It’s not every day you get a phone call out of the blue from a National Football League team, but that’s exactly what happened this spring when Vittorio De Bartolo, the executive producer of broadcasting for the Oakland Raiders, tracked down ESPN broadcaster Beth Mowins while Mowins was on assignment calling the NCAA women’s softball tournament.
De Bartolo came armed with a question that stunned the broadcaster: How interested would Mowins be in calling the team’s games during the preseason?
“They had heard of me, seen my work, and there were some connections through Syracuse University, with [former Raiders owner] Al Davis being a Syracuse grad,” said Mowins, who was born in Syracuse and holds a master’s degree in communications from Syracuse University. “So they called and said we’d really be interested in you doing the play by play. I said I’d be very interested too. It was a pleasant surprise.”
It was also a long time coming. The last, and only, women to call NFL play by play was Gayle Sierens, who recently retired after a long career as a news anchor in Tampa, Fla. Sierens was the announcer for the Seahawks-Chiefs game for NBC on Dec. 27, 1987, the final week of the regular season that year. Following that broadcast, then-NBC Sports executive producer Mike Weisman offered Sierens six more game games for the following season but her local NBC station did not want her to call more games and miss work. So Sierens never called another NFL game. Lesley Visser served as an analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Howard David and analyst Boomer Esiason for a Westwood One/CBS Radio game in 2001 and eight years later became the first woman to do color for a televised NFL game, a preseason game between the Dolphins and the Saints. That’s essentially the list of women who have done NFL play-by-play or color analysis.
This column has previous suggested Mowins would be an inspired and progressive choice by ESPN to get the play-by-play assignment for the late game of the opening week Monday Night Football doubleheader. That game has previously been used as a promotional vehicle for the Mike and Mike radio brand and depending on how you look at it, either a vanity play for an announcer who is as much a part of an NFL apparatus as The Duke football (Chris Berman) or a reward for a longtime employee for years of NFL service. Last week ESPN announced that Berman and Trent Dilfer will once again get that assignment (Vikings at Niners) and the only surefire prediction for the game is that Berman will trend on Twitter at some point. While the promotional angle of that assignment is clear and noted, ESPN remains ahead of their peers in assigning women broadcasters to positions traditionally occupied by men. Here’s hoping they one day management will make the call for Mowins. She will no doubt reward them with an excellent broadcast.
Mowins said she will call Oakland’s opening preseason game against the Rams, the second game (Vikings) and the fourth game (Seahawks). NBC will air the third game. She’ll be joined in the broadcast booth by Tim Brown, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015, and former Raider and longtime television commentator Matt Millen. The Raiders have previously used a radio-television simulcast for its preseason games but De Bartolo said Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders, wanted to change things up this season.
• MORE NFL: Raiders off-season report card
“Mark Davis challenged myself and [vice president of media and entertainment] Brad Phinney to explore all avenues and think outside the box,” De Bartolo said. “He kept going back to the fun atmosphere of the Monday Night Football booth of the 70s. So I really tried to think outside the box and I had seen Beth do games on ESPN for many years. I thought it would be intriguing.”
De Bartolo said he wanted to make sure Mowins was serious about her interest and that her ESPN contract allowed the opportunity before he went back to Davis. When Mowins made her way from her home in San Diego to Oakland to meet with team officials this summer, De Bartolo said she impressed the brass with her appreciation of the team’s history (Mowins’ brother is a life-long Oakland fan and two often discussed the Raiders’ glory years.)
“I put it in front of our owner and he went back and watched some of her stuff and he really liked her,” De Bartolo said. “For me, to even approach Mark Davis with a name, it had to be someone who would wow him. We want to make the broadcast a Raider broadcast. It can’t be someone who has done Chargers games or Buccaneers games. He would have looked at me like I was crazy. I knew there would be attention on Beth being a female but she does have that resume. There is no way we would put anyone in front of Mark Davis who could not do that job. Within the first half-hour of meeting Beth, I knew right away this is a relationship that could work.”
I asked Mowins if she thought her getting the Raiders assignment could serve as a symbol that NFL play-by-play work is now possible for 50% of the U.S. population.
“I’d like to think so,” she said. “I was with Doris Burke and Holly Rowe last week getting the Marty Glickman Award and it is great to see role models like them and be able to work alongside people like that. To see some of the things at ESPN like Sage Steele on the NBA and Suzy Kolber on the NFL and now Jessica Mendoza doing Baseball Tonight work, I think there are a lot of opportunities opening up for opening up for women. So if a young guy or girl sees a kid from Syracuse (where Mowins was born) able to get that opportunity and to work hard to do well at it then that’s great. I’m always telling young folks in the business to constantly keep challenging yourself and try new things.”
