Sports broadcasters should wake up and smell the sexism

Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you heard a woman do play-by-play for a National Hockey League game?

When was the last time you heard a woman do colour commentary for an NHL game?

When was the last time you saw a woman be asked for her opinion during a pregame, intermission or postgame show of an NHL game in Canada?

Chances are the answer to all these questions is never. Because it doesn’t happen.

Sure, there are women involved in broadcasts, but they’re in the roles of anchors (usually with a man), hosts (asking male analysts questions but rarely answering themselves) or reporters (just the facts, ma’am). Often they’re even physically separated from the men, either rinkside during a game, or in the case of Hockey Night in Canada in an area so far from the main desk they’re practically in a different room.

And it’s not just an NHL thing. Watch any NFL broadcast and you’ll see women on the sidelines instead of in the broadcast booth or at the analysts’ table. This isn’t just a coincidence, it happens so often it’s become a de facto template.

Now I’m not calling for 50-50 parity here. I understand that for sports like pro hockey and football, where former players tend to become analysts, you’re going to have a lot of dudes. And that’s okay. But there are plenty of guys giving their opinions about hockey games that have never played a single minute in the NHL. And don’t pretend there aren’t women out there who have strong, informed opinions about hockey.

Sportsnet, TSN, RDS and TVA Sports, to say nothing of ESPN, NBC, Fox and others in the U.S., need to do more to desegregate their broadcasts along gender lines. Chantal Machabée is great, but if she’s the only female hockey personality on RDS, that’s a problem.

Andi Petrillo recently made history as the first woman to get a full-time job hosting a sports radio show in (English) Canada.* The fact that this took until 2016 is shameful. In Montreal, of the three radio stations that air sports programming regularly, the best we can do so far is an hour a week on TSN 690 Sunday mornings hosted by Robyn Flynn.

We can do better than this. We can do better than pretending it’s not an all-boys club because we have a pretty girl interviewing coaches on the sideline. Especially when you consider all the stuff that pretty girl has to do on a regular basis to ward off anonymous stalkers and potential rapists. The Erin Andrews case alone should give us pause, force us to reflect on the real-world consequences of treating women on TV as sex objects, or putting them in a position where the viewer sees them that way. (Remember that the guy who secretly filmed her through a peephole he created in her hotel room did so not because he was some disturbed pervert but because he figured he could make a lot of money off the footage.)

We can do better than even the few women’s hockey games broadcast on TV being announced by male play-by-play announcers because there are no women qualified to do it. We can do better than all-male analyst panels all of the time, with at best a female moderator.

This isn’t a theoretical hope for some non-existent women. There are real women out there doing hard work who would love an opportunity to be considered for jobs that have, either consciously or unconsciously, been locked out to them.

More women need to be trained in play-by-play, which is a very tough job that doesn’t in any way require the person doing it to be a former player or to have a penis. Put women in these positions at lower levels, calling minor-league games and regional broadcasts before upgrading them to big national ones. Women need to be encouraged to express their opinions on the air rather than always defer to their male colleagues, and they need to be asked what they think. You might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Because there are a lot of women out there with opinions worth sharing. Whether it’s Andi Petrillo, or Andie Bennett, or Robyn Flynn, or Katie Nolan, there’s a perspective that we’re sorely missing.

Considering all the crap they have to go through in this business that their male counterparts never even have to think about, I think the absolute least you could do is let them have a voice.

Happy International Women’s Day.

* It’s happened in Quebec. Once. (Thanks Francis for pointing this out.)

UPDATE: If you don’t think sexism exist in sports broadcast media, check out Andi Petrillo’s story.

25 thoughts on “Sports broadcasters should wake up and smell the sexism

  1. Peter

    Sports journalism yes, there are major steps to take.

    It’s not the only field though.

    Look at every single news-talk radio show. The only female host in the major timeslots on CBC and CJAD is Sue Smith.

    The station that has taken the most steps for women on the air is Global with Jamie Orchard on the anchor desk and Camille, Kelly and Jessica as hosts in the morning.

    Reply
  2. JF Codère

    Danielle Sauvageau was the analyst for hockey broadcasts on Radio-Canada a some years ago. Not that it’s enough, but just for historical precision.

