Beth Mowins will make history Monday night when she becomes the first woman to call play-by-play on Monday Night Football.
Mowins, the preseason voice of the Oakland Raiders and a fixture on ESPN college broadcasts for years, will be the first woman to call an NFL game since Gayle Sierens did a regional Seahawks-Chiefs game in 1987 on the last Sunday of the regular season. On Monday, she'll team with Rex Ryan (making his booth debut) on ESPN's late-night Chargers-Broncos game. Mowins will also join Jay Feely in the CBS booth for a regional Browns-Colts telecast September 24.
The NFL and Secret antiperspirant have partnered to commemorate Mowins' achievement with a series of videos airing Monday night and throughout the season. The spots will feature prominent women around the NFL, from Mowins and Sierens to reporters Michele Tafoya and Samantha Ponder to league executive Kim Fields.
Mowins gave Bleacher Report a few minutes last week to talk about blazing new trails for female broadcasters, working with Ryan and a childhood of calling sandlot football games into a Mr. Microphone.
B/R: When you played sports in the neighborhood as a child, were you one of those kids who "called" your own highlights while you were playing?
BETH MOWINS: That was absolutely me. I was the little kid on the Big Wheel with the Mr. Microphone, riding around the neighborhood looking for games to call. It took the kids a little bit to get used to me, because I would chatter a little bit.
Eventually, they got used to my voice, whether it was wiffle ball, or kickball, or football or basketball. That became the norm, even when I was playing sports, that I would be calling the play-by-play as well.
B/R: Did you really have a Mr. Microphone?
MOWINS: I did. When my older brother started playing football with the big kids in the field out behind our house, I would set the dial on the radio to a certain station and call the game back to my mom and my brothers back in the house.
B/R: Did you play in those backyard games as well?
MOWINS: Oh gosh, yes. All the time. I was either Drew Pearson, Roger Staubach or Tony Dorsett back in those days.
B/R: Who did you like being the most?
MOWINS: Probably Roger. That's more of the play-by-play role. I'm the quarterback, with more decisions and more on me.
B/R: Did you consider playing organized football?
MOWINS: No. My father was a basketball coach, so I went in that direction. Early on, I realized that was my route to a college scholarship. (Mowins went on to become captain of the Lafayette college basketball team and graduated as the school's all-time assist leader.)
B/R: Which play-by-play broadcasters did you imitate as a child?
MOWINS: It was Keith Jackson or Pat Summerall. Brent Musburger. Vin Scully. Different voices for different sports. Growing up a big Yankees fan in Syracuse, it was a little bit of Scooter [Phil Rizzuto] in there with Bill White and Frank Messer from the WPIX days.
B/R: Did you imitate Jackson with a 'Whoa, Nellie!' or Musburger with calls like, 'You are looking live...at the backyard?'"
MOWINS: (Laughs) I still haven't really nailed down a catchphrase. I guess that's something I still need to work on.
B/R: So did calling games in the playground lead to an interest in becoming a sportscaster?
MOWINS: At a young age, I was a big sports fan. I grew up in a family of sports fans, with a dad who coached basketball, so I was always around it. I'd be sitting in front of the TV watching games as a fan, and even at an early age, I would watch the NFL. I would see Phyllis George on there, and eventually there was Lesley Visser, and Andrea Kremer, and then Michele Tafoya. There were some instances, even at an early age, where I saw women who were covering the NFL. That planted the seed, as well as listening to some of the guys who were calling the games back then.
B/R: Phyllis George was usually relegated to asking quarterbacks about their marriages and such. How old were you when you started to notice a double standard in the industry?
MOWINS: Initially, the only thing that mattered to me—I was too young to understand the politics of the day—was that there was a woman who was covering the NFL. I asked my mom if I could be a sportscaster when I grew up. My mom was an adventurous spirit herself. Much to my mom's credit, she said, "Yes, you can." It didn't matter to her that no other women were doing it at the time. It didn't matter to her that there was a double standard. It just mattered that her daughter had a dream and she was going to help her pursue that.
I have really tried my best to ignore any double standard. I can't control the expectations of other people. I can control my attitude and my energy, and that's always been very positive.