“Beth is an accomplished woman and I congratulate her and wish her all the very best,” said Amy Trask, a CBS Sports NFL analyst and a pioneer herself as the first female CEO of an NFL team (the Raiders). “That said, you asked me how significant I believe her hire to be. The most significant moment will be when we stop referring to the hiring of qualified women (and racial, ethnic and religious minorities) as significant. In other words, when qualified people are hired without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, religious or other differentiating characteristics, that will be the most significant, indeed momentous, event of all. My experience with Raiders fans was that my gender was of no concern to the vast majority of them and I believe and hope that will be Beth’s experience as well.”
Mowins said her bosses at ESPN were supportive with her taking the assignment and they signed off on it given there were no conflicts with her college football schedule.
“We were eager to help see it through because it is not only another break-through opportunity for Beth, but further validation that others in our industry were as aware and appreciative of her talents as we have been,” said Ed Placey, the network’s senior coordinating producer for college football. “Any milestones associated with the NFL are meaningful, so this is definitely another significant step forward. Gayle Sierens called one NFL game. Now Beth will call four NFL games, then be back for her normal 15-game college football package with us. It’s another compelling chapter in an on-going story still being written for women in broadcasting.”
This month, Mowins signed a multi-year extension with ESPN that will keep her with that network for a couple of years. She will call college football games this fall with Anthony Becht and Paul Carcaterra. As for future NFL assignments, Mowins said she is trying not too look far ahead. “I want to approach it as just a great opportunity to work with the Raiders and to call NFL preseason,” she said. “The rest of that stuff is out of my hands. God grant me the serenity to not have to try and think too much about the future.”
While the Raiders have struggled with wins and losses over the last two decades, they remain near the top of the league when it comes to diversity hires. They were the first team to hire an African-American coach (Art Shell), the first to put a woman as the highest ranking non-owner executive (Trask) and the second to hire an Hispanic coach (Tom Flores). De Bartolo said he didn’t want to discuss whether this was a one-year proposition or a longer broadcasting play but said he was excited about the potential team.
“Honestly, I can’t believe she hasn’t already been given this opportunity,” De Bartolo said. “People want to say, 'Oh, she’s a female.' No, she’s a damn good broadcaster.”
Trask said she doesn’t believe Al Davis, her old boss, received enough credit for his decades long practice of hiring in a diverse and inclusive manner.
“No matter one’s differences with or views about Al, his decades long track record for diversity and inclusiveness can’t be disputed in any sort of intellectually honest manner,” Trask said. “Al hired without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, religion or other characteristics which are irrelevant to one’s ability to do a job. It is both appropriate and terrific that the organization has upheld that tradition with the hiring of Beth.”
“The Raiders are an organization, growing up as a kid, they took a chance on people and that has carried over to the coaching choices they made that were groundbreaking with Art Shell, and with Amy Trask in the front office.” Mowins said. “I appreciate the fact that they are group—and it starts with owner Mark Davis—that no longer ask why a women should do that. They ask, 'Why not?' A lot of times it is a simple as a guy asking that question that can lead to a lot of doors opening.”
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the week’s biggest stories in the sports media
1. Get ready for more of Tim Howard ... as a broadcaster. As part of the NBC Sports Group’s third season of airing the English Premier League, the Everton goalkeeper and 2014 World Cup standout for the U.S. will increase his workload for the network as an analyst. Pierre Moossa, the network's lead soccer producer, said Howard will call more games for NBC this season given Everton’s scheduling flexibility this year (The club did not qualify for the Europa League.)
“He wants to do it at a consistent basis as long as it does not affect his day job,” Moosa said. “He felt if he did one match and then had two months off it was hard for him to get back in the groove. So we are aiming to do once a month working around his Everton responsibilities and comfort level.”
The first two months of the EPL television schedule were previously released by NBC including live coverage of all 70 matches beginning August 8 at 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN with Manchester United-Tottenham.
The networks of NBCUniversal will present at least five games each week in the season’s first two months on NBC and NBCSN, with all games preceded and followed by Premier League Live pre- and post-match shows.
All remaining Premier League matches will be made available on Premier League Extra Time.
“For us, our first year was figuring out how we would cover it,” Moosa said. “Our second year was about innovation and our third year is about making sure we exceed expectations and improve our broadcast. This year the expectations are very high but for us it’s now about reacting to the stories and not necessarily figuring out how we will cover them.”
The biggest early-season game comes on Aug. 16 on NBCSN at 11 a.m. ET when defending champions Chelsea travel to the Etihad to face Manchester City, the league winners in 2014. Arlo White and Howard will call the game.
