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Scott Ostler

Words of Wisdom for the First Lady of Broadcast Booth

December 23, 1987|Scott Ostler

Dear Gayle Sierens:

We've never met, but on behalf of the male race, let me welcome you to the sacred, manly world of pro football. Gimme a high five.

I understand you will be doing play-by-play on Sunday's CBS telecast of the Seahawks-Chiefs game from Kansas City.

I guess congratulations are in order. Apparently this is a big deal, a woman being given primary announcing duty on a real National Football League telecast for the first time in the history of our civilization.

Excuse my naivete. I'm not real plugged into the broadcasting biz. I always assumed the reason there were no women play-by-play announcers was that they were overqualified.

I figured women were too smart, that doing play-by-play for a living was something men did because they didn't know any better, sort of like chewing tobacco or purposely driving pickup trucks over big rocks.

Now I realize that women, too, would like the opportunity to make huge bucks for working a couple hours every Sunday. And the reason women didn't get into this racket before is because men, who have the say in these matters, wouldn't let them.

That wasn't very nice.

But now it's all straightened out, and everyone in America has an equal opportunity to be an NFL play-by-play person, and we can get down to the basics of the job.

I'm sure you'll appreciate me passing along some tips. Being a guy, I have a natural and instinctive knowledge of sports. Also, I've watched thousands of games on TV, and halfway paid attention to dozens of them.

Plus, I have a little on-camera TV experience myself. In fact, some things I've done for TV are considered underground classics. At least I assume that's what the critics mean when they say those tapes should be taken out to the back yard and buried.

Anyway, here's some free advice.

--When filling dead time, don't give recipes or shopping hints.

Just kidding, Gayle! But seriously, this is the kind of sexist stuff you're going to run into. I feel like Branch Rickey briefing Jackie Robinson, but it could get ugly.

Some men who have accepted the idea of women CEOs and women U.S. Presidential candidates still aren't quite ready for the breakthrough of women in the really important jobs.

--Memorize a few basic all-purpose phrases, and give them your own distinctive interpretation. Some of the all-time classics are "Whooo-ee, what a hit!." . . . "This is some kinda football game." . . . "You know, the officials could call holding on every play if they wanted to." . . . And, "I wanna tell 'ya, Team A really came to play football."

--Don't worry if you miss something on the field. There are only about three people in the world who really understand what's going on out there, and two of them are John Madden.

--Ignore everyone, including me.

There are some people, I understand, who are calling you a gimmick, saying that NBC hired you for the novelty value of having the first woman in a football booth.

A gimmick! Now wouldn't that be a shock. Television itself is a gimmick. Ever since Milton Berle dressed in drag, the overriding philosophy of TV has been to find or steal a better gimmick.

Football on TV? A gimmick. Ex-jocks as announcers? A gimmick.

Blacks as announcers? Print journalists as on-camera reporters? Instant replays? Telestrators? Refs with microphones? Humble Howard and Dandy Don? White shoes? Wild cards? Super Bowls?

All gimmicks.

And each gimmick, we watchdogs of the holy and ancient society of pro football must examine like the Supreme Court would examine a new Constitutional argument.

You will be a human microscope slide, Gayle.

God help you if you mispronounce a name. Even if the Announcer-in-Chief himself, President Reagan, invited the Boston Celtics to the White House and mangled half their names. Prez is a guy.

Say something silly, you'll be roasted. Never mind that men-type announcers routinely say things like "Hats off to drug abusers everywhere," and "There's a lot of heredity in that family."

You will be expected to:

Be tough and gruff, without sacrificing your femininity.

Be sharp and incisive, without sounding like you know it all.

Have a distinctive style, but blend in.

Be quick-witted and opinionated, without being overbearing.

Give all the stats and anecdotes, but don't talk too much.

Be casual and intense, keyed up and laid back, businesslike and charming.

Good luck. Break a leg. Preferably not your own.


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