Want to see a sexist NFL fan’s head explode? Mention that nearly half the NFL’s audience is made up of women.
Despite the hollows of “fake news!” every time I bring this fact up, it’s true. Back in 2017, Reuters reported that women composed 45% of the National Football League’s fan base. The NFL itself confirmed that number in February, when Roger Goodell announced that the league was pulling in a record 187.3 million fans, a full 47% of whom are women. Still not convinced? Follow the ad money. During the 2020 Super Bowl, we saw ads from Olay, a Microsoft ad featuring 49ers coach Katie Sowers, and the passing-the-torch pre-game ad, which featured multiple young girls playing football alongside the boys. In the last two years, the NFL estimates women viewership has increased by 11 percent.
With so many women watching, it seems only fair, not to mention good business sense, that ESPN would at least consider a few women for a spot in the now vacant Monday Night Football booth, following the World Wide Leader’s decision to part ways with Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland. After all, women have been working in the NFL for decades. Phyllis George, who passed away this weekend, smashed through the league’s glass ceiling back in 1975, when she was hired to co-host The NFL Today. In case it’s not obvious, that was FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO.
Over the course of the past several weeks, I’ve read a bunch of navel-gazing pieces by NFL reporters speculating on who will get in the coveted MNF booth. Will it be a two-person or three-person booth? Would Drew Brees consider it? Will Peyton Manning change his mind about broadcasting? Will Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit move over to the NFL from college? Will it be some combination of Andrew Marchand, Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, and Dan Orlovsky? What about Dave Pasch and Kurt Warner?
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It’s nothing short of amazing that, in the Year Of Our Lord 2020, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone suggesting a woman for one of the two or three main broadcast roles on Monday Night Football. And believe me, there is no shortage of candidates who would be far superior choices to Jason Witten and Booger McFarland, both of whom became laughingstocks on social media during games due to their penchant for stating the obvious, or, in Witten’s case, misstating things altogether.
Hey, broadcasting is hard. Anyone who has ever spent time in a studio knows that dumb things come out of your mouth when you least expect it. It takes years of practice to be able to think on your feet and express yourself clearly and concisely. Luckily for NFL fans, there are a host of women who have been covering the league for a really long time and who deserve a shot at calling the game on the sport’s biggest stage.
- In 2017, Beth Mowins became the first woman to call a nationally televised NFL game since Gayle Sierens did it back in 1987 (you read that right, there was a 30-year gap between the first and second woman to call NFL games). Mowins has been calling college football since 2005. In addition to being an expert on the game, she’s an established and familiar voice to football fans.
- Like Mowins, Andrea Kremer has been a fixture for sports fans in general, and NFL fans in particular. Kremer, one of the most respected sports reporters in the business, has been with the NFL Network since 2012. Since 2018, she’s been the analyst to Hannah Storm’s play-by-play on Amazon’s live-stream of Thursday Night Football.
- Pam Oliver has been in sports broadcasting since 1985, covering the sidelines for FOX’s No. 1 broadcast team dating back to 1995, before she was replaced by Erin Andrews in 2014. She’s also widely thought of as one of the most knowledgeable reporters in the game, male or female. She spent years covering the NFL alongside John Madden and Pat Summerall and would bring a wealth of NFL cred to the booth.
- Laura Okmin, the longest-tenured sideline reporter in the NFL, has elevated sideline reporting to an art form, in part because she’s been doing it for 25 years. But make no mistake, sideline reporters put in as much game prep time as the guys in the booth do, and have to do their jobs under more hectic circumstances.
- If ESPN feels the need to put a former athlete in the booth, how about Lisa Salters, who played college hoops at Penn State? Having covered everything from the O.J. Simpson trial to the Oklahoma City bombing, Salters filled in for Michelle Tafoya when she went on maternity leave back in 2005. She’s been covering the sideline for Monday Night Football since 2012.
- Mina Kimes’ rise at ESPN has been meteoric, due in large part to her intelligence and quick wit. A ubiquitous talent, Kimes’ football knowledge is well-established (along with her Andy Reid and Phillip Rivers water colors). In 2019, she was hired by the L.A. Rams to do color commentary for their pre-season games, to the delight of many fans.
The list could go on and on. Does anyone really believe Doris Burke would have trouble switching from calling NBA games to calling NFL games? Shouldn’t Suzy Kolber get a shot? Hasn’t Michele Tafoya put in her time?
Given that most reporters (read: men) writing about the NFL and the Monday Night Football jobs haven’t considered women candidates enough to mention them, it’s likely ESPN isn’t doing so, either. In the end, we’ll likely end up with two men in the booth and a woman on the sidelines, the way it’s been for the past three decades.
This is not to say that sideline reporting isn’t a terrific job that takes skill and preparation, not to mention the ability to report amidst a chaotic, ever-changing environment. But sideline reporter shouldn’t be the ceiling for women in the NFL broadcasting, with less than a handful managing to make it to the promised land of the booth. When it comes right down to it, the powers that be trust women to report the facts on the sideline, but not to offer their opinions when it comes to sports played by men. As it currently stands, we largely listen to men talk for two hours and 55 minutes during an NFL broadcast, with a woman on the sidelines maybe getting to talk for a grand total of five minutes, all told.
According to Kelsey Trainor, an attorney and sportswriter, it just makes economic sense to include a woman in the MNF booth.
“The NFL reported itself that there are 88 million female fans, with women now making up 47% of the NFL fanbase,” Trainor says. “With such a large fanbase, it’s bad business to not consider women a target market. The NFL is giving up millions of dollars in potential revenue and the potential to expand that base by not considering a woman for the MNF booth. When you have so many qualified to do the job, it is poor business judgment alone to not have a Mina Kimes or another women in the booth.”
So, women make up nearly 50 percent of the NFL fan base, and, per Goodell, are one of the few demographics that continues to grow the sport. Did anyone predict we’d see more women coaches in the NFL (4) than women in the booth? Women deserve to be represented in a more substantial way during NFL broadcasts.
It’s a shame that the decision makers, and those who cover them, haven’t realized that yet.