This season, Monday Night Football said hello to a new face, as Beth Mowins recently became the first woman to call an NFL game on national television. I remember seeing the announcement and thinking, “It’s about time.” The rosy bubble, though, didn’t last long. It was only a matter of time before the criticism poured in: Mowins is shrill. Mowins has an “annoying voice.” Mowins just doesn’t belong on MNF.
The backlash to Mowins’s speech serves as a jarring reminder whenever I get carried away imagining my own voice booming through the stands. If you’re a woman on sports TV, it doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth, because there will inevitably be something you’re doing wrong: Your voice is too loud, your lipstick is too bright, your laugh is too shrill. Since women like Mowins have reached the big leagues—national television—you’d think the real struggle would be over. But it’s only the beginning—a wider audience means more opportunity for these hateful fans to speak up.
Every sports fan hates at least one commentator, especially the ones on national television. Every sports fan despises the work of at least one journalist. But never, ever does it get as personal as it does when the commentator or journalist in question is a person of color, an LGBT person, or a woman. Or all three. How many people in the crowd at a game think I don’t belong in a men’s locker room? How many players in the men’s locker room, even, think I shouldn’t be there with a mic in their faces?
As it stands today, sports coverage skews heavily towards men’s games. It’s commendable and inspiring that women’s sports often have far more diverse players, coaches, and commentators, but unfortunately those aren’t mainstream games. Men’s sports are considered “the league,” without qualification, as opposed to “the women’s league.” There are many problems with the culture of men’s sports, but for representation to be visible on the average sports fan’s TV or radio, it has to take root in the men’s game. For those roots to be strong, the sports community needs to support and rally around the women, people of color, and LGBT people calling games and hosting intermission shows. I don’t doubt that there are “good people” in sports fanbases, but if you’re a sports fan with privilege and you believe that representation is important, it’s just as much your job to stand up for it as it is mine.
Perhaps it’s hard to understand the magic of seeing and hearing people like you in press boxes. If you’re like me, and you’ve enjoyed sports without being good enough to play, then you turn to people off the field in your search for people like you. And when you can’t see yourself in anyone in the stadium, you step away from the game. That’s what turned me away from sports for a while in high school. After all, when I can actually see brown girls in music and film, why waste my time and energy on a product that doesn’t care enough to reflect me as anything but the host being talked over or the cheerleader who never speaks? Having a woman on your show who’s not actually a part of the conversation is pandering that I can see through. All I ask—and all sports fans of marginalized communities all over the world ask—is that those who broadcast the game acknowledge that I exist.
When I see that effort, I’ll become a dedicated member of your audience. How’s that for a deal? Sports gets its money, and I get the magic again.
Stuti R. Telidevara ’20 is a Crimson Blog editor in Cabot House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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