It might have been the lack of a women’s professional basketball league — and a failed tryout with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers — that led Ann Meyers Drysdale into a broadcasting career in the early 1980s.
Again, she was just ahead of her time.
In her new autobiography, “You Let Some Girl Beat You?” (Behler Publications, $15.95, 231 pages, linked here), timed to be released as the 40th anniversary of Title IX is being celebrated, the former UCLA All-American explains that she “was born in San Diego in 1955 with two X chromosomes. Things might have been a lot easier had that not been the case.”
Title IX wasn’t even a consideration for decades to come.
Meyers Drysdale writes in detail about how TV broadcast work in the wake of Title IX was one of her only real post-playing career options if she wanted to stay near sports, but even then, it was hardly a given. She made it happen.
Eventually, she was accepted as an analyst on men’s games — the first to really get that break and open that door for others. In 30-plus years of broadcasting, the current vice president of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury was employed at one time or another by Prime Ticket, CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, Sports Channel, TNT and Fox Sports Net, the later of whom used her on many WNBA Sparks telecasts in Los Angeles.
As she explains her journey, from page 139:
Since the WBL folded, there was no way for a female basketball player to make a living doing what she loved, and I didn’t see how my sociology degree would net me what I’d make as an athlete. (Fellow UCLA alumn Mark Harmon’s father) Tom Harmon, the great 1940 Heisman-winning Michigan football player and broadcaster for the Raiders, took me under his wing and suggested I get into broadcasting. While I had taken Art Friedman’s classes at UCLA and had already broadcast a couple of the UCLA men’s games with Ross Porter for Prime Ticket when it launched back in ’79 before broadcasting for the Pacers, I hadn’t decided to really pursuit it until now. (Husband) Don (Drysdale, then broadcasting for the Angels after his Hall of Fame baseball career) said if I intended to get serious, I should enroll in the Don Martin School of Broadcasting in Los Angeles. He said it was the best.
There were a few actors I recognized, but I don’t recall seeing one woman there. Broadcasting was still very much a boys’ club. We learned to work both sides of the camera, and I immediately felt comfortable because I had broadcast professionally for the Pacers. But feeling like a pro was what mattered. I had to believe in myself in front of the camera in the same way I believed in myself on the court. I learned to center my voice, never let a sentence trail off at the end and became aware of how subtle nuances like tone, inflection and depth affected the credence others gave to our words … it was especially important that as a female broadcaster, who naturally had a higher voice, I learned to center my words.
Don knew I hoped to broadcast basketball for the networks so he arranged an appointment with an agent in Hollywood. I’ll never forget what he told me. ‘Well, Annie, you’re going to have to grow your hair and nails.’ His expression conveyed that he thought I was crazy for not thinking it myself … now I felt I was auditioning for Miss America.
‘But I have a lot of knowledge about the game,’ I said, centered voice and all.
‘I’m sure you do, but come on, everybody knows sex sells.’
I smiled and thanked him for his time.
Ann Meyers Drysdale, center, with former basketball players Nancy Lieberman and Cheryl Miller while backstage at The Billies presented by The Women’s Sports Foundation at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2007. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment.
Meyers sent out her own demo tapes and got KGMB, the flagship station for the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team, to hire her. She eventually got her big break when ABC hired her to be the analyst for women’s basketball during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. But there was one catch — convincing the network producers and directors to use her.
From page 155:
I was no longer an amateur athlete. By now, I was a broadcaster. I’d done some work with ESPN, broadcasting with Robin Roberts in her early career. I also worked with Sports Channel Chicago, where I was their No. 1 analyst for most of their college sports, both men’s and women’s, while Don was broadcasting the Chicago White Sox games and doing ABC’s Monday Night Baseball.
Word had gotten out that ABC was considering hiring a woman to broadcast the Olympic women’s basketball games, which was a big deal because it had never been done before. I had hoped they would hire me for the job, since I was a local athlete and knew many of the athletes participating in 1984 … I was beyond thrilled and honored when I found out I had the job. It was a broadcasting breakthrough for me and for all women. …
I worked with Keith Jackson … (but) other than women’s track, swimming, gymnastics and volleyball, little time would go to many of the women’s events, including basketball. Television was expensive, and live television, especially so.
ABC decided they were going to come to Keith and me for about a minute on a cutaway featuring the women’s basketball … the director didn’t ask me one single question. We did a practice run-through and the entire time, all I heard was him asking Keith questions in the headset.
‘You have to have Annie say something,’ Keith finally said. ‘I’m not going to sit here while you ask me questions and not have your expert say a word.’
The director hadn’t thought to get a female Olympic basketball player’s take on the team. Keith made sure that wasn’t going to happen when we went live. ‘She’s the pro. Let her talk.’ It’s something that I will never forget, for the director’s disinterest and Keith’s response..
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. … I wasn’t about to keep my mouth shut. Not when I was being paid to do the exact opposite.
In her acknowledgements, Meyers Drysdale made sure to thank “all the announcers and production people I have worked with over the 30-plus years in broadcasting. Your knowledge of the games and athletes has been an inspiration for me to be better behind the mike every time.” She then specifically thanked former NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol, as well as broadcasting partners Mike Breen, James Brown, Dick Enberg, Terry Gannon, Keith Jackson, Mark Jones, Chris Marlowe, Beth Mowins, Brad Nessler, Dave O’Brien, Mike Patrick, Robin Roberts, Hannah Storm, Barry Tompkins, Pam Ward “and so man others who helped make me a better broadcaster.”