Back on Dec. 27, 1987 the Seattle Seahawks lost at Arrowhead Stadium to the Kansas City Chiefs 41-20 in Week 16, to close their season at 9-6, while the home team improved to 4-11. The game was not the only story that day. That afternoon on NBC, former news/sports anchor for the NBC affiliate WFLA in Tampa Bay, FL Gayle Sierens was the play-by-play analyst, making her the first woman to do play-by-play of an NFL game ever. She would be the last to do so, until the start of this season when a native of Syracuse New York broadcast the back end of the 2017 debut Monday Night doubleheader between the American Football Conference (AFC) West rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers versus the Denver Broncos on the night of Sept. 11. This Sunday, she will make even more history.
When the Indianapolis Colts (0-2) visit the Cleveland Browns (0-2) on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on CBS, the play-by-play commentary of the contest will be handled by longtime College Football commentator for ESPN Beth Mowins, which will make her the first woman ever for the NFL on CBS in its 58-year history. Mowins, who has been calling college football games for ESPN since 2005, will join Sierens as just the second female play-by-play announcer to call an NFL regular season game. Longtime place kicker and CBS sideline analyst Jay Feely doing color commentary.
Mowins, who has also called preseason games for the Oakland Raiders in recent years made history becoming the first woman to call a NFL Monday night game of the previously mentioned game between the Chargers (0-2), and Broncos (2-0), which the Broncos won 27-24. She was joined in the broadcast booth by former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan.
“Their franchises. Everybody knows about Monday Night Football, and for my generation, we grew up watching the NFL Today Show, and then the NFL on CBS every Sunday,” Mowins said to Dana Jacobson, Lisa Leslie, Tracy Wolfson, and Summer Sanders on this past Tuesday’s edition of “We Need to Talk (WNTT),” on the CBS Sports Network.
This latest break in the so-called “glass ceiling” got a lot of reaction both good and bad from the masses, but there was a lot of great outpouring from several NFL teams, and players in support of Mowins.
WNTT panelist Amy Trask @AmyTrask tweeted, “I wish @bethmowins the very best for success tonight and always and I hope praise w/out regard to gender-as b/caster not fem. b/caster.
The Broncos organization @Broncos tweeted, “We’re proud to be a part of this historic night. Congratulations, @bethmowins!”
The Raiders, @RAIDERS tweeted, “Well deserved, @bethmowins.”
One person who was not surprised that this moment took place is former Monday Night Football play-by-play analyst for ESPN, who is now the pregame stadium host for “Football Night in America” on NBC Mike Tirico, who predicted back in January that Mowins would be the first woman in a generation to be in the lead seat of a role he once had.
“Beth will show up, and do a game, ad do as good a job as the men,” he said. “She is a ceiling-breaker, a pioneer, and there will be more women [calling the NFL] going forward.”
Mowins said that one big thing of that she wanted to do with her moment in the spotlight is to earn the respect of the people you have worked with, and supported you whole life, and your broadcast peers.
She also wanted to dispel the myth that the women that are sports caster do not like each other. Some of the highest compliments she got from her work doing that Monday night clash between the Chargers and Broncos came from women in the business, who know the challenges of being a female sports journalist.
Sanders ask Mowins how she handled that big moment, and she had family and friends in Denver, and that the ESPN crew that handled the game that night was one that she worked with before from Ryan, to the producer and director.
“So that kind of put me at ease, and in a lot of ways if you’ve seen one press box, you’ve seen them all, and once you’re in there it’s like home,” Mowins said. “Whether it’s the pool, or the basketball court, or the sideline. It’s your comfort zone.”
Mowins also said that when Ryan moved over into her space, she knew right away that she needed to get him back into his coach’s box, have a fun moment and once the opening kickoff happens, you let your instincts take over.
She did say that she felt the enormity of the moment hit her when Monday Night Countdown lead host Suzy Kolber ended the postgame of the first contest between the New Orleans Saints versus the Minnesota Vikings to toss it to second game and the wide angle shot from the blimp looking down on the stadium.
“I had to smile a little bit, just to think of the little girl that wanted to do that when I was younger to being there, and having that opportunity was fantastic,” Mowins said.