Moosa said NBC will add some tech innovations to enhance the broadcast during the season including increased virtual technology in the studio, 5.1 audio and tactical cameras for all games. One talent change from last year: Gary Lineker will focus strictly on his work for BT and the BBC. He will not be part of NBC’s coverage.
One of the sports TV stories to watch over the next couple of months is the bidding for the upcoming Premier League rights. NBC paid $250 million for the current deal, which ends at the end of this season.
“We have a great partnership with the Premier League,” NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus told SI.com this week. “Our current deal has reaped great benefits for both parties. As has been reported, the Premier League has sent out the bid requirements to interested parties recently. As you would expect, we’re in the process of formulating our bid based on those requirements.”
1a. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand reported that NBC, ESPN and Fox will all bid on the next set of U.S. broadcast rights. Ourand said the new wrinkle in the bidding process is that the EPL has told the networks that it will accept both three-year and six-year bids. A source told Ourand that each network was likely to submit two bids—one for three years, one for six—and the EPL only would accept the six-year bid if it “blows them out of the water.” Ourand also reported that the EPL only will accept one bid for all the games and not split rights.
• MORE MEDIA CIRCUS: Fox delivers on promise of Women's World Cup
1b. Moosa said he will not put pressure on Howard to discuss any potential role with the USMNT in the future. “When it comes to his personal decisions, we are certainly not going to pressure him to make any announcements on air. He needs to do what is best for him.
1c. Men in Blazers returns to NBCSN on Monday at 11 p.m. ET. Hosts Michael Davies and Roger Bennett be joined by NBC Premier League analysts Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe to preview the 2015-16 season.
1d. Fox Sports will air more than 300 regular season matches of the Bundesliga this season. The breakdown: There are 58 games scheduled for Fox Sports 1; 60 for Fox Sports 2, and the rest will air via FoxSoccer Plus. On the Spanish-language side, Fox Deportes is set to televise 105 matches. The Bundesliga season officially kicks off on Aug. 14 with defending champion Bayern Munich taking on Hamburg. (That match will air on Fox Sports Regional Networks, FOX Sports 2, FOXSports.com and via FOX Sports’ YouTube channel, with pregame coverage beginning at 2 p.m. ET.) Ian Joy joins Fox Sports as its lead Bundesliga studio host, sitting alongside a rotation of analysts including Eric Wynalda.
2. Last Sunday, I wrote a piece on women in the sports media who have dealt with pregnancy and post-pregnancy issues. Upon that piece running, which focused mostly on women in television, I learned that Shalise Manza Young, the excellent Patriots reporter for the Boston Globe, is covering her 10th NFL training camp just a couple of weeks from her due date with her third daughter. She was kind enough to pass on some of the challenges and experiences she’s faced as a working mother on the beat (You can follow her on Twitter here).
Even in 2015, being a woman , particularly a minority woman, covering an NFL team full time means you’re often the only, and still get to experience firsts once in a while.
But I’d be lying if I said I thought I’d be the rare woman (maybe the only?) to cover back-to-back Super Bowls while pregnant.
Our first daughter was born in 2002, four years before I became Patriots beat writer for the Providence Journal, the first newspaper I worked for. For a long time, the nearly 24/7 demands of the job, particularly as blogging, social media and other obligations became more prevalent, led me to put off having another child. That changed a few years ago—I wasn’t getting any younger.
I was pregnant for the entire 2013 NFL season, and covered Super Bowl XLVIII when I was 36 weeks along—one of the most tiring weeks of my life. Super Bowl days are long, and with media staying in midtown Manhattan and the Broncos and Seahawks staying in New Jersey, buses started leaving for team access around 6:30 a.m. I wouldn’t finish up with my work until about 12 hours later.
We took a shot for one more, so I was pregnant for the final months of the 2014 season too—I was 12 weeks along at Super Bowl XLIX—and am covering my 10th training camp just a couple of weeks from my due date.
I’ve always had good relationships with the vast majority of Patriots players I’ve covered, and having them see me pregnant changed the dynamic a bit, particularly in 2013. Many of them would frequently ask how I was feeling or how much longer I had left or make sure to either give up the chair at their locker or pull one from nearby if I needed to ask them some questions.
Two moments stick out from that season: in September, when I wasn’t quite to the halfway point but starting to show, defensive end Chandler Jones says to me, “Hey, Shalise—you’re starting to look big. Can I say that?” I assured him that yes, in that situation, I was OK with him saying that.
In December, Tom Brady remarked that I looked good. Now, when you’re around 30 weeks pregnant, you don’t always feel like you look great. But to have a man who’s married to Gisele Bundchen, one of the most beautiful women in the world, remark that I looked good, well, I gladly put that little feather in my cap!
