Zahlmann: Sports media can no longer accept gender discrimination

Luke Zahlmann

Flashback to Dec. 27, 1987. The National Football League was in week 15 of the 1987-88 season, with the Seattle Seahawks taking on the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Calling play-by-play on NBC was the first female to do so in league history: Gayle Sierens.

Fast forward to Sept. 11th, 2017. ESPN’s Monday Night Football was led by Beth Mowins doing play-by-play for the first time since Sierens. The accolade was also the first nationally televised instance of a woman taking the reigns.

Ad

The reactions to the latter were more publicized due to the growth of social media.

Various accounts expressed their dismay with Mowins taking over in the booth, shooting out Tweets with phrases like “prepare your mute buttons” and “nails on a chalkboard.” One man even threatened to switch channels.

Though sexists chose to pay attention to a woman earning her way into the booth, the game still drew a crowd that averaged 10.7 million, according to Nielson live ratings. In comparison, last year’s first game of the NBA finals, the closest game of the series, drew 13.6 million.

One was a regular season game, the other was the most influential playoff game of last year’s NBA postseason. The difference was small.

Mowins did a phenomenal job, outshining her colleague Rex Ryan in their respective MNF debuts.

The only difference between her and other analysts who were given opportunities was that Mowins is a woman. Therefore, her first-time announcing mistakes were highly criticized, while laughable announcers like Jason Witten got the benefit of the doubt in their openers.

Even more recently, a pair of women, one a former Colorado State journalism graduate, fell prey to the same judgment and discrimination as their predecessors.

On April 23, 2018, CSU alumna Jenny Cavnar called play-by-play in a Major League Baseball matchup between the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. The milestone marked the first time a woman was in the booth for a professional baseball game in 25 years.

The criticism on social media showed little growth.

Ad

“Women have NO business in men’s games! Don’t they have their own sports to ref, judge, commentate on, etc. I just feel the only place a woman should be in men sports is the front office. Or physical therapy perhaps,” read one tweet.

Another even criticized the Rockies organization for her opportunity, accusing them of doing it for “brownie points.”

Both were highly inappropriate and contributed to the false idea that only men can be in the booth.

Cavnar’s hope is that the discussion strays from criticism, allowing her to inspire young girls. 

“I think that every year that goes by as we look back at the last decade so many more opportunities have come available because women are still pushing the envelope in what we can do,” Cavnar said in a 2018 interview with Collegian TV’s.

One of the typical arguments is “well, they didn’t play!” That argument is also laughable. As someone who did participate in athletics, I can tell you that the difference in knowledge between those who have and have not played is greatly exaggerated. 

Among major announcers, several have little experience in sports outside of their high school careers. With Cavnar following the game alongside her father, a former baseball coach, her knowledge rivals most announcers.

Neither Joe Buck or Colin Cowherd, two of the nation’s leaders in sports commentary, ever played sports at a high level, merely sticking to youth sports and little beyond that.

Finally, and most recently, Olympic women’s hockey gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield bore the burden of discrimination.

Prior to her guest spot on the National Hockey League’s broadcast of a Jan. 30 contest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, Schofield fell prey to “mansplaining,” or men explaining things to women as if they were children.

The clip has made its rounds on social media, with her male counterpart even explaining that NBC is “paying her to be an analyst, not a fan.”

The instance was merely one of many for women in sports media. As I watched the clip, I couldn’t help but wonder what my response would be to something being explained to me like I was an adolescent. People assume I know what I’m watching due to my gender, though I struggle with certain sports like lacrosse much like others can struggle in fields that are foreign. 

Of the many complaints about women along the sidelines and in the booth, there are other problems facing them as well. Among press boxes, locker rooms and even media rooms, women are often sexually assaulted.

Rubbing shoulders, moving women by a hand on their hips or lower back and other various actions are not acceptable. If men wouldn’t do it to their male colleagues, they shouldn’t do it to their female colleagues either.

I have seen these things and more occur in a press room, merely being brushed off by the bystanders who witnessed it. I myself have stood by while subtle actions that add to a larger plague continue. 

With women becoming a large part of the media, specifically sports media, it’s time that the discrimination stops.

Luckily for Cavnar, her support system has been a catalyst to her success. 

“I have great colleagues and fantastic analysts that we work with and we all push each other to get better every day and I think that’s such a big difference,” Cavnar said. 

Unfortunately, many do not receive the same support as the former CTV standout.

As Cavnar, Sierens, Mowins and Schofield, even in a guest appearance, have shown, women can hold their own among the many men of sports media. Those who decide to underestimate them have themselves to blame when they get surpassed. 

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.