In case you missed it on Sunday, a bit of history was made when TBS invited Michele Smith into their baseball broadcast as an analyst as she joined Jon Smoltz and Ernie Johnson. In what requires a full and honest introspection, the move was inspired and about time. And yet, that same honest look inside needs to figure out why it has taken this long for something like this to happen.
After some fifty years of listening to sports broadcasts of baseball, football and (in the deep past) basketball, there was a comfort level at having the action described by males. The play by play guy was someone with a silvery voice who earned his ticket to the big time with years of work. The analysts were always former jocks who were supposed to tell you what happened and why.
Somewhere along the line--probably with Monday Night Football--the sometime cheesy practice of bringing in comely women as field reporters during events became a norm. Of course, it was not always cheesy. Some of those women were darned good and hard-working reporters. Even so, they might have been given a total of ten minutes of air time during a game. That tradition has continued until Sunday with Michele Smith. This was groundbreaking.
To continue the honesty, that comfort of listening to males during a broadcast can be seen in the same light as the comfort of sitting in a restaurant with only white people or being able to walk down the streets with no Jews or east or west Asians. A comfort level becomes a crutch to discrimination of all sorts. Some of that is a little more innocent in that comfort comes from only knowing things to happen in the a certain way. Neither reality is pretty.
Plus, for most of the history of televised sports, the broadcasts were pandered to a male audience. Hence we had the beer commercials and other male-centric advertising. But the new reality is that just as many fans of sports are female. The tone of commercials has changed accordingly. While we still have that ridiculously sexist Klondike commercial where the guy has to listen to his wife for five seconds, there are also dozens of commercials that cut men down to size as ignoramuses.
This new reality that women are fans too has led to the proliferation of females into sports hosting shows on sports channels and regular broadcast television. Oh, Fox still has that cheesy weather girl on the NFL pregame shows, but women have made great strides in sports programming. The one elephant in the room was in the broadcast booth. Until Sunday, that was a male-exclusive club.
There were several thoughts during the telecast on Sunday. First, Smith had a wonderfully soothing voice with good diction. She also knew what she was talking about. Her insights were usually spot on. The one awkwardness of the entire broadcast was the incessant pandering of the two men on the broadcast team to talk about or bring up Smith's softball exploits. Such pandering was probably meant to make Smith as comfortable as possible, but it also gave the impression that such comments were needed to justify Smith's existence on the broadcast. From a personal standpoint, during a broadcast, the less said about the broadcaster the better. Concentrate on what is going on in the field.
And perhaps this is a personal preference, but it was also enjoyed that she wasn't a spring chicken. Her forty-three year old presence added some gravitas to her delivery and her depth of experience. That may not be a good thought and perhaps it borders on sexism. But again, this was a heady experience and this is honest grappling with what was experienced.
TBS should consider expanding Smith's role to full time. Make her a weekly partner to Smoltz and Johnson. It is time to break another barrier here and TBS should be lauded for its part in making this happen. It should not be a one-time thing just to make history. But a full time thing to break ground for the next century.