The ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The New Courier.

It’s Time to Move Women Off the Sidelines and into the Broadcast Booth

by Anna Kubiak
April 26, 2022

On Thursday, April 28th the NFL community will gather to ceremoniously begin preparations for the next football season with their annual draft. Fans of the game will undoubtedly tune in to watch their favorite teams prepare for another year, eager to hear from lead journalists and sports announcers about prospects they can hope to see exceed their expectations. It’s the one day outside of the football season that brings back all the excitement to those who love the game, the passion, and energy. And it will most likely be commentated by a man.

Each week before a football game, the news networks covering the game assign roles to their journalists. One of the most prestigious jobs to land is a game commentator, who offers a play by play of the game, aired over national television from the comfort of a studio. However, these jobs are almost always assigned to men. Female journalists are instead chosen to perform the duties of a sideline reporter who remains on the field and offers updates on injured players as well as interviews. While both male and female journalists are able and qualified to be commentators, the gender bias is glaringly clear in how networks allocate these opportunities to their staff.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the phenomenon yourself as you recline on a Sunday afternoon to watch your NFL team of choice. Rain or shine, win or lose, the voices of former players like Tony Romo, whose game experience lends him a unique eye for plays, or Joe Buck, who never played football for the NFL, are there to guide you through the game, while female reporters are exclusively found on the sidelines. In fact, it’s almost second nature to see women braving the conditions for thirty second interviews with coaches and players, providing injury updates, and checking in on the weather. It is unquestionably a difficult job, however, it’s one that female reporters are rarely promoted from due to their gender.

While NFL football is a sport comprised solely of male athletes, not all commentators are former players, and many of them began their career through journalism, communications, or broadcasting. Their job positions have been developed through education and experience, rather than actual participation. Commentators such as Al Michaels, Kenny Albert, Spero Dedes, and Kevin Harlan are proof that playing football in college or in the NFL are not qualifications to be a game caller, nor are they necessary to do a good job. All these commentators have made themselves household names and some have even broken records by commentating multiple sports, however, women with the same education and aspirations are not afforded the same opportunities.

This discrimination is glaringly obvious in the case of Beth Mowins. She graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism and has been working in sports broadcasting for over 25 years. However, while she is just as qualified to commentate an NFL game as any of the aforementioned commentators, she has only commented a single NFL game in 2017, making history as the second women to ever do so. In an effort to promote gender diversity, ESPN pioneered the first all-women broadcast team for an NFL game in 2018 for Thursday Night Football, however efforts to allow female broadcasters to take the role of commentator remain few and chronically nonexistent.

The gap also persists in their payment as the highest paid male commentator (Jim Rome) makes around $30 million a year while the highest paid female commentator (Samantha Ponder) only makes around $4.9 million a year. Additionally, men account for around 77.6% of sports commentators, while women account for only 17.2%.

Come any Sunday during football season, the broadcast assignments will be handed out, unabashedly giving the prime jobs to men based solely on their gender rather than any real differential between their qualifications. This gender bias remains a staple of the game, prevalent in every aspect and present to every viewer, including the next generation of women who aspire to enter the field of sports broadcasting. These women will undoubtedly be faced with the same question: when they have the same knowledge and the same degrees as those held by male commentators, why is it not sufficient qualification to allow them to commentate NFL football games?