When CBC announced their English-language broadcast team for the upcoming 2018 Olympic Winter Games, one seemingly subtle change went almost unnoticed. While Brenda Irving was the sole woman to call play-by-play for CBC during the 2016 Olympics, this year, she’s joined by another female commentator, Signa Butler.
CBC is sending 10 male play-by-play announcers to PyeongChang, but female underrepresentation in this field is nothing new. While women will work as in-game reporters, hosts and analysts during the Games - just as many do year-round - few ever make it to the broadcast booth. The ones who do face undue criticism, even though they’re clearly qualified, knowledgeable and experienced.
Last year, seasoned sportscaster Beth Mowins became the first woman in 30 years to call a televised NFL game and the first ever to do so for a national broadcast. Before that, she had spent two decades as the voice of the Women’s College World Series, called college football for ESPN and did play-by-play for Oakland Raiders preseason games.
Mowins shared the stage with (and often had to help bail out) former New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who stumbled through his ESPN colour commentary debut. Though fans took to Twitter to complain about Ryan’s complete ineptitude, it seemed like many more did so just to whine about Mowins’ voice.
She’s far from the first woman to deal with this.
“In my three years in sports radio, I’ve had more men complain about my voice than everything else about me combined - and trust me, there are a lot of other things they don’t like about me,” Chicago sports analyst Julie DiCario writes in a New York Times essay titled “Safest Bet in Sports: Men Complaining About a Female Announcer’s Voice.”
“‘It has nothing to do with you being a woman,’ they tell me, ‘I just can’t stand the sound of your voice,’” she writes.
As veteran NFL reporter Andrea Kremer was quoted as saying in that same essay, “I have no doubt that ‘hating the sound of her voice’ is code for ‘I hate that there was a woman announcing football.’”
Change that to “basketball,” and the same message rang out in early 2017, when Debbie Antonelli became the first woman in nearly two decades to take the mic for part of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
But, as the first woman to do it, Ann Meyers Drysdale, said in an interview with the New York Times, “To me, gender is not that big a deal. A pick-and-roll is a pick-and-roll. There are plenty of people qualified to call the game, and plenty of them are women.”
In 2017, Canadian Meghan McPeak was the only female play-by-play announcer in the NBA D-League. There were none in the NBA, and only one female commentator (ESPN’s Pam Ward) in the WNBA.
There were also next to none in Canada, period. So next month, when Canadian women actually get a chance to put on the headset, people really should listen. After all, these women know what they’re talking about. In a field where they’re criticized at every turn, they need to have the skills and expertise in order to have made it this far.
In 2016, Danielle Doiron became the first woman to call solo play-by-play of a professional Canadian baseball game.
Published in Volume 72, Number 16 of The Uniter (February 1, 2018)