Not surprisingly, the reception I got from some folks on Twitter wasn’t as positive (one asked if I knew who the father of my baby was … thank you block button), though the most folks were and have been happy for me.
Chandler is having even more fun with my pregnancy this time. Twice over the opening days of training camp he’s mocked my waddle, spreading his feet, pushing his belly out and trying to imitate my walk. Running backs coach Ivan Fears has offered to come to my aid if I go into labor while I’m at practice sometime in the coming days.
As much as I appreciate a dramatic moment, I really hope that doesn’t happen. But if that happens, my third daughter could have quite a story to tell someday—that she interrupted one of Bill Belichick’s practices, a man who loathes distractions like most of us loathe root canals, to make her arrival.
3. The 13th episode of the SI Media Podcast features ESPN's lead soccer broadcaster Ian Darke. In the podcast, Darke discusses his preparation to call matches for different leagues, what makes for a good soccer analyst, why soccer viewers are tough markers, the difference calling a soccer match in England versus the U.S., his most harrowing travel story, how he started in the business, why the Men In Blazers call him Sir Ian, why Gus Johnson had such a tough challenge, and much more.
Here, Darke recalled a conversation in South Africa after the 2010 World Cup in which an ESPN executive asked him if he'd consider calling college football for the network.
"The idea was floated in my general direction but it lasted no further than 15 seconds because I said, 'Look, I would be found out. I'm a soccer announcer.' And that's what I am … I think you have to know your limitations. It is very difficult if it's not a sport you have lived with and is in your soul for the whole of your life, to pick it up and sound authentic. Because you are broadcasting to a new audience who know so much about it."
4. Sports Pieces of note
• Grantland’s Jordan Conn wrote a terrific piece on a boy's death, a coach's trial, and a community's search for justice.
• If you loved the book Friday Night Lights, this is a must-read for you.
• Great look at the first year of MLS from SI’s Grant Wahl, Brian Straus and Alex Abnos.
• Washington Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer on Washington signing a linebacker whose track record requires a question mark.
• SI’s Daniel Wilco on loving basketball even after your dreams collapse.
From The Wall Street Journal’s Sharon Terlep: The Battle for the Ohio State Band.
Non Sports pieces of note
• This Ian Urbina series on crime and violence in international waters is one of the best things I've read in 2015:
• You won't soon forget this obituary. Raw, heartbreaking, honest.
• If you love great news writing, here's the best lead paragraph I read this month.
• A ship built by the Nazis ended up as a training vessel for the U.S Coast Guard.
• Read this if you are a millennial ... and let me extend my sympathies.
• Via Politico: The relationship between the Obama White House and Jon Stewart.
• A sweet tribute to the pressroom operators of the Austin Statesman, which printed locally for 150 years.
• AP Investigation: Olympic teams to swim, boat in Rio's filth.
• Fewer than 400 families are responsible for about half the money raised in the 2016 presidential race.
• No interviewers are asking Tom Cruise about Scientology. Here’s why that’s not surprising, Ffom Emily Yahr of The Washington Post.
• This is an amazing piece on fathers and sons and death.
5. This Wednesday marks the one year out date from the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As is often the case at this time, NBC has extensive marketing plans to educate consumers on the event including a 60-second Olympic promo that will run across all of its 18 broadcast and cable networks, including NBC, Telemundo, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, USA, and NBC Sports Group networks NBCSN and Golf Channel. With golf’s return to the Olympics after more than a 100-year absence, the Gold Channel’s Morning Drive (9-10 a.m. ET) show will air a live event featuring PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour players discussing their Olympic aspirations. NBC News reporter Miguel Almaguer will report live from Rio as he tours the Olympic Park and numerous venues.
5a. ESPN announced last week it had re-signed SportsCenter anchors Neil Everett and Stan Verrett to multi-year extensions. The duo anchor the 1 a.m. edition of SportsCenter.
5b. SiriusXM will once again host live shows from all 32 NFL teams’ training camps
5c. The next episode of ESPN’s E:60 (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET) features a piece on Chris Singleton, an outfielder for Charleston Southern University and the son of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, one of the nine people murdered in Charleston on June 17.
5d. This 30 for 30 short on David Robinson, the 62-year old youngest child of Jackie Robinson, and the life he has built as a coffee farmer in Tanzania is worth a look. Nice work by director Alrick Brown and producer Brian Hyland:
5f. The 2015 WNBA All-Star Game drew 583,000 viewers for ABC, a 23% viewership increase over 2014 (when it aired on ESPN). The top five markets: Louisville, Hartford-New Haven, Kansas City, Richmond and Raleigh-Durham.
5g. A very harsh critique from Boston Globe writer Chad Finn on ESPN's reporting of Tom Brady/Deflategate.
5h. Some thoughts on the passing of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.