Talking Football With Beth Mowins, the First Woman in 30 Years to Broadcast an NFL Game
- Mowins, who’ll do play-by-play of the Broncos-Chargers Monday Night Football game alongside Rex Ryan, on her career path, her mentors and Twitter critics, and cracking the NFL’s glass ceiling
CLEVELAND — Beth Mowins knows there will be viewers who think her Monday Night Football game-calling assignment on September 11 is a stunt or political correctness run amok from ESPN. But she has no interest in exerting any energy over those who do not believe she should be calling an NFL game.
“I learned a long time ago that you don’t ask why you did or why you didn’t get a job, you simply say thank you very much and work your tail off to keep it. Or you work your tail off to get the next one,” Mowins said. “I am most focused on doing a respectful job and earning the respect of my peers and my family. I understand I will not please everybody and I always try the best I can not to listen to negative people with negative attitudes. Life is too short for that.”
As part of an MMQB assignment last month in Cleveland on fledgling NFL broadcasters participating in practice games to prepare for the regular season, I shadowed Mowins and Rex Ryan in Cleveland as they called a Browns-Giants exhibition game. During that assignment, Mowins and I sat down for 40-minute conversation on a variety of topics including the significance of being the first woman to call a regular-season NFL game since 1987. She will call the Chargers at Broncos as part of the opening week Monday Night Football doubleheader.
RICHARD DEITSCH: You have been interviewed many times about your sports broadcasting career and at one point many of those questions focused on being one of the only women calling college football. You now face even more questions that are gender-based given that this NFL assignment. How have you processed the increased scrutiny?
BETH MOWINS: I have come to understand the significance of it and really to understand of the importance of it, in terms of there are more and more young woman who want to get into this business. They recognize me more often. They will come up and ask questions and want to talk to me about things. I love that stuff. I think that is great. From a professional standpoint, whenever I am asked about those things, I will often try to steer the answer back to this: I consider myself a play-by-play announcer first and foremost. I am much more interested in the craft of the job as opposed to anything gender. That to me is secondary to the role and craft and skill of the job.
RD: How do you react to some fans who say they simply want a male voice calling a football game because the voice is more familiar or deeper?
BM: I encourage them to try to make it into the second quarter or second half, and if by that point you don’t have an appreciation for what we are doing, then that is on you and not me. I am not going to change anything I do for people like that.
RD: You have called games in multiple sports including the NFL but this is Monday Night Football, the biggest stage you will have done as a broadcaster. How anxious, if at all, will you be?
BM: I would certainly hope I’m somewhat anxious, because as an announcer or former player that is the indicator that this is important and means something. I will be excited more than anything. It’s also already different simply because of the buildup, whether it is doing practice games or interviews with me like this.
RD: You are now 50 years old?
BM: (Laughs). Thank you.
RD: Ha. We are all getting older. The reason I bring age up is I am curious how you would have processed this opportunity if Monday Night Football and the CBS NFL games came when you were 30 years old?
BM: I have a much better appreciation for the pitfalls that some of these athletes come across when they’re 20 or 25 and all of this attention comes their way. I have a much better appreciation of how it can be difficult to deal with this stuff, and how it’s possible to trip up on things from time to time. I don’t know honestly how I would have done in that situation other than as an older person getting this opportunity, I do have a better understanding of how to handle the time management and pressure management of it all a lot better.
RD: Your two to three CBS NFL assignments have not gotten as much attention because the ESPN game is first, but those are very significant. You are the first woman to call NFL games on CBS, one of the longtime rights-holders of the league. It also gives you the real possibility of calling games beyond this year because they do multiple games each week, right?
BM: I think we will see how it goes this year and take it from there. The good part of all this is that there is so much here and now that I am not going to spend a whole lot of time on the future. Rex and I are both very competitive people, and we want to do well on this. He understands the significance of it. As far as the CBS work goes, Jay Feely is the same way.
RD: How did the CBS assignment come about?
BM: It’s one game right now and the possibility of two or three more later in the year. They started talking to my agent in the winter. I credit both CBS and ESPN for whatever it took to make this happen.
RD: Who are the people in the business you rely on for advice?
MOWINS: Mike Tirico has been great. Sean McDonough has been fantastic. I love watching a lot of the Syracuse guys whether it is OB [Dave O’Brien] or Dave Pasch. Ian Eagle has always been great if I have a question. Then there is Debbie Antonelli, Doris Burke, Holly Rowe, who I have worked with forever and they have been great to bounce things off. In the last five to 10 years [ESPN MLB analyst] Jessica Mendoza also stands out. She has obviously been going through a lot of the stuff I am going through now, and she has been terrific for me.
RD: What has Mendoza told you about handling this kind of attention?
BM: Something I tried to stress with her when she was first starting out—and now she is making a point to remind me—it is all about the preparation. I think the challenge is to process as much as you can and then sift through it, to be prepared for anything that comes along over the course of a broadcast. So when you’re sitting at the game, you’re comfortable, confident, and you don’t miss those moments of jocularity and to have some fun with the people in the booth.
RD: Has anyone from the NFL’s league office reached out to you about the Monday Night Football game?
RD: Do you expect someone, whether Roger Goodell or someon else high up in the league office, to contact you given the historic nature of the game?
BM: I’m not sure. I guess we will see. Maybe it happens, but either way I have always considered it a sign of respect that if they don’t need to do that, it is because they appreciate your getting ready to do a good job.
RD: The Raiders have always been an organization that thinks outside the box and outside norms, and they told me that was part of their thinking when they hired you to do their preseason games in 2015. Would you like to stay with them long-term as a preseason broadcaster?