B/R: Were there times in your career when you found yourself banging your head against a glass ceiling?
MOWINS: I've been fortunate over the years. I haven't had anything said to my face. ... I don't know what goes on behind closed doors. I did understand it was out there.
That's one of the reasons I like my partnership with Secret and calling the NFL: It's a chance to break through some barriers by showing what you can do, as opposed to telling people what you can do. That's the approach I prefer to take: Let me prove to you that a woman is capable of doing this. Then, hopefully, you won't have to ask that question ever again.
B/R: Gayle Sierens called an NFL game in 1987. Why has it taken so long for a woman to get a second opportunity?
MOWINS: I think part of it is that play-by-play is not a role a lot of women have sought out. For years, more women were steered toward the studio or toward being a reporter. If that's what you want to do and that's what you love—by all means, go do it.
But that's hopefully one of the things that we're changing: that it's OK to be ambitious and do things that are out of the norm if that's the route you want to take. Already Kate Scott has called a Pac-12 [game]. Coming up in a couple of weeks, Lisa Byington is going to call a Big Ten game. We're already seeing women breaking down those barriers in what was once male-dominated. There are opportunities for women to fill those roles.
B/R: Do you get approached often by young women pursuing broadcast careers who look to you as a role model?
MOWINS: That's something I'm starting to see more and more of. And I love it. I've always encouraged young women to chase those dreams. It's humbling to hear their stories. It's great. I'm adamant about continuing to support women in the challenges that we face in this industry. I'm proud that we're changing that.
B/R: Women in the sports media, especially the NFL media, often face open hostility from a segment of the internet. How do you react to that?
MOWINS: I've come to understand over the years that you're not going to please everybody. Some people are not interested in seeing a woman in this role. But there are a lot of people who do come into this with an open mind, and it's up to me to prove to them that I'm qualified for the job and can get it done.
Billie Jean King likes to say 'pressure is a privilege.' If you dream big and you're gonna chase those dreams, you gotta take on everything that comes with it. Sometimes, those are stressful situations, and sometimes, you're the only woman in the room. But that's OK; you embrace it, and you become comfortable in those environments.
B/R: Is there an adjustment going from college and regional broadcasts to Monday Night Football?
MOWINS: Hopefully, there isn't any adjustment at all in terms of what I am doing and what I'm preparing. Obviously, there's going to be goose bumps. There's gonna be an adrenaline rush. I want that excitement. I want that anxiety. Because that lets you know that you're passionate about what you do and that this is important. I'd much rather be in that environment than not.
B/R: So you still get the pregame butterflies?
MOWINS: Oh sure. Absolutely. That lets you know that you're ready, that you're excited about it and you have to bring your A-game. I embrace that.
I understand that for a lot of people it's not something they are used to listening to, it's something outside the norm. All I can do is do my best and work well with Rex, and give people a chance to get used to how we sound and hope they have the same reaction you had watching Gayle: It's a football game.
B/R: You have been calling practice telecasts with Rex Ryan. What have you learned about him that you didn't know before?
MOWINS: He is the exact same way in real life that he is as a coach. He's competitive, and he knows the significance of calling Monday Night Football. He wants to be good at it. He has been so eager to learn the business. And he has been so coachable, working with our crew, that he's come a long way in a short period of time. He's gonna be terrific.
B/R: Ryan is the rookie in the booth; you're the veteran. What's the hardest thing to learn for a rookie broadcaster?
MOWINS: They were always watching the game from the sideline or watching the game from the court or field while they were playing. When they move into TV, it's a different vantage point they have to get accustomed to. In television, you can watch the game on the field. You can watch the game in any one of a handful of monitors in front of you. You can listen to your fellow announcer. You're listening to your producer in your ear. It can be a very high-stress environment. Things come at you very fast in the television world, especially when it's live.
B/R: Are you looking forward to the day when "woman calls NFL game" is no longer a story?
MOWINS: That's one of the reasons for this Secret partnership. You highlight this moment with the hope that, in the future, more and more women have these opportunities and it won't be such a significant deal.
Every woman I know in this business worked hard so we can talk about sports, not talk about us talking about sports. Ultimately, that's the goal. When the game starts, it's just a game.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @MikeTanier.