Pam Ward, center, with Nancy Lieberman doing a women’s college basketball game at the University of Georgia. Right is statistician Karen Blackman. Credit: EyeonSportsMedia.com
When ESPN hired Pam Ward in the mid 1990s, it was as an ESPNEWS anchor. But in 2000, she became so annoyed when ABC replaced veteran sideline reporter Lesley Visser with relatively inexperienced Melissa Stark, she decided to do something about it.
“I was pretty fired up about that,” Ward told Len Shapiro of the Washington Post in 2007. She went to see ESPN executive John Walsh to ask if she could do play-by-play on college football . He eventually gave it the green light — making her the first women to do regular play-by-play on college football for the network.
An agent once told her her back in 1990 to forget about trying to do play-by-play, and focus instead on trying to be an off-camera producer. Thankfully, she didn’t listen well. She listened to Pat Summerall and Dick Enberg instead — those were her voices of the NFL that she wanted to follow as a broadcasting student at the University of Maryland.
Ward found out last month that her 12-year run callling college football for the network appears to be over. ESPN decided to move her into doing more NCAA softball, the WNBA and college soccer.
Here’s what Ward said about doing what she’s doing today in light of the passage of Title IX some 40 years ago:
It scares me to think of what else I might be doing today if not for this. I know a lot of it is timing — maybe 95 percent of it — but I’m positive I could not have gotten into play-by-play without Title IX. The way for women to get into play-by-play is still true – they start with women’s sports. But if there’s no Title IX, there’s no women’s sports, so there’s no play-by-play jobs – and it’s not any stretch to say that.
Title IX begat high school, which begat college, which begat the the WNBA, and all I’ve ever wanted to do was play-by-play. There were very few female anchors to watch when I was growing up in the ’70s, but Title IX has been everything as far as play-by-play jobs are concerned.
I just knew all that time, watching the NFL, knowing that’s what I wanted to do. I saw Phyllis George on the “NFL Today” and it was as if the Earth almost spun off its axis to some. But I was nave and very determined. I guess if I wasn’t going to get into sports broadcasting, it would have been news. But I pigeoned myself into this when I was 8 and fortunately it’s worked out. Without Title IX, I imagine there’d be zero female broadcaster on any sports.
Many of the women I talk to now about getting into the business are interested in the sideline work, because maybe it’s more visible, the glamor thing on TV. A lot of women see it and think, ‘That’s cool, that’s what I want to do.’ I’ve tried sideline reporting, and it just wasn’t for me. I respect those who do it, but they’re on their own island, and every game producer seems to want something different. I guess it was originally considered to be eye candy, and you see a lot of really good ones like Doris Burke doing it these days. I started as something of a novelty and hopefully the progression is into something a lot more.
Now, it’s very humbling to hear some women thank me for getting into play-by-play and saying now it’s possible for them to think about it. Fortunately, there are more places to go now to break in, locally especially.