There are plenty of glass ceilings still intact in sports media, but none has been harder to break through than the role of an NFL play-by-play announcer.
On the opening weekend of the 2017 NFL season, that ceiling will get a very significant crack when Beth Mowins will call play-by-play on the second game of ESPN’s Monday Night Football doubleheader.
The news, which was first reported by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, is noteworthy because Mowins will become the first female play-by-play announcer on a national broadcast in NFL history.
Mowins previously called play-by-play for a regionally televised Oakland Raiders preseason game in 2015. Before that, the only woman to fill that position in a booth was Gayle Sierens, who called play-by-play for a regionally televised Seattle Seahawks vs. Kansas City Chiefs NFL game in 1987 for NBC Sports. Sierens was offered the play-by-play position for six games the following season by then-NBC Sports Executive Producer Mike Weisman, but she turned down the opportunity because it was only part-time work, and she would have had to give up her full-time anchor job in order to accept the offer.
“I used to say that I kicked down the door, but no one else came in,” Gayle Sierens told Richard Sandomir of the New York Times in 2009. “But I think that day is nearing. I really do.”
Mowins joined ESPN in 1994, and has since worked as a play-by-play announcer for NCAA Championships in basketball, softball, soccer, and volleyball, and according to ESPN Media Zone, has been the voice of the Women’s College World Series for over 20 years.
She has regularly worked play-by-play on ESPN’s men’s and women’s basketball games, and in 2005, she became the second woman to regularly call college football on national television when she worked Western Athletic Conference games on ESPNU.
She will be paired in the broadcast booth with former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, whom she previously worked with to call Florida State’s spring football game.
Last month, Awful Announcing reported that ESPN executives were considering making this move. As Ben Koo pointed out, it’s a pretty win-win move for ESPN and Mowins. After all, it’s only one game — opening weekend is the only time ESPN will have two Monday Night Football games, so it is always looking for a one-off broadcasting team to take the booth. That means that this is only a one-game commitment, and everyone can see how it goes. Plus, Mowins will be following in Chris Berman’s footsteps, and his skills as a play-by-play announcer were far from renowned.
But while it’s a relatively low-risk decision, all things considered, this is still a sign of progress, and ESPN should be commended for it. As Deitsch pointed out, this isn’t something you’re seeing at any other network.
“To its credit ESPN is the only sports network/division among those that air NFL games (CBS, Fox, NFL Network, NBC, and ESPN) showing any full-time commitment to assigning women to on-air positions for men’s sports,” Deitsch said. “Doris Burke, Kara Lawson, Jessica Mendoza and Mowins are the most prominent of that group. That CBS and Fox have multiple NFL teams, and the fact that we’ve never seen a woman get any kind of shot in the booth tells you something.”
Mowins has more than paid her dues, and those who have previously worked with her are certain she will make the most of this opportunity. After all, in her first year as play-by-play announcer for the Raiders, their preseason football broadcast was nominated for a Northern California Area Emmy nomination.
“Beth Mowins has excelled as play-by-play announcer for the Raiders’ preseason football, demonstrating unmatched professionalism, work ethic and passion for her craft,” Vittorio De Bartolo, the executive producer of broadcasting for the Oakland Raiders, told Sports Illustrated.
“As executive producer I appreciated Beth’s enthusiasm for studying and preparing for each game. She took advantage of every opportunity during training camp to watch practice and chat with Raiders players, coaches and personnel in the days leading up to kickoff, all of which helped make for a better Raiders Preseason broadcast.”
This is a big win for women in sports media. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 30 years for a follow-up victory.