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Media in a Pluralistic Society.

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Media in a Pluralistic Society (Communications)

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that women started to break into the previously male-dominated world of sports broadcasting. With many setbacks, difficulties and a large male audience and workforce to win over, female sports broadcasters have endured many challenges and earned the positions they have today. Although the ratio is still what some would consider unfair, the examination of some of the pioneers of female sports broadcasting can help us gain a better understanding of both the evolution of female sports-broadcasting and the unique role in which they play today. Considered three of the most influential figures in female sports broadcasting history, Jane Chastain, Gayle Gardner and Jeannie Morris each have a career and story detrimental to the progression and current position of women in sports broadcasting today. Jane Chastain is documented and credited with being the first woman to work for a large network, and is also widely considered the fist woman to do play-by-play. Being the icebreaker, her role is important but however, her struggles and setbacks as a woman were not well documented.
Jeannie Morris’s however, were. A talented journalist and writer, Morris didn’t have a difficult time breaking into the field. Morris was also thought to of gotten the job through her husband’s assistance, Johnny Morris, who is the all-time leader in receiving yards for the Chicago Bears. Morris may have gotten her foot in the door but however, was not awarded all the luxuries and advantages as men. While covering a Chicago Bears game in the early 1970’s against the Minnesota Vikings, Morris was not allowed to work in the press box and had to work outside in a snowstorm instead. Soon after women were permitted in the press box but still yearned for equality on issues as basic as bathroom access.
Through the 1970’s, networks began to hire female sports broadcasters such as Phyllis George, Jayne Kennedy and Leandra Reilly, not for their knowledge but for their looks. While women were beginning to take up a larger percentage of the workforce, they were being objectified and hired based on physical appearance, not qualification. Qualified female broadcasters were available, as evident in the other broadcasting genres at the time, but sports-networks felt that covering sports was a mans job and a woman was there to add a “feminine touch,” and to provide viewers with something pleasant to look at. Most females hired through the 1970’s were also not encouraged to provide their own opinions or stories, and were instructed to strictly read their assigned script. Leandra Reilly would later admit that, “The networks used to pick women for there looks, but now they require more qualifications. Some may still hire a women just because she is a women and the network needs a minority in the field.”
In 1987, Gayle Gardner entered the sports broadcasting world and changed the female persona from a toy to a respected professional. Gardner is noted for her constant hard work and for being the first female to appear weekly on a major network. By 1990 female sports broadcasters had earned an array of positions within the field, including play-by-play, covering NFL games, radio beat reporters and even the 1989 Super Bowl, which was covered by Gayle Gardner.
Although tremendous progress had been made from just 15 or 20 years ago, a Sports Illustrated article was posted in 1991 by Sally Jenkins, comparing male and female components relating to salary imbalances, ratio of male-to-female sportscasters, and the significantly lower level of prestige and acceptance of female sportscasters. The rise in women’s participation in sports in the early 1990’s opened up doors for retired female athletes to use their expertise to move into sports broadcasting positions of their given sport.
The American Sportscasters Association was founded in 1979. Louis O. Schwartz was asked to revitalize the association and came up with the idea to start a hall of fame in 1984. The hall of fame lists 26 inductees, none of whom are females. There have been no inductees since Pat Summerall in 1999, which is possibly the reason for their being no women inductees, since women didn’t have the same opportunity as men especially prior to 1990. The ASA however, has constructed a list of the “Top 15 Women Sportscasters,” where Lesley Visser was voted number 1. Visser worked for CBS and has collected a laundry list of accolades, including being the first and only women enshrined into the Professional Football hall of fame, first women assigned to the world-renounced series “Monday Night Football,” first woman assigned to a Super Bowl sideline, first and only women to handle a Super Bowl trophy presentation, first women sportscaster to carry the Olympic torch, named one of the ten pioneers of Women’s sports by USA Today, and being the first and only broadcaster, male or female, to have worked on the network broadcast of the Final Four, The Super Bowl, The World Series, The NBA Finals, The Triple Crown, The Olympics, The US Open and the World Figure Skating Classic. Today, women do anchor and have other sports casting positions such as injury analysts and sideline reporters for mostly all major networks. However, the fact remains that the ratio of men to women still unfairly lopsided. While searching for a list of the top female sportscasters, nearly every list is titled something to the affect of the “Top 10 Most Sexy (and Smart!) Female Sportscasters.” This is unfortunately proof that the old-school perception of what a female sportscaster ought to be still existents. Having to reiterate that they’re “(also) smart” is offensive to the listed women and perhaps women in general. In an interview with Michael Hiestand of USA Today, Leslie Visser says, “Now, sidelines is where they put all the women. But only 15 or 20 years ago, (even) that was so radical.” In the same article, Pam Ward from ESPN says she is often approached by young women for advice and says that “More than 90% of (them) want to do sidelines. That’s what they see as possible. They see it as a female role.”
Regarding the future of woman sportscasters, there is no clear trend or opinion in the direction we are heading in. Retired icons of the field like Gayle Gardner and Jeannie Morris have even said they see a backward trend, since so many retired male athletes are moving into broadcasting as a way of staying in the game after their playing career is over. Jeannie Morris’s opinion is that woman are not fighting for the jobs like they were in the 1970’s when feminism was stronger and says “Part of the blame is in the culture.” Morris also says that this apathetic approach doesn’t apply enough pressure to the networks to hire females and since today’s woman are not as willing to sacrifice and grind as much as in the 1970’s, it is more difficult to find qualified and committed women. Jack Brickhouse, an ASA Hall of Famer says that women offer another element that men cannot give, especially in covering women’s sports, and play an important role in today’s coverage. While talking to Kathy Whitworth, considered one of the three best female golfers of all-time, Brickhouse asked why women can’t have a better short game in golf. Whitworth’s answer was that “The short game takes more muscle than a person realizes. It takes a pretty healthy swing that women don’t normally have.” If this question were to be asked to any male, we would never get the most accurate answer; it would only be speculation. A male watching this golf match would be the only one to ask such a question, since all women watching would likely already know and thus enriching the experience of the viewers. Many people in the industry feel that women are best covering women and vise-versa but the truth is that a male and a female compliment each other.

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