For every praise that Mowins received for her historic moment, she also received a lot of criticism, particularly on social media.
One of the WNTT panelist that is no stranger to this is Wolfson, who currently is the lead sideline reporter for the NFL on CBS and she said on this past Tuesday’s show that she blocks those negative tweets by blocking them completely.
Mowins said that she tries not to get on social media until she watches the game back, seeing for herself the things she did completely right, and where she can improve.
Whenever she has faced those moments, Mowins says she remembers a quote from Mark Twain, “Don’t argue with stupid people. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
She did say that how we feel about one another and how we do things, and the way we analyze each other on social media is an important conversation to have on talk shows like WNTT, on radio shows, and in studio.
“My training as a play-by-play announcer was, ‘Stay here. Stay between the lines,’” Mowins said. “If people want to have a conversation, or actual critique on line, then that’s fine.”
One of those critiques was raised by a host of WNTT and a former sideline commentator for NBC’s Sunday Night Football Andrea Kramer in The New York Times this past week about Mowins’ voice.
Jacobson said that it was an example of that someone will always have something to say about something that is different from the norm. In this case the voice of a female play-by-play commentator doing football. It is also the case of the fact there have been a whole lot of female voices doing commentary of professional and collegiate sports, unless it involves women.
“I think it’s a different voice for most fans to hear that aren’t watching a lot of women’s sports, or who have not watch a lot of college basketball. It does take a little bit I think to get used to that,” Mowins, who described her commentary voice as part famed actress/country singer Reba McEntire, part actress Tea Leoni.
Mowins also said that she tries to encourage those that have reservation about women doing NFL commentary to give us a quarter. Give us a half before you reserve judgement. Not focus on the pitch and tone of the lady in this case doing play-by-play, and instead pay attention to the content, and the quality.
For those that she has impacted, particularly young girls, Mowins said that she has come to have an appreciation of those that have reached out to her in person, on Twitter, and Instagram that, especially in the last six months when she got the assignment to commentate the Chargers versus the Broncos 13 days ago and the Colts versus Browns on Sunday. She has also gotten appreciation from mothers of those young girls who played sports, or are sports fans. The brothers of those young ladies, who watched them play sports, and watched sports right next to them on the couch of their respective homes.
One tweet from a girl named Nina that Wolfson read to Mowins on the show said, “It’s an amazing feeling to hear a female voice calling a football game my mom taught me to love.”
“I have embraced that a little bit more, because I walk that fine line between I’m a play-by-play announcer,” Mowins said. “If you see me as a female play-by-play announcer, that’s fine. But, I’m not going to broadcast that.”
Three decades ago, Gayle Sierens made history as the first woman to ever do play-by-play commentary in NFL regular season contest. While the progression of female commentators in general has progressed very slowly, we have seen some progress. In the NBA, longtime Charlotte Hornets sideline reporter for Fox Sports Southeast Stephanie Ready two years ago became the first woman to be a color analyst full-time for an NBA team. This upcoming NBA season, the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network sideline reporter the past five seasons will be the first woman to work as the primary solo NBA game analyst at a regional sports network.
What we have seen in recent years is a change. A change where women broadcasters are hosting sports talk shows, and now are doing commentary on more than just women’s college and pro sports. It might be new, but if we give this new normal of the likes of Beth Mowins a legitimate eye and ear, will be entertained just as good as all the men that have commentated football, and basketball forever.
Information, and quotations are courtesy of 5/15/17 www.independen.co.uk story “ESPN’s Beth Mowins To Become First Female Play-by-Play Commentators of an NFL Game in 30 Years,” 9/19/17 8 p.m. edition of “We Need to Talk,” on CBS Sports Network, with Dana Jacobson, Tracy Wolfson, Summer Sanders, Lisa Leslie, and Beth Mowins; 9/19/17 http://www.usatoday.com story, “Beth Mowins To Call Colts vs. Browns on CBS,” by Matthew VanTryon; 9/22/17 http://www.sportsvideo.org story, “Behind The Mic: YES Makes Sarah Kustok First Full-Time Solo NBA Analyst For RSN; Barber Brothers Reunite for NFL on FOX; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_Mowins; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayle_Sierens; and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1987_Seattle_Seahawks_season#Regular_season.