ESPN's Beth Mowins made history by providing national play-by-play on Monday Night Football.
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Beth Mowins does the play-by-play on MNF

“That’s an unusual voice,” said my father.

“Almost sounds like a woman,” said my mother.

“Ha!” I said, taking a sip of wine.

Then we heard the announcer’s name, and I choked.

We were watching the second game in the 2017 opening weekend Monday Night Football doubleheader: LA Chargers at Denver Broncos. Rex Ryan was the color guy; that much we knew. But we hadn’t caught the name of the play-by-play announcer, and none of us recognized the voice. (Given the truly disgusting amount of football we watch collectively, that’s saying something.)

And then Rex made some comment to his fellow announcer — “Beth, why would anyone have hired me for this job,” maybe — and I sat up straight.

Beth must be a little-known man’s name. Must be a new announcer, some guy whose voice is a little higher than the average male’s. But just in case, just on the off chance, I googled the game. And I found something I never expected: a woman in the broadcast booth. Beth Mowins, the first woman in 30 years ― and only the second in history ― to do the play-by-play in a regular season NFL game, and the first to do it on a national stage. (Gayle Sierens is the only other woman to have done the play-by-play in a regular season game, and that was a regional broadcast way back in 1987.)

Mowins is no newbie to the world of broadcasting. She’s called plays for college basketball, softball, and volleyball, and she’s a longtime college football play-by-play announcer. She’s also been calling Raiders preseason games since 2015. According to Mike Tirico, the decision to put her in as MNF play-by-play announcer wasn’t “about somebody getting an opportunity because of gender. It’s about somebody getting an opportunity because of body of work.”

All of that, of course, is irrelevant once the game starts. What’s relevant is how well she calls the plays. In my view, when it comes to the play-by-play announcer, you want someone to tell you in a clear and succinct manner what’s happening as it happens and, in some cases, why it matters. The color guy exists to add color; the play-by-play guy (or ― and I’m aquiver with excitement as I type this — gal) exists to tell you the plays in real time. I want to know what’s happening even if I glance away from the TV; I want to know details and stats about about plays, players, coaches, and teams when they’re relevant and when they would enhance my understanding of what’s happening at any given moment.

“I knew to expect nastiness, arrogance, misogyny. And boy did I find them."”

Beth Mowins did that. Her voice took some getting used to, as does any voice that diverges from the norm, but by the end I liked it — a breath of fresh, slightly higher air in a male-dominated world. I think they could have adjusted the sound on her mic to make her voice a little louder, but that’s on production, not on her. Mostly, I liked her because she called it like it was, without major gaffes, without sounding like an idiot as so many of them do, and without letting her fellow announcer drag her down. (Looking at you, Rex.) There’s a feeling you get with writers sometimes that you’re in good hands even if you don’t yet know where the story’s going. From early on in the game, I felt that I was in good hands with Mowins. I felt that she would call the plays correctly, and that she brought to the booth a wealth of football knowledge. Am I saying she was perfect? No. But in my opinion she was very good, and most importantly, I felt from the start that I could trust her.

About halfway through the game, I decided to check Twitter. Now, I’m not new to this world. I knew to expect nastiness, arrogance, misogyny. And boy did I find them. Pictures of dumpster fires abounded, as did comments from people who were watching the Spanish broadcast despite not understanding a word of Spanish just to avoid hearing Mowins’ voice. There were predictable comments about women and kitchens and pies, and there was the usual smattering of comments so vile that Twitter was forced to remove them. There were a number of tweeters who wanted Twitter to know that they are not bigoted in any way, shape, or form, but that Beth Mowins is by far the worst announcer television has ever seen or will ever see. I think my favorite comments were those that just said it outright: “I turned it off, don’t want woman [sic] announing [sic] football games.” “Great... another female voice I get to ignore during football.” “I mean I guess everyone has their own opinions. I just think no female should broadcast a football game.”

It was almost exactly the same experience I had when scrolling through Twitter after it was announced that for the first time in “Doctor Who’s” 54-year history, the next doctor will be a woman. Twitter was ugly that day. The hateful and hypocritical underbelly of humanity was on full display. People who could accept without batting an eyelid the idea of a genderless, time-traveling alien absolutely drew the line at a female Doctor. I oscillated between jaded and enraged : this is what I expected, these people are the scum of the earth. How could it have been otherwise? I want to expose them for the lily-livered frauds they are.

Beth Mowins, in her capacity as ESPN reporter, interviews University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino in 2012.
Beth Mowins, in her capacity as ESPN reporter, interviews University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino in 2012.
Collegiate Images via Getty Images

But I kept reading, and I found the other side. The ray of sunshine in the darkness. There were supporters, and they were just as fierce as the haters: people calling out the hypocrites, welcoming Jodie Whittaker into the fandom with open arms, and expressing their excitement for what she would bring to the table based on her previous work.

Which is what happened here as well. “If you had a problem with Beth Mowins calling the football game last night,” said one person, “then you are either a weak man or lame ass female.” Said another: “The only opinion I’ll give on last night’s MNF opener is that if you think Beth Mowins is a bad announcer, gtfoh.” “You did a great job,” said someone else, apparently addressing Beth herself. Then: “Not that anybody should be surprised.”

It is slightly more predictable in the world of football than in the world of “Doctor Who,” I think, that people would hate on a woman in a position of power for the simple reason that she’s a woman. But the positive Twitter comments ― not just those comments about how great it is that a woman has the job, but those comments about how competent she seems without any emphasis on the fact that she’s a woman ― made me think that perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we don’t have to just expect ― or accept ― that people will protest en masse the introduction of female announcers. Maybe football doesn’t have to live down to its reputation as a sport that hates women. Maybe that Chargers-Broncos game was the beginning of something great, both for women and for football.

Fingers crossed that that something doesn’t involve Rex Ryan.

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