Women sportscasters - Mediabistro

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By Cecil Harris
April 2005

        NEW YORK – It is 2-1/2 hours before the first pitch at Yankee Stadium.
Manager Joe Torre is in the Yankees‘ dugout holding a pre-game press conference
encircled by a rainbow coalition of three-dozen journalists, including Asians chronicling
the exploits of Japanese left fielder Hideki Matsui, Latinos, blacks and whites.

       Among those holding microphones, notepads and cameras are half a dozen
women, including Suzyn Waldman, seated to Torre‘s immediate right. Two decades ago,
Waldman would have been the only woman in such a crowd. But it‘s largely because of
her success that other women have gained opportunities and acceptance in the male-
dominated world of sports broadcasting.

       ―I didn‘t know I wasn‘t supposed to be part of this,‖ said Waldman, who debuted
on sports-talk radio station WFAN in 1987 after a career in musical theatre, including a
two-year run on Broadway in ―Man of La Mancha.‖

         Since making her segue from theatre, Waldman has achieved many significant
firsts for women sportscasters, but none more significant than her current role: She‘s in
her first season as a color commentator on Yankees‘ radio broadcasts on WCBS (880-
AM), something no woman has ever done for a Major League Baseball team.

       Waldman‘s ascension is at once a tribute to her ability and perseverance and an
indictment of the broadcasting industry, considering that baseball was first heard on the
radio August 5, 1921 on station KDKA in Pittsburgh, according to The Storytellers, a
1995 book on baseball broadcasters by Curt Smith.

       ―There is an understanding that women have been discriminated against in
employment opportunities,‖ said Neal Pilson, the CBS Sports president for 14 years from
the 1970s to the ‗90s. ―There has certainly been a desire among women and those in
decision-making positions to raise the glass ceiling.‖

        Waldman, 58, has done her best to shatter it. While at WFAN, she created the
position of Yankees‘ radio beat reporter, allowing listeners to hear post-game quotes
from players, managers and team owner George Steinbrenner they used to not get until
the next day‘s newspaper. For that, she incurred the wrath of many sportswriters.

       ―I didn‘t know the sportswriters weren‘t talking to me,‖ Waldman said in a studio
adjacent to the Yankees‘ clubhouse. ―When I got into this business in middle age and
found out that some people didn‘t want me I got really angry. I spent a lot of years with
people saying, ‗How does she know that? She never played.‘ People have been picking
me apart for 20 years, but I‘m still here ‗cause I just had this feeling that no little girl
should think there‘s something she can‘t do ‗cause she‘s a girl.‖
        Waldman, a cancer survivor, is the recipient of numerous honors, including an
International Radio Award for her reporting of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake during
the World Series and the 1996 New York Sportscaster of the Year award.

       Women for whom she has blazed a trail in sportscasting revere her.

       Tina Cervasio, a weekend sports anchor for WCBS-Channel 2, admitted to being
too awed to approach Waldman during a chance meeting in midtown Manhattan.

       ―Instead of acting like a peer of hers I looked at Suzyn as a heroine,‖ said
Cervasio, a Clifton, N.J. resident who has displayed Waldman-like persistence after out-
of-town media outlets told her she sounded ―too New York.‖

       Cervasio, 31, has made steady progress since graduating from the University of
Maryland, working at cable stations on Long Island, Staten Island and Philadelphia and
hosting an NFL studio show on Direct TV for two seasons. She did play-by-play of
gymnastics and field reporting for Westwood One Radio at the Athens Olympics.

       Sports has been her passion since attending the 1986 Rose Bowl. Her father, Joe
Cervasio, played varsity football at Cornell.

        ―I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be,‖ said Cervasio, who
does daily drive-time reports for Shadow Traffic. ―I‘m still battling to do sports seven
days a week. But doing traffic helps my ad-libbing because if the teleprompter (in the TV
studio) breaks down, I‘m O.K.‖

       Where Cervasio would like to be is where ESPN‘s Pam Ward is now: doing play-
by-play of college football and basketball on a regular basis for a major network. No
other woman currently holds such a position.

