The sports media voices of Title IX: Mary Carillo

Shuttlecock down, it’s the best three minute rant you’ll ever hear a broadcaster deliver about badminton, from the 2004 NBC coverage of the Summer Games from Greece, via Mary Carillo’s experiences with the neighborhood kids (above).

In 2010, Sports Illustrated media writer Richard Deistch named Mary Carillo the “best game analyst of the 2000s,” crediting her for “excelling in a sport that far too often soft-pedals commentary because of the many conflicts of interests and relationships.” SI columnist Jon Wertheim also said about her: “Her bold, ‘I don’t care who might be chapped by what I’m about to say approach’ separated her from too many of her colleagues.”

It’s not a surprise that when we caught up with Carillo this week to explain her inclusion on our list of the top 40 women of the sports media over the last 40 years, she was in a rush to get off somewhere.

“Greetings from the JFK Virgin Atlantic lounge,” she wrote in an email. “I’m heading to London for a few NBC Olympics stories before the start of Tennis Channel’s coverage of Wimbledon. Had to be in NYC this morning for an HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel sit-down for tonight’s show … and after the London Games are over I’m off for a few days before starting CBS’ summer coverage of the US Open series, finishing off with the Open itself …

“All of which is to say I am very fortunate indeed to have been a Title IX baby …”

We’ll let Carillo explain more about how Title IX has impacted her life, specifically as a broadcaster:

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My start in sports television happened because I watched, rapt, as Billie Jean king took out Bobby Riggs in the fall of 1973. I was 16 years old, with no real plans of being a professional athlete, but watching Billie take on that moment, all those people, all that hype and expectation — and she wore those blue suede shoes. I had to try to play tennis well enough to be a pro..

I was very lucky to play professional tennis for a few years, because Billie Jean took me under her wing, practiced with me, educated me in the politics and realities of women athletes. She was such an inspiration, and it was Billie who told me early on that my future was with words, not athletics.

She watched me hang around the press rooms, listened to my words, and encouraged me to write, and to head towards television. There wasn’t a whole lot of women’s tennis on TV at the time, but slowly I got more work, until I was covering men’s tennis as
well, and from there I went in all kinds of directions.

I was fortunate that the men I worked for kept giving me the chance to do more; virtually all my bosses were men, and still are. It’s not always easy to make your way through an environment that is so male centric, but I’ve had the chances to try a lot of things. What
came my way did not even exist when I started out in sports television.

But I always tell young kids, especially young women who are interested in this sort of work: if you are asked whether you can do something, cover something, bring back a story — say yes. Then go after it with everything you’ve got. And more than anything, support one another.

Madeline Albright says there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help one another. I believe that with all my heart. All the boats need to rise. Title IX was the first step to an even playing field.

It’s still far from that, in my end of sports as well. But we’re getting there. I need to believe that’s true. I need to know my daughter can dream the same dreams as my son.

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