- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
As a newscaster for WDIV in her hometown, Detroit, in 1980, Joyce started hanging around the sports department, partly because she was a loyal Michigan grad, and football coach Bo Schembechler liked to talk to her when he came into the studio to do his weekly show. At WFAA in Dallas four years ago, Joyce finally made the switch to sports, weary of those spine-aching city council meetings and possessed by the notion that the Texas-Oklahoma weekend might be a lot more fun.
Joyce's advancement since then has been almost smooth. "I think I would have more trouble walking down the street in a fur coat," she says. She moved to New York when her husband, Harry Smith, got his job as co-anchor of CBS This Morning in 1987. Joyce did some spot work for ESPN and Madison Square Garden network. ESPN decided against hiring her, to its lasting regret, before she signed a contract to be a sports broadcaster for CBS.
There is something soothing about Joyce. "She's not in my face," Shaker says. She was an able studio host on both college football and basketball last season. That has earned her a role as-a weekend cohost on CBS's upcoming Winter Olympic coverage. While she may never become the lead woman, she is a valuable reporter and studio presence whose strength is imparting information seamlessly. Her easy demeanor on air disguises grueling nights of preparation, up until 3 a.m. reading research files and sports wires. Still, she calls it the easiest job she's ever had and says it pays well, too.
"Me and Harry, it's not like we live in boxes," she says.
While the networks may emphasize a handful of women like these, it is doubtful that women can become widespread or million-dollar presences in TV sports so long as they are regarded as gambles, exceptions and luxuries. Kaminsky contends that what progress has been made in getting women on sports telecasts has come less from the conviction that audiences like them than from a grudging sense of obligation among a few wary, pressured executives who don't actually want them.
"It's the fear of god factor," Kaminsky says. "They feel a societal and legal imperative to get [women] on air, because networks are hypersensitive. They don't want to be called anti-any-thing, white, black, right or left."
Networks are also hypersensitive about money. Ironically, women's status as the cheaper work force may be the only thing that will protect their network jobs should sports divisions fall into even worse financial straits than they are already in. Ebersol must perform an interesting sleight of hand in attempting to hire more women and minorities in the sports division while NBC cuts its overall staff by 20% in the next year. CBS, meanwhile, is described by one rival executive as "the Baghdad of sports television," slashing budgets and salaries. Kathleen Sullivan, recently hired by NBC as an anchor for its pay-per-view coverage of the Summer Olympics, predicts the networks' commitment to affirmative action will be severely tested in the coming year.
"These guys are in a position they've never been in before: They've got no money," Sullivan says. "The industry was willing to make women equal with open arms when it wasn't in financial trouble. But now it has to ask, Are these women necessary and important in the configuration of a broadcast?"
Financially, male Caucasians are considered safer choices, particularly at the affiliate level, where news directors are fearful of offending audiences by gambling on young, unproven women. "Name me three good ones coming up," one network executive says. "You can't." That attitude has hampered someone like Lisa Burkhardt, a 33-year-old at Madison Square Garden network who just moved to New York from San Antonio and has probably driven down every back road in America. At WTVC in Chattanooga, she did straight news for two years after she was told that a survey had found that the older males in the station's audience would not accept a woman as a sportscaster. She learned later from the station's general manager that viewers had never been polled on that issue.
In the last eight years, attendance at NCAA Division I women's basketball games has doubled, to 2.3 million last season. One of the highest-rated sports telecasts ever in the U.S. was the gold medal Duel of the Carmens between Debi Thomas and Katarina Witt at the '88 Winter Olympics. And yet advertisers and news directors continue to assume that women sportscasters are a hard sell, just as they presume ignorance or lack of interest in sports among female viewers. The programming thrown up against Monday Night Football is consistently female-oriented (perhaps justifiably, since ABC's surveys show that MNF's female audience has not grown significantly in the last five years). And to this day, de Varona is one of only a few women who have worked as television sports reporters on the local level in New York City. Kaminsky maintains that no station in New York "would dare" put a woman sportscaster on air now, and his inquiries have met with an unyielding no.