      ―Most of the time women are competing for sports jobs against other women,
whether it‘s to work with a male anchor or as a sideline reporter,‖ said Deb Kaufman of
Connecticut, an anchor for MSG Network and WNBC-Channel 4.

       Still, that‘s far better than not being allowed to compete at all.

       In addition to Cervasio and Kaufman, the list of local women sportscasters
includes Reischea Canidate of WNYW-Channel 5, Jenna Wolfe on WABC-Channel 7,
Tracy Wolfson of MSG, Erica Herskowitz of WFAN and Kimberly Jones of the YES
Network, who replaced Waldman on Yankees‘ telecasts this season. Monica Pellegrini
did sports on WWOR-Channel 9 for 9-1/2 years before switching to news in 2003.

       Among the regulars on network TV sports events are Wolfson, Lesley Visser and
Bonnie Bernstein (CBS), Michele Tafoya (ABC), Mary Carillo (CBS, ESPN, HBO),
Suzy Kolber and Jill Arrington (ESPN) and Pam Oliver and Jeannie Zelasko (Fox).
        Among ESPN‘s roster of studio anchors and reporters are Linda Cohn, Andrea
Kremer and Dana Jacobson. Women such as Cheryl Miller (basketball), Judy Rankin
(golf) and Carol Lewis (track and field) have become analysts after their playing careers.

        ―I think women‘s role in sports broadcasting and athletics has grown as a result of
Title IX,‖ Pilson said, referring to the landmark federal legislation in 197x that mandated
increased opportunities for women. ―As women have achieved more experience in sports,
they‘ve attained more credibility and a greater acceptance from the public. People are
accustomed now to hearing women experts on women‘s sports events and seeing women
as sideline reporters and on panel shows.‖

        Pilson, who hired Visser and Tafoya while at CBS, considers play-by-play—the
describing of action as it happens, whether it‘s painting word pictures on radio or
providing captions on television—the last male bastion. It could take ―another 10 to 15
years,‖ he said, for any woman to attain the play-by-play stardom of Marv Albert, Dick
Enberg or Al Michaels.

     ―It probably will take longer in a sport like pro football,‖ Pilson said, ―where
women don‘t play the game and the audience is 75 percent men.‖

       Coincidentally, Edward Placey, ESPN‘s coordinating producer of college football
and the man who assigned Ward to play-by-play, is married to the thirty-something
Kaufman of MSG and Channel 4. Ward could not be reached for this article.

       Not long ago, audiences were not used to hearing a woman report the news. But
now, particularly on local TV, anchorwomen are commonplace. While women
sportscasters expect to see a similar evolution, their critics have hardly gone away.

         ―I‘ve had plenty of guys come up to me and quiz me on sports,‖ said Pellegrini,
38, a petite blonde who lives in Hoboken, N.J. ―But I find that women viewers are more
critical of women. I don‘t know why. I once got a letter from a woman that said, ‗We
don‘t watch you on sports because we hate your hair. Don‘t you own a comb?‘‖

       Cervasio agreed that women are often the harshest critics.

       ―The female viewer may not know football,‖ she said, ―but if you mispronounce a
word or if they don‘t like your voice or if you interrupt your broadcast partner, that‘s
what a woman may criticize you for.

       ―Viewers have to learn to accept us. Even with Suzyn doing the Yankees, a lot of
people aren‘t going to want to hear her talk about Mariano Rivera throwing his cutter.‖

        Apparently, some sports fans don‘t want to hear Waldman say anything. Her
nasally voice bears the accent of her hometown, Boston. It is not a typical broadcaster‘s
voice. On Nov. 21, 2004 someone called Sue wrote on the Web site Bronx Banter, ―One
thing I don‘t want is Suzyn in the booth. What a joke!‖
       Waldman has endured criticism of her voice and allegiance to the New York
teams she covers. She first rooted for the Red Sox at Fenway Park and the Celtics at
Boston Garden in the 1950s. But she has hosted Knicks‘ pre- and post-game radio
shows—the first woman ever to do so—and has become so synonymous with the
Yankees that some call her ―a homer.‖

        Yet it is Waldman‘s radio partner, John Sterling, who punctuates every New York
victory with ―Yankees win! The-uh-uh-uh Yan-kees win!‖

        Waldman has never taken her allegiance to that extreme. But when it comes to
taking initiative, she may have no peer. After then-Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman
told her a New York station would soon become America‘s first with an all-sports
format, she made an audition tape, drove it to Queens, and got the job despite having no
broadcasting experience. She became WFAN‘s first on-air voice July 1, 1987.

