Here is a link to my Wednesday column about Raiders play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins. The full text runs below:
Why should people take Beth Mowins seriously?
The phone interview had been going cordially. Then I asked Mowins the inevitable question, the blunt question. You see, the Raiders hired Mowins — a woman in case you haven’t guessed — to do television play-by-play for three of their four exhibition games along with Tim Brown and Matt Millen.
Brown and Millen will be the color commentators. Mowins will be the dominating voice of the broadcast — the Greg Papa, the Ted Robinson. A woman’s voice.
Name any National Football League play-by-play announcer you want. All were/are men except for Gayle Sierens, who called one Seahawks-Chiefs game in 1987. That’s the entire history of women play-by-play announcers in the NFL. A whisper in the wind.
Mostly, women are relegated to sideline reporter. Not their fault. But it does feel like they get relegated. “Coach Shmotz said his team needs to play better defense in the second half.” Mowins has not been relegated. She has been designated.
So, you bet I asked Mowins the blunt question. Because it comes down to this. Is she important for the quality of her work or only because she is a woman?
No awkward silence on the phone. “I don’t really focus on that,” she said. “I just focus on being as hardworking and as good as I can be and to do my best to help Matt and Tim to be the best they can be. All I can say is, ‘Give us a watch, give us a listen and see what you think.’ The rest of it is out of my hands. As (Raiders coach) Jack Del Rio has been telling the team throughout the preseason, ‘Let’s worry about what we can control and about our attitude and our work ethic.’ I’ve tried to actually follow his advice.”
Mowins, whose day job is working for ESPN, earned her chops a long time ago. She got an M.A. in broadcast journalism from Syracuse. Worked radio and TV in the Syracuse market. Started as a freelancer at ESPN in the early 1990s. Freelanced for years doing women’s basketball, softball and volleyball. That led to men’s basketball and football.
Her current contract with ESPN — no more freelance — has her calling college football and college basketball, college softball in the spring, the women’s volleyball national championships, and the women’s NCAA tournament.
What we have here is a veteran who has paid her dues. With interest. The Raiders knew of her work, were impressed, invited her to Alameda this summer to discuss the job, and hired her.
“What are your key skills?” I asked her.
“I like to say my father (a high school basketball coach) raised a point guard. In the booth, that’s my mentality, trying to make everyone else around me better. Be informative. Be entertaining. The job of any good play-by-play announcer is to call the game, engage in conversation with your analysts, allow them to express their opinions, and kind of be the glue that holds it all together.”
The glue is a good metaphor. Point guard is another good metaphor. Turns out Mowins was a point guard on the basketball team at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Class of 1989. English major. Lafayette was my alma mater, too. I was an English major, too. I went there in the Stone Age when it was all men.
“That was a very good proving ground for me,” Mowins said of playing hoops for the Leopards. Yes, the Leopards. “That’s always helped me being a former collegiate athlete and knowing what the student-athletes are going through, and a little bit about what the pro athletes are doing in the locker room and on the sideline and between the lines.”
How has being a woman affected her professionally?
“I’m not really sure what the effect of that is. I understand that it’s unique to some people, but to me it’s what I’ve done my whole life. And it’s what I love to do. I can’t really say how it’s affected me one way or another. All I know is most of the people I’ve dealt with over the years have shown me the utmost respect and have treated me like a professional.”
Does she consider what she’s doing with the Raiders an advancement for women?
“I honestly don’t see the gender in it anymore. I think for most football fans and most Raiders fans and for most guys out there, you have a wife who’s a football fan, or a daughter who’s a football fan. Maybe it’s your mom or your sister. When you’re watching the game in your living room, there’s probably women there watching with you or at your tailgate or in your section at O.Co. The NFL estimates 40 to 45 percent of its fan base now is female. We’re starting to see men and women have the same opportunities to do things, certainly in athletics.”
She told me about her first play-by-play gig. “The kids in our neighborhood (in Syracuse) were constantly playing kickball and the old Nerf Football games. I actually would be playing and doing a running commentary as the game was going on and I’m running around the backyard. I had a Mr. Microphone as a kid. I’ve been calling games ever since.”
A Mr. Microphone?
“A Mr. Microphone is an old microphone that was like a wireless,” Mowins said. “As long as you were within about 20 yards of a radio and you moved the dial to a certain station, you could broadcast through the radio speaker on your Mr. Microphone.”
She’s come a long way from Mr. Microphone. Now she is Lead Microphone. And it shows — the Raiders are showing — NFL play by play is not the exclusive domain of men. Doesn’t need to be. Only one criterion matters — are you good at it?
This is Mowins’ shot. Wish her well. In the world of sports, the more voices the better.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.