I didn’t care about the score or the two teams playing, and I wasn’t watching the highlight reel for the game itself. Instead, I was crying listening to Beth Mowins commentate play-by-play on the biggest night of the week for my favorite sport.
This Monday marked the first time a woman has ever called play-by-play of primetime NFL football. For Mowins, it was the biggest moment of her career. For ESPN, it was a gutsy, although timely, business move. But for the women like me who tuned in on Monday night, it was something more — confirmation, encouragement and much-needed validation of our place in the sports world.
Every girl who grew up loving sports has dealt with pretty much the same experience of being doubted, questioned or ridiculed for her love of sports. It doesn’t matter if you’re named after your mom’s favorite NHL player, or you’re dressed in your team’s jersey with matching socks and sunglasses, or you’ve been hollering at Kansas basketball head coach Bill Self to run zone defense for the past 20 minutes of the watch party. If you hear a girl talking about sports, there’s a good chance that a guy is about to put her down.
My favorite part of being a female sports fan is what I like to call the “Sexist Quiz” — when you tell a boy that you love sports and he immediately responds with a meaningless trivia question.
It backfires on occasion, of course. My freshman year, a guy saw my Royals hat during the World Series and jokingly bet me a coffee that I couldn’t name five players. The look on his face when I named the entire batting line-up in less than a minute was obviously worth more than the coffee he ended up reluctantly handing over.
But this type of interaction is common, and most of the time, it doesn’t have an empowering ending. Those questions aren’t actually meant to quiz or to test knowledge. They’re meant to prove a point: that the girl in the room isn’t welcome into the age-old tradition of casually sharing hot takes and fantasy football outlooks with fellow sports-loving strangers.
Once in an interview, an athlete doubted my basketball knowledge and refused to change the subject until I named the starting lineup of the Golden State Warriors, a team I do not follow and don’t particularly care about. He laughed when I didn’t know the answer, and I lost every ounce of confidence I had mustered to ask him a few questions about an upcoming game. The following interview was pretty much useless, and I trudged home feeling defeated.
Sadly, that experience is an everyday occurence for women who love sports. Being laughed at and mocked, tested and quizzed by men who know the same amount or less about the topic is just another day at the office, leaving women to feel lost and out of place, most importantly.
That’s why I cried when I heard Beth Mowins’ voice.
To me, it didn’t matter if she was good. She could’ve flubbed every other word for the entire broadcast and I would’ve defended her to my grave. For the first time in my 15-year love affair with football, when I flicked on the television, I heard the voice of a woman like me.
It was the ultimate confirmation that yes, we do belong here. We belong in stadiums and press boxes, and we belong on couches and barstools. Our opinions about sports matter, even if half-drunk dimwits at the bar and on Twitter want to question them.
And she was brilliant. Mowins is, of course, one of the best that ESPN has to offer, which is why it’s honestly surprising she didn’t make it to NFL primetime earlier after years of calling college football. In the spotlight, she didn’t waver at all.
After her historic broadcast, Mowins didn’t take to social media to pen a heartfelt thank you. Instead, she posted a single picture: herself on the sidelines, smiling, as a young girl named Avery held a sign in the stands.
“Beth,” the sign read. “I’m ready for my internship.”
Mowins didn’t say much about the picture, just three words: “Avery’s got next.”
But she didn’t need to say much more, because those three words said it all. Mowins was the first, but she will not be the last. And her first will give way to plenty of other firsts, for plenty of other girls throughout the country.
It doesn’t have to be this type of first, with a million-dollar contract and millions of fans watching. For most girls, the firsts will be smaller. It will be that moment of walking through the living room, hearing a woman’s voice and the roar of the crowd and pausing for a second to fall a little bit in love with football.
And I think that Beth would agree that a quiet moment like that is just as important, if not endlessly more.
Julia Poe is a junior studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, Poe’s Perspective, runs Thursdays.