The Big Ten football experience will be slightly but noticeably different this fall. ESPN announced that Pam Ward, the longtime voice of lower tier ESPN college football games (almost always in the earliest time slot), would be taken off the sport.
"For a decade, Pam has been a trailblazing voice on college football. She will continue to be a big part of our coverage plans across multiple sports including college basketball, softball, the WNBA and more."
Humes undersells it a bit: Ward was the first female play-by-play announcer of a major college football game in 2000. She ended up doing it for 11 more years. Those 11 years were, to say the least, complicated.
Ward called (and usually oversold) a lot of really uninteresting ballgames. They were usually the least of ESPN's obligation to the Big Ten, the ESPN2 contests that might involve one ranked team, but probably didn't (and if they did, they were sure blowouts). She certainly wasn't great at her job, but she wasn't nearly as bad as her worst critics thought she was—or, more accurately, wanted her to be.
This is the part where we acknowledge the obvious: there were a lot of people who either attributed their dislike of Ward to her gender, or used her shortcomings as justification for the idea that women can't call football games. This is flatly sexist.
Unscripted professional speaking, in all its forms, is very difficult, and even people at its highest levels are prone to highly visible, highly embarrassing mistakes. Except for Vin Scully. To suggest that all women are literally incapable of taking this job is the type of closed-minded idiocy that we chastise kindergartners for having.
It is also utterly demeaning and bigoted, by the way, to complain that Ward isn't attractive enough, or worse, make assumptions about her sexuality based on her voice and clothing. And make no mistake, there was a lot of that with Ward. Just do a Google search for "Pam Ward lesbian," plug your nose, and dive into the hostility. It exists and we should acknowledge it.
That all said, Ward was a truly mediocre game-caller. She was so down-the-middle with her calls of the game that, for all her criticisms, nobody in their right mind ever accused her of being biased against their team. That, in and of itself, is a freaking accomplishment for a college football announcer.
It also means, though, that Ward so rarely endeared herself to viewers that the fact that she's a person like everyone else only came through when she screwed up (which was common enough to be a thing with her). That's not good.
But you know what? I can handle mediocre. We all can, because we all usually do with the bottom 80 percent or so of announcers. Ward wasn't the "Boom Goes The Dynamite" guy. She wasn't the stereotypical woman who didn't know the rules but pretended she did. She knows football. She probably knows it better than most viewers.
So now, unless Humes means Ward will now be calling men's basketball in addition to the other two sports, she's been relegated to strictly women's sports. That's a disappointment. In my mind, the real mark of equality is when everybody, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class, or anything else, is allowed to be mediocre at their job.
It'll be interesting to see who ESPN replaces Ward with to call the dreck of its morning slate. Maybe they'll be better at it than her. Maybe they'll be worse. Presumably, if it's a man, their ability to call the game won't be seen as a referendum on all men's broadcasting ability. That, of course, would be stupid.
Let's not be stupid the next time a woman's in the booth for a football game, either.