BM: That whole crew—and it starts with owner Mark Davis at the top—they have done things differently, and they have great perspective on leadership. I have been thrilled to be a part of that organization, and I hope I can stay with them long-term. A lot of different [NFL broadcasters] work on preseason games for teams and then do other stuff. That would be something I would love to do for perpetuity.
RD: The Raiders are a legit Super Bowl contender this year. You see them as much as anyone nationally given your preseason job. What do you anticipate this year?
BM: I’ll reissue [Raiders preseason analyst] Matt Millen’s statement: I think they will go as far as the defense takes them. The offense will be as good as anyone’s in the league if they stay healthy. There may be a time or two they might have to outscore an opponent, but the preseason was about figuring out their situation at linebacker and defensive tackle. If they can get better pressure on the quarterback, that will go a long way to helping their secondary. Once they get Gareon Conley on the field, I think they have some good guys back there. It is going to be on the defense to prove they are improved.
RD: Was there any point in your professional career where you thought about leaving the profession?
BM: I never had a backup plan, and probably that helped. I never wanted to do anything else professionally. Probably if there were times were there was something else, maybe I would have considered that. But I feel like I have also been fortunate where whenever there was a lean season, something else came up the next season that allowed me to continue to do it.
RD: How much sexism exists in the sports media, in your opinion? This is specific to the opportunities women get in the business.
BM: I have always thought it has been significant for men who are making decisions in the business to have a daughter. They realize they want her to have every opportunity that their son might have. I think that has been huge in this industry, once they start seeing young women in these roles. It will always be out there, but once it gets to a personal level or a decision where you are dealing with one woman who is doing that job well and has earned that opportunity, I think that is different than the broader sexism on gender. Should a woman have an opportunity is a lot different than should that woman have an opportunity.
RD: What, if any, personal experiences do you have when it comes to sexism— either institutionalized or overt?
BM: When you hear stories from other woman, I realize I have been pretty fortunate. I have never really had an issue in my face, so to speak, or anyone saying anything to me gender-related. I have always had great male role models and bosses and mentors who have kept all critiques to the job. It has always been about how you are doing it, as opposed to anything gender-specific.
RD: Are sideline reporter positions a good opportunity for women, or do they reinforce that women are not getting other positions on a sports broadcast?
BM: I have always maintained that it is the hardest job in television. I have talked a lot of other people in the business who agree with that. If that is what your dream is, if that is what your passion is, then good. My dream was something that not a lot of other women were doing. If sideline reporting is what you want to do, go after it with gusto. If that is where you are steered toward, never say no to an opportunity for no particular reason. But make sure once you are doing that, don’t be afraid to say, “Yes, I’ll do this, but can you give me a shot as an analyst or sit me in the studio and show you what I can do there.”
RD: How do you approach social media as it relates to your job?
BM: I generally will use Twitter as a research tool, to follow reporters and other people in the business. One of the things Mike Tirico has told me is to be above the fray in terms of people who are taking pot shots at you.
RD: You have been a discussion point at times on social media given these assignments. You will likely trend on the day of the Monday night game. How do you approach feedback there? Do you want to avoid it, or is there value in researching online sentiment?
BM: I don’t really pay attention to any of that stuff. I don’t search myself or anything like that because I don’t need to see a lot of the negativity that is out there. I have no time for negative people with negative attitudes. But they do show up on your timeline, and I do think it is valuable to find the few that want to have a conversation, or do have a question for you. I won’t look at Twitter until after I have watched the tape of the game.
RD: Have you thought about how long you want to call sporting events?
BM: It’s all I have ever known, so I would love to do this as long as they let me. You have seen men work late in life. Look at Vin Scully, Verne Lundquist, Brent Musburger, Keith Jackson, Al Michaels, Dick Enberg. I am hoping that opportunity is there and this is the beginning of a long process.
RD: Could you see yourself calling games into your 70s if healthy?
BM: That would be interesting to see how that plays out in a much more visual world. I would like to think I could. We will see if priorities change.
RD: Who have you heard from in sports that surprised you?
BM: I have a gotten nice emails and texts from people in the business I look up to. I got a really nice text from Al Michaels. Jim Nantz was doing a practice game with Tony Romo in Oakland and stopped by the booth to talk. He could not have been nicer. It was kind of cool to see Martina Navratilova have a nice tweet about me.
RD: Where is home base for you?
BM: San Diego now, and because of family. My two brothers lived out there at the time I moved, and my mother had just passed away. I was feeling like if I could be anywhere, I wanted to be with them. One brother has since moved back home to Syracuse, but the other brother is still out there with my sister-in-law and nephew. It’s become home. I have been in San Diego since 2010.
RD: Who will you talk to on the day of the Denver game? Anyone’s voice you want to hear before this big moment?
BM: I get a little emotional thinking about my family. I will call my Dad, I will call my brothers, I will call my boyfriend [a San Diego firefighter], my sister-in-law and nephews, just to hear their voices and say hello. My boyfriend and my brothers might even be here. I imagine I will exchange texts with Tirico and Sean and Doris, Holly, and Debbie too.
RD: Let’s head back to when you were in the middle of a heavy women’s college basketball schedule a couple of decades ago. You played the sport in college and love the sport obviously. But in the middle of those assignments, did you ever think that was going to be your ceiling, a rotation of doing women’s sports? Or did you always think the NFL was a possibility?
BM: It was always out there, always something I thought could possibly happen. I think one of the reason I thought that is because you treat all of those other games as professionally you would any other game. When I was working those games, I always loved it that whoever your analyst was—say it was a guy that worked men’s games or called the NBA—he would treat it like any other game. I learned valuable lessons early on that you have to treat all those games like they are special because it is special for someone. It is also helping you get better and better. I always thought the possibility of college football and the NFL was still out there for me.
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