Baseball used to be one of my favorite sports when I was a kid, although I've drifted away from it in recent years. But when the Houston Astros-New York Yankees playoff game was on TV recently, I had a interesting conversation with my roommate.
After we both expressed some surprise at hearing a woman provide color commentary on an MLB game, we both gave props to ESPN for continuing to put women in announcing roles. From Doris Burke's excellent commentary for NBA games, Beth Mowins doing play-by-play announcing for college football, and the growing group of women showing up on that network's talking head shows, having women be front and center in active announcing roles or punditry means a wall is finally being broken down, even if incrementally. Jessica Mendoza's analysis of a baseball game wasn't a gimmick -- she knew what she was talking about and was polished in her commentary. You couldn't have asked for a better debut performance, really.
Time for soccer to catch up.
One of the advantages of a robust (and growing) women's soccer culture, including on the professional and international levels, is that there are more women than ever involved in the sport, playing at a high level, studying the sport and analyzing it, reporting on it and gaining a lifetime of knowledge.
But there's virtually no crossover to the men's side of the sport, which has always puzzled me. There are a select few exceptions in the wilderness -- former USWNT goalkeeper Jill Loyden called some Philadelphia Union games this summer, Julie Foudy is sometimes asked to join the panel on ESPNFC and allowed to talk about men's soccer for 5 minutes -- but given the number of accomplished women ex-pros hanging out, one would think at least one of them would have made the jump by now to a Champions League pregame panel, or to join a booth for a game on a regular basis, right?
I suppose one possible issue is the level of knowledge an ideal candidate would have of the men's game. I'm sure many women heavily involved in WoSo rarely pay attention to what BroSo is doing, and fair enough. If they aren't interested in being pundits for the men's game, no sense in cramming them into a role they aren't prepared for, especially given the extra scrutiny they will certainly, if unfairly, endure.
But you can't possibly tell me there aren't women out there who have played the sport at a high level and follow the men's pro side very closely, and could have some insight to share with audiences that is at least as good as what male pundits produce. And let's not forget, the range of male pundits in their preparation, engagement and ability to express useful commentary or opinions is wide. Nobody wants to hear bad pundits, and I'd wager that a few of the laziest and/or least insightful guys getting work could stand to be replaced by women who would do a much better job.
For example, Monica Gonzalez works as a sideline reporter for MLS games, because that's the standard for sports broadcasting in general, women talk to coaches and occasionally jump in with injury updates or whatever. But Gonzalez worked as a studio pundit during the Women's World Cup this summer, so she has experience on that side of things as well. Maybe she likes sideline reporting, I don't know (and it is a valuable use of reporting resources, if utilized correctly), but in her we have a woman who played international soccer, is an analyst for women's soccer, and frequently works men's games but has never been invited into the booth or to the studio to talk about Sebastian Giovinco's season or what's going on with the U.S. Men's National Team or whatever.
And given the pretty sizable group of women who worked alongside Gonzalez in the studio or helped call games this summer, there are some candidates right there, and certainly more where that came from. All of this is to say nothing of the slightly separate realm of women play-by-play announcers, who often have to go down a sports announcing career path, something that has few opportunities in general, regardless of gender, but given the cutthroat competition in the industry, it takes a producer willing to give women a chance in order to push the door open at all, and it's unclear if that is a priority.
So why is it even necessary to have women pundits and analysts for the men's game? Like with any sport, just because the players on the field happen to be of one gender or another doesn't mean those covering, coaching and supporting (in its many guises) have to conform to the same gender. The best way for a broadcaster, like ESPN, to say they believe women have useful opinions on sports is to showcase them doing just that, regardless of the gender of the participants. And believe me, there are women out there with useful opinions on sports. Sports like soccer, for better or worse, are a mirror on societal trends, and to shut out women from the bright lights of commentary is implicitly saying they are not worthy of being heard. And that's a big problem, one media outlets and broadcasters need to think about rectifying in short order.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!