This hasn’t been a great weekend for women in sports. Disgraced Baylor coach Art Briles somehow made his way onto the field of an Oklahoma game to celebrate a win with his son-in-law, Sooners’ offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. Lebby then had the nerve to get indignant when asked why Briles was on the field of an NCAA football game. At MSU, a school with far too many scandals involving sexual misconduct as of late, head football coach Mel Tucker is under investigation for sexually harassing a rape prevention advocate. Michael Irvin, a man accused of sexual misconduct multiple times, was back on NFL Network. (Irvin has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.) Coco Gauff, with her historic win at the US Open, was the only bright spot in an otherwise depressing weekend in sports, especially if you care about women.
And that brings us to NFL and NCAA football. Let’s take a look at some good ol’ fashioned football talkers.
Here we have everyone’s favorite crew over at FOX:
And here is the B-team over at CBS:
Notice anything…odd? No?
Well how’s about if I show you this look at ESPN’s College Gameday team?
Unless you’re a Neanderthal or willfully obtuse, you’ve probably noticed by now that there are no women at the desks during “prime time” for college and professional football. I’d love to say that, in the year of our Lord 2023, I have no idea how this happens, but having been the only woman in the room at most of the sports media outlets I’ve worked at, I know exactly how this happens. No one notices, no one says anything, no one cares.
But wait! Many of these outlets have women on the sidelines! Or interviewing players in features that run before the game! Or, in the case of a select few women, even in the booth! That’s true. It’s always great to hear Beth Mowins or Lisa Byington calling a game. CBS has the indomitable Amy Trask on its pregame show and periodically on NFL Today. Laura Okmin holds down the sidelines as well as anyone in the business. That goes double for Pam Oliver, who knows the game as well as any man in broadcasting, as well. Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer were a joy calling games on Prime the past few seasons.
But when it comes down to talking to the fans immediately before games start? At halftime? In between the first and second slate of games? Well, then we go from two to three guys in the booth to five or six guys in the studio. Where are all the women?
It might not feel so egregious if the NFL didn’t so blatantly use women to bolster their ratings. Trotting out all things pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pretending to give a damn about domestic violence and sexual assault. And, in 2020, touting the fact that a full 47 percent of the fanbase is made up of women. In the three years since that announcement, it’s possible that number is even higher. The NFL knows exactly how many women are watching their games.
Why then, are there so few women in football broadcasting? And don’t tell me women don’t know enough about the game, unless you’re also going to complain about Al Michaels and Joe Buck and Bob Costas and Mike Tirico. Do you really believe that every single man in the photos above is more qualified to be there than Mina Kimes? Andrea Kremer? Pam Oliver? If you do, you’re either blatantly sexist or you don’t know much about the game.
Recently, a slew of articles have come out about Super Bowl ads being increasingly targeted towards women. And the NFL has made a big deal of shouting from the rooftops how many women are involved in its teams, from the sidelines to the front offices. And don’t get me wrong; more women involved in the game is a great thing — I’ll be the first to tell you that representation really does matter. But with the increasingly incestuous relationship between media outlets and the league, there is no reason for Roger Goodell and company not to pressure their media partners to capitalize on the women watching the game by putting more women in the studios. It’s insulting to turn on an NFL or college football game every week and see nothing but men breaking down the game. It’s a slap in the face to the female audience which, by the NFL’s own admission, is substantial. If any of the networks found out that 47 percent of their audience loved trail mix, they’d have a California Raisin sitting at the desk next week, along with a couple of CGI’ed M&Ms. Yet women, for some reason, still go largely ignored by leagues and media outlets alike.
The fashionable thing to do on social media these days is to insult and shout down women who point out the disparity between the league and its broadcast partners. Call us miserable feminists who have too many cats or suggest that, if we don’t like it, we stop watching. But that attitude belies the fact that just as many women have grown up with football as men. We watched on Saturdays and Sundays with our dads and brothers and husbands (and moms and sisters and wives). We played tackle football in the backyard right along with the boys on our block. Increasingly, young girls are playing flag and tackle football right alongside little boys. When the camera pans the stands on Saturdays, I see just as many women in the stands as men.
Football belongs to everyone — and it’s our game, too.