       ―I knew I had to leave theatre because the music was changing,‖ she said. ―Sports
was the only other thing that I had a passion about.‖

        The passion still burned in 1996 while she underwent treatment for breast cancer.
Doctors told her she‘d have to forego broadcasting for six months. Instead, she worked
virtually every game of the Yankees‘ world championship season The team made sure
she had a refrigerator in her hotel room to store medication.

        ―I had a wig on, I didn‘t have any hair and I never felt well,‖ she said. ―I‘d never
go to lunch. I‘d stay in the hotel and do my shots. My favorite story from that time
involved (former Yankees coach and current Mets manager) Willie Randolph.

        ―I interviewed him in the dugout and I just felt this…I didn‘t know if I was going
to pass out or throw up or whatever. I sat down and Willie sat down with me and just kept
talking, like it was the most natural thing in the world. The night the Yankees won the
World Series, (pitcher) Jimmy Key said, ‗Suzyn, this is for you too. You‘re part of this.‘‖

        Waldman, who lives in the Westchester County city of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.,
joined the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network in 2002. What should have been a
dream job became nightmarish. YES hired her to do pre- and post-game reporting all
season and play-by-play of 30 games. But YES yanked her off play-by-play after six

         ―It was publicly humiliating; every time I‘d go to another city people would talk
about it,‖ she said. ―The people at YES felt that only former players should do analysis,
so if I wanted to work I had to do play-by-play. I knew I wasn‘t good.‖

       About her current role on radio, Waldman said, ―This job is as comfortable as I‘ve
ever been. I can bring the reporting element to the broadcast. I can say, ‗This is what
(Derek) Jeter was trying to do because he told me before the game…‘‖
       A sampling of Yankees fans at the April 8 home game against Baltimore provided
good early reviews for Waldman.

      ―It‘s a difficult thing that she‘s doing because that‘s a male occupation, but she
knows her stuff,‖ said Guy Paul, 50, of Bud Lake, N.J.

      ―She‘s excellent,‖ said Reymundo Diaz, 40, of Manchester, Conn. ―When the
Yanks are bad, she says it. When they‘re good, she says it. There‘s no crap from her.‖

       But Pilson, the former CBS Sports president, is more critical.

        ―If I were her producer, I‘d say, ‗Suzyn, tell us what you think is going to happen.
Tell us why that just happened,‘‖ he said. ―I‘m just looking for more analysis. It‘s more
of a production issue to get her to grow her commentary.‖

       ―That‘s probably a valid point,‖ Waldman said with a nod.

        Then, sounding like a woman immune to criticism, she added with a high-pitched
laugh, ―What are critics going to do to me? I went through a whole baseball season with
cancer. If somebody doesn‘t like me, what do I care?‖

By Cecil Harris
April 2005

        You see them all the time now on football telecasts, women on the sidelines,
telling us the status of an injured player, interviewing an athlete‘s parents in the stands or
questioning a coach at halftime who just wants to get into the locker room.

       Sideline reporting has become a way to showcase women on men‘s sports events
where they weren‘t seen before. But is the job really necessary?

       ―You hire a sideline reporter to increase the credibility of your broadcast,‖ said
Neal Pilson, a former CBS Sports president. ―They can get information the announcers in
the booth can‘t get because they‘re too far removed from the action.‖

      In the 1980s, Pilson hired Lesley Visser, a former Boston Globe sportswriter, and
Michele Tafoya to work as reporters.

