadcaster currently working for NBC Sports, predicted Mowins would get the assignment months ago and quashed any critiques that Mowins’ hire is a PR move. Rather, Tirico believes it’s a sign of things to come.

“Beth will show up and do a game and do as good a job as any of the men,” Tirico told the SI Media podcast last January. “She is a ceiling breaker, a pioneer and there will be more women going forward.”

They certainly can’t go backward. The last woman in the booth for an NFL game was Gayle Sierens, who called a game during the final week of the NFL season on December 27, 1987 for NBC Sports. After positive ratings, the network offered Sierens six more games in the 1988 season, but she turned down the offer.

Sierens had recently married and was three months pregnant at the time, according to the Washington Post, and faced the same difficult decision that women everywhere still have make: having to choose between a career and a family. Her local NBC station in Tampa, FL also didn’t want to her miss work.

As a female broadcaster, Sierens faced added pressure to perform.

“I don’t have to be good,” she told the St. Petersburg Times before the game. “I have to be terrific, better than the best, if that’s possible. Yes, just because I’m a woman.”

There are plenty of broadcasters who have been fired for lackluster performances and that’s just covering football. Tony Kornheiser and Dennis Miller, for instance, were both relieved of their Monday Night Football duties. But even though both were removed from the booth, neither lost their job because of their gender.

Had Sierens froze up, it likely would have been chalked up to her second X chromosome. She received great reviews, yet it’s still taken thirty years to get a woman back in an NFL booth.

Female broadcasters in the other “big 4” American sports have fared slightly better, with only a handful assigned to covering men’s sports.

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Kara Lawson joined ESPN in 2004 to cover women’s college basketball while playing professionally in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She’s also covered men’s college basketball and became the first woman to call a nationally televised National Basketball Association (NBA) game on January 12, 2007.

Doris Burke covers the NBA, and women’s and men’s college basketball.

Jessica Mendoza, a four-time all American softball player at Stanford University and former Olympian, joined Sunday Night Baseball at the start of the 2016 season. Two months in, other outlets called for ESPN to fire her.

Women are involved in NFL broadcasts but are typically limited to sideline reporting (e.g. Pam Oliver, Suzy Kolber, Jessica Ponder, Erin Andrews), and are often objectified rather than treated as journalists – a quick search for “NFL sideline reporters” produces countless results like “X Hottest Sideline Reporters Right Now.”  

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath even told sideline reporter Suzy Kolber he wanted to kiss her during an on-the-field interview.

In the face of sexism and limited opportunities, it’s an uphill climb for women in sports – both for players on the field and journalists on the sidelines.

But come September, a glass ceiling that was shattered and reinstalled will be broken again by Mowins.

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