I will be the first to admit that I’m not the most knowledgeable or indeed, the most enthusiastic about the NFL. Growing up in San Diego, Calif., I was peripherally aware of the drama with Dean Spanos and the Chargers culminating in their controversial (at least in my community) move to Los Angeles, and I have friends who go to church with Philip Rivers and his enormous family. I’ve managed to obtain, by osmosis, a paltry collection of facts about the Detroit Lions thanks to many of my Michigan born-and-raised friends. Whether it’s the head trauma, the seemingly arbitrary scoring system or my lack of exposure to a winning team, I’ve just never been able to truly get into the world of professional football. My interest, however, was piqued when my boyfriend told me about Amazon Prime’s female broadcasting team of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer. I had never really thought about football commentating as something that women could, or even should, be involved in.
My view of football commentators and play-by-play analysts is that they are meant to be a sort of default persona: They both explain the game to the viewer and are the viewer. They’re watching the game right along with you, they’re just as surprised as you are when someone runs 30 million yards for a double touchdown or whatever, but also they have to show you the replay and explain how this man who probably has head trauma was able to exploit the weaknesses in the defense to score six points. Even so, this doesn’t seem like a difficult job, but it definitely seems like a man’s job: They have to be a default and have a normal, unassuming male voice because straight white men are seen as the default in American society. No woman is going to be seen as an everyman, a default in the eyes of the red-blooded, male-dominated, football-watching public.
In September 2017, Beth Mowins called ESPN’s Monday Night Football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Broncos, and she did it again this past year for the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions. I decided to meander on over to YouTube to listen to her commentate, just to get a feel for what that might have been like. In an interview with NPR, Hannah Storm describes NFL broadcasts as being “extremely technical, and to some … it kind of sounds like they’re speaking a different language.” I found elements of this to be true as I listened to Mowins; I had no idea what a “two-tight end set” was, but I felt the energy and excitement as she exclaimed, “Touchdown, Denver!” Though this may be subjective, I thought that Mowins was a really excellent commentator. She was knowledgeable, quick on the draw, and had a clear, audible voice that cut through the noise of the game. Though male is the default, her female voice did not feel out of place whatsoever. I found it refreshing and even assuring.
Sometimes when I watch football with other people, I feel stupid for not knowing what’s going on. Listening to Mowins, I didn’t. It was as though there was another woman in the room who made me feel less like an outsider, like I understood what it was like to be the default for once. I then made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments section of the video. “How to ruin a football game 101,” one said. “Made my ears bleed,” another complained. The comments continued in that manner, all of which seemed to be people complaining about her voice, an obvious code for “I hate that a woman is doing this.” One viewer even said, “wow… Between letting players disrespect our flag, including (f*ggy) male cheerleaders dancing like women and this abomination of an announcer, the NFL seems to really want to make sure people aren’t tuning into football anymore.”
Beth Mowins is a consummate professional. She spends months preparing for each game. She researches not just the teams, but their divisions and their conferences, in order to paint a larger portrait of what’s happening in football. She handwrites and color-codes index cards and creates a game board of potential information she can use. She meets with her partner months ahead of time, and they watch old games and practice calling them together. She meets with players and coaches before games to get quotes and information she can use in a broadcast. She cares about her job, and it shows in the quality of her work and her commitment to detail. Furthermore, she has been lauded by industry professionals for her excellent work. The malicious comments on Twitter and YouTube come from a group so used to being the default, so used to football being “a bastion of male superiority” that they could not even begin to comprehend a woman being good at her job, let alone better than a man. Many criticized her broadcasting partner, former NFL coach Rex Ryan, for not being quite up to scratch. Though our dear friend from YouTube, who was so concerned about the NFL not wanting people to watch football, should be worried about a number of issues when it comes to the league, a woman broadcasting is not one of them. Accessibility and expanding to a wider audience is a huge focus for the NFL, and networks having female broadcasters on their teams have the potential to be that expanding factor.
My only gripe about Amazon Prime offering the option of Storm and Kremer commentating NFL games is that it is an option. Obviously, there is nothing Amazon can do about the Fox Sports and ESPN broadcasting crew when they offer those as well. However, it seems reductive to only make them a part of the company’s effort to “enable customers around the world to customize their viewing experience,” just as it feels reductive to relegate Mowins to a couple pre-season games and a single Monday Night Football doubleheader each season. All three of these women are seasoned sports journalists with more than enough credentials to call an NFL game. Though I, for one, will be tuning in to Amazon Prime to hear Storm and Kremer come autumn, I know many viewers, especially male viewers, will not. By giving these women the opportunity to do these jobs and do them well, we provide millions of other women the opportunity to truly feel a part of a national phenomenon, to hear themselves on a national stage, to know that there are opportunities for them in these fields. Male viewers, quite frankly, need to sit down and let these women do their jobs.
Caroline Llanes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.