        ―We didn‘t hire them as game announcers because we thought it was important
for women to develop their credibility with the predominantly male audience as good
reporters and good interviewers,‖ he said.
       ―Women can be more effective in eliciting information from athletes and coaches
because they‘re seen as less threatening.‖

         Pilson did not hire the first woman sportscaster on network television, Jane
Chastain, who debuted as a CBS sideline reporter on NBA games and auto racing in
1974. But Chastain, a local sports anchor in Atlanta, Raleigh, Miami and Los Angeles,
did little more on the network, than marvel at the size of Detroit Pistons center Bob
Lanier‘s feet. She left sportscasting in 1978 and is now a political commentator and radio
talk-show host in Southern California.

       ―Doing strictly sideline reporting is a tough gig,‖ MSG and Channel 4 sports
anchor Deb Kaufman said. ―It‘s a lot of work. You‘re running around, the weather can be
dicey and you‘re often just a small part of the broadcast.‖

       But the savvy sideline reporter knows how to make the most of the opportunity.

        Tina Cervasio honed her reporting and interviewing skills while working the
sidelines of the New Jersey Red Dogs‘ Arena Football League games for four years. Her
audition tape caught the eye of WCBS-Channel 2, where she has worked as a weekend
sports anchor since September 11, 2004.

      ―Sideline reporting was my big break,‖ said Cervasio, who met her husband
Kevin McKearney in the press box at an Arena League game.

       What has given sideline reporting a bad rap are the practitioners who seem to be
hired more for their looks than sports knowledge. Lisa Guerrero, for instance, went from
doing a lingerie photo spread in FHM magazine to a coveted sideline-reporting job on
―Monday Night Football‖ in 2003.

        In an awkward debut, she confused Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey with
his Jets‘ counterpart Chad Pennington. Because her performance didn‘t improve, ABC
replaced her with Tafoya last season.
By Cecil Harris
April 2005

       So you want to be a sportscaster? According to women in the business, the best
way to prepare is to hone your writing skills.

       ―On TV or radio, you have to be able to tell the story of a three-hour game in 30
seconds or less,‖ Channel 2 sports anchor Tina Cervasio said. ―TV writing is different
because you‘re writing (captions) for pictures. Don‘t forget: you‘re a journalist too.‖
         If you see yourself as a future play-by-play star, it‘s important to have a command
of language to communicate thoughts quickly and descriptively. And it‘s never too soon
to start practicing.

        ―I used to take a tape recorder with me to high school games,‖ Cervasio said. ―I‘d
get the rosters from both teams and do the play-by-play right into my tape recorder. Or
I‘d mute the volume on my TV and practice play-by-play. You should also practice
interviewing. Interview your friends, your family members.‖

       Sound journalistic skills have enabled some women to excel in sports and news,
including former ESPN anchor Robin Roberts who reports news on ABC‘s ―Good
Morning America‖ and Monica Pellegrini who switched to news on WWOR-Channel 9.

        ―Do your homework,‖ Pellegrini said. ―That‘s what separates the good
sportscasters from the bad ones, male or female. It was quite an adjustment for me when I
came here from Washington, D.C., where there are only three pro teams. Here, there are
three pro hockey teams and so many more teams. You have to stay on top of what‘s

      Internships at radio and TV stations are vital, said Deb Kaufman of MSG
Network and Channel 4, a former intern on NBC‘s ―Today Show.‖

       ―An internship is a great way to learn all you can about the newsroom and how
broadcast journalism really works,‖ Cervasio said.

       When it comes to choosing a college, the women say, find out which schools are
turning out graduates in your chosen field. For instance, Cervasio, Pellegrini, CBS‘
Bonnie Bernstein and ESPN‘s Pam Ward all graduated from the University of Maryland.
Kaufman said she chose the University of Arizona because of its journalism program.

        It‘s also important to find a mentor in the business. Shortly after Suzyn Waldman
joined WFAN Radio in 1987, she began receiving letters and tapes from aspiring
sportscasters. One of the writers, Erica Herskowitz, is now a WFAN sportscaster.

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