The NFL is the biggest ratings generator for networks and a woman has never been a mainstay in an NFL booth. That needs to change.
This column is my monologue from this week’s episode of The Wilder Project, which comes out on Wednesdays on SI.TV.
Last week was International Women’s Day, and while I generally find days like this to be more about hashtags than action, it did make me stop and take think about where we are in terms of women in sports media. We’ve come a long way, but we have a lot farther to go. One first we have yet to see is a major network permanently putting a woman in the booth for NFL broadcasts. Yes, I know that Beth Mowins has called a couple Monday Night Football games over the years, and Andrea Kramer and Hannah Storm have an alternate broadcast on Amazon Prime for Thursday Night Football. I’m talking about making women a regular part of weekly programming on a network’s main channel. It’s wonderful that there are many female sideline reporters—it’s an important, difficult, and highly impressive job. But the sideline shouldn’t be the only place you see women when you turn on a game.
Two weeks ago, Jason Witten announced that he’s heading back to the football field after an unimpressive turn calling games for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Everyone’s favorite robotic tight-end-turned-announcer-turned-tight-end shared the booth with Joe Tessitore for exactly one season while Booger McFarland perched on a crane outside, chimed in over a headset, and blocked the view of fans behind him. To put it kindly, Witten and Booger didn’t have great chemistry, so Joe Tess ended up playing a less obvious version of a dad who will definitely turn this car around right now if you two don’t stop fighting back there. I looked forward to Monday Night Football broadcasts the way you look forward to The Bachelor: for the drama, dysfunction, and to be able to talk about it with my coworkers the next day at the office.
Now that Witten is heading back to Dallas and Jerry Jones’ open arms, I’m imploring ESPN to put a woman in the Monday Night Football booth. The network shouldn’t feel wedded to a Tess and Booger as a team. But this goes beyond Monday Night Football and ESPN. I’m sick of scrolling through rankings of NFL broadcasters and only seeing men. Almost half of all football fans are women. Spare me the argument that a woman can’t call a football game because she can’t call a game she’s never played—not all play-by-play analysts are accomplished in the sport they talk about. It’s not like Al Michaels is a world class hockey player, football player, and baseball player, but no one seems to question how much he belongs on TV.
Women have made some progress in other leagues: Doris Burke is a NBA game analyst, Jessica Mendoza is a color analyst on Sunday Night Baseball, and NBC recently hired Kendall Coyne Schofield as an analyst for an NHL game. You might remember that hockey game for the cringe-worthy way Pierre McGuire talked down to Schofield in the booth; he went so far as to explain how hockey works. Which is funny, because Schofield won gold playing on the U.S. women’s team in 2018.
But the NFL is the biggest ratings generator for networks and a woman has never been a mainstay in an NFL booth.
I understand that networks might not want to be the first ones to hire a woman for NFL games full-time and face the vehement, unfettered wrath of every American Neanderthal in a den with WiFi and Twitter. It’s ugly out there. When Mowins calls NFL games, fan message boards and Twitter light up with comments like, “Call me sexist, but women announcing male sporting events is un-listenable and when they try to use male sports vernacular/slang it becomes laughable.” Okay, buddy, I will definitely call you sexist.
If the fear of public reception is a factor in not hiring a woman for the job, that’s cowardly. Change requires friction. And in an age where everyone can tell you how they feel about everything immediately online, I get that friction often sounds and looks overwhelming. But networks just need to suck it up, because people get used to things. As long as any woman picked to do this job is good at it, fans would probably get on board.
I’m not going to do the whole “five women who’d be great for an NFL booth” thing, because that would devolve into a Twitter war debating if any of them would be any good at it, and that’s not the point. The point is that all the networks with rights to NFL games employ or could hire women who could do the job well. Giving that opportunity to a woman would show other women and girls that they too can work as analysts, commentators, and play-by-play announcers.
I’m not saying put any woman in there to fill a quota. I’m saying put someone who’s qualified, capable, and wants to do it. And honestly, I hate that I have to mention that at all. We’ll know that we’ve really come a long way when a woman can be bad at her job. One day I hope I watch a woman broadcaster who’s terrible alongside another woman broadcaster who’s very good. Then we’ll be approaching the same permissions in this world as men.