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Is it really surprising that a member of the very sex that burns the toast can announce a hockey score as " Detroit 2, Red Wings 0"? Is it truly unbelievable that a delegate from the same gender that gets hysterical over Lucille Ball can report a result from the golf tour as " Johnny Miller fired a 68 today to take a two-point lead"? Is it so incredibly astonishing that a woman, the same type person who can't think, can't talk, spends all the money and ruins all the marriages, should be expected to do anything but destroy our beloved college football scoreboard by reading the losers' scores first and by pronouncing the revered Fighting Mini as "Mi-noise" and the hallowed sooey pig Razorbacks as "Arkan-saws"?
No. Not at all. In fact, women have done all of those things right out there on the airwaves of America. And, in the process, have made themselves look just about as inept, just about as often, as men.
Women have long since stormed the redoubts of masculine society, chasing scofflaws, fighting fires, collecting garbage, repairing cars, photographing rock stars, publishing newspapers, driving trucks, owning ad agencies and tearing apart the foundation of the Little League. The Watergate Five felt the wrath of a woman from the prosecution side. The people of Connecticut elected one to their statehouse. More recently Pope Paul VI approved the appointment of one to a spot in the Vatican. But no aspect of this onslaught has encountered more vehement reactions than women in sportscasting.
In the land of television, the word' 'talent" operates as a third-person pronoun. On-the-air people, terrific personalities and generous humanitarians all, are "talent." The "talent" went out to lunch, for instance. Or, the "talent" passed out in the bathroom. The current show-biz story has it that unless one is black, Chicano, Lithuanian or a member of some other disadvantaged minority, one does not stand the least chance of becoming "talent" on television. Unless one is of the female persuasion, of course. Then it's a lock.
Recognizing a sucker opening when they see one, women have advanced on television sports as if it were Supermarket Sweep. They have come to it from kitchens, utility rooms and tennis courts; from swimming pools, modeling agencies and Broadway choruses; from Miss America pageants, ski runs and soap operas. They have been harassed by directors, blindfolded in locker rooms and sabotaged by anchormen. One has been honored by having her picture stamped on milk cartons, while another has been endangered by spectators heaving beer bottles in her direction.
All, as Gloria Steinem might have pointed out before she disappeared to streak her hair, have paid their dues. Yet they are continually bad-mouthed, subjected to chauvinistic ridicule and sexist innuendo. Their lot isn't helped by bosses such as the TV producer in Minneapolis who hired a woman and renamed her Bronco." He went on record as declaring he figured it would be neat "to have a dumb-looking blonde make football predictions." Neat, indeed. The dumb blonde was correct on 75% of her pro and 78% of her Big Ten predictions last fall.
At least womencasters are being noticed. Art Buchwald wrote that he was taken completely by surprise when he heard this strange high voice commenting on a TV football game. He said he thought Pat Summerall had had a serious operation. "How could a multibillion-dollar network invade the homes of 30 million beer-drinking, potato chip-eating, red-blooded American football fans with the voice of a girl?" Buchwald wrote. "...she has no more business on TV football games than Howard Co-sell has on The Waltons"
Even David Halberstam, he of the Vietnam chronicles and the Pulitzer Prize, took a few moments off from mundane matters to address the more weighty subject of television sports gimmickry. " CBS has just come up with a woman sportscaster," wrote Halberstam in New York magazine. " CBS has just hired a woman who does interviews so genuinely awful that her work rivals—they said it couldn't be done—the work of Tony Kubek."
And that is close to the point. In a recent cross-country survey of women sportscasters, whose number seems to be increasing faster than one can switch the channel selector to find them, it was established that even if the women are not the greatest thing to hit the tube since the washed-up country quarterback, they are odds-on favorites over Peter Puck and Sonny Hill.
Though hardly a thorough profile of all female commentators—those working in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore and San Diego are prominent absentees—this study was made with an open mind and no malice aforethought. It was designed to investigate the species, their careers, travails, hopes, dreams and earned run averages. Furthermore, it is presented with the firm reminder that as shaky as the women have been to this point, they are probably no worse than most of the mencasters who besmirch the English language and act a whole lot dumb.