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  3. Rachel

    I pitched a top female soccer coach last year to all the sports shows in Ontario including TSN and the Fan. Out of all the sports shows three had her on- and two of those had female hosts. There is a huge amount of sports coverage and it leans towards men all the time. Which I find strange since there are so many female producers behind the scenes putting these guys on the air. You would think that there would be a balanced representation between men and women’s sports but no. Where are the role models for young girls today? You won’t find them on any sports shows that’s for sure. And that’s a sad state of affairs indeed

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  4. It's Me

    Who cares whether there is few, many, or no women at all in sports broadcasting. Let the market and employers decide who they want in those positions for whatever reason they want. This notion that “we can do better than this” is absolutely ludicrous and harks back to this notion that people shouldn’t be given jobs based on merit or what the perceived wants of their customers are, but based on filling this imaginary quota because liberals feel it isn’t fair and that they somehow think every job should be equally mixed between people from all genders, races, sexual orientations, and religion – but only apparently for those jobs where it is dominated by men and/or white people – there will be no social media campaign any time soon to ensure we start filling the gap with more male nurses. This is absolute lunacy. Stop prodding into an employers will to hire who they want. If they want to hire all men, go right ahead. If they want to hire all women, go right ahead. But let the employer make the decision based on what they want, not forcing it upon them.

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      Who cares whether there is few, many, or no women at all in sports broadcasting.

      I do. Also: Women who are good at sports broadcasting but never given certain jobs because they’re women.

      Let the market and employers decide who they want in those positions for whatever reason they want.

      And if they decide no black people, that’s also okay? No gays? Can TSN require all employees have penises?

      harks back to this notion that people shouldn’t be given jobs based on merit

      I’m not arguing that. In fact, I’m arguing the opposite.

      filling this imaginary quota

      I’m not proposing a quota, imaginary or otherwise. I’m not asking for a 50/50 split.

      there will be no social media campaign any time soon to ensure we start filling the gap with more male nurses.

      I would not object to one. Maybe you should start it? It’s true that only about 10% of registered nurses are men. Part of the reason might be that nursing is a very sexualized position. If we make work less sexist in general, that might change.

      Stop prodding into an employers will to hire who they want.

      Why? People question hiring decisions all the time, particularly when the job has a very public face.

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      1. It's Me

        Fagstein: I do. Also: Women who are good at sports broadcasting but never given certain jobs because they’re women.

        Me: Why the hell do you care? It’s not affecting you. And you’re feelings shouldn’t trump the fact of employers being forced to hire people they don’t want to. And for the women, if they won’t hire you, go get another job in a profession they will hire you in. I’d also say the same thing for the poor schmuck who might be a white male that may be qualified for the job but he always gets passed over for the job as well.

        You never see midgets anchoring a sports news show, where’s the campaign for getting more midgets on TV. You start this silly idea for one group, you have to do it for them all, which is mind-boggling stupid.

        Fagstein: And if they decide no black people, that’s also okay? No gays? Can TSN require all employees have penises?

        Me: I could give a rats @$$ what TSN’s hiring practices are or any employer for that matter and neither should anyone else care. I’m gay, and if a company has a policy not to hire gays or if the hiring manager makes a personal decision not to hire gays, go right ahead. First of all, I probably wouldn’t want to work for a company like that anyways and second, I actually believe that people and companies should have personal freedom of choice to run their businesses and personal affairs as they wish. Think about it, if you were hiring someone to come in to your personal home and were essentially forced to hire someone you weren’t comfortable with, for whatever the reason may be, how would that make you feel? That isn’t wrong?

        Fagstein: I’m not arguing that. In fact, I’m arguing the opposite.

        Me: In what world are you arguing the opposite of that – that people should be given jobs based on merits. The very notion of bringing gender into play and hoping we can do better than what we have in place now doesn’t support that. Maybe the best people for the jobs are doing them right now, but yet you wish more women were in there. In no way are you arguing for merit based hiring here.

        Fagstein: I’m not proposing a quota, imaginary or otherwise. I’m not asking for a 50/50 split.

        Me: Wishing we could do more is essentially proposing a quota. A 50/50 split doesn’t make it a quota. Any number could be a quota and wishing for any number of a certain type of person in a role makes it an undefined quota. If you really didn’t want a quota, then you wouldn’t care who is in the roles.

        Fagstein: Why? People question hiring decisions all the time, particularly when the job has a very public face.

        Me: Just because people question them doesn’t mean they should. I bring it back to the same argument I’ve repeated several times, it’s none of yours, mine, or anyone elses business who a company hires. The fact that it’s a public position makes it a little different because it has a direct relationship with the customer and we talk about whether it’s good or bad decision based on personal preferences and job performance, and ultimately that may play a role in whether the person keeps their job base don how fans react, but speaking in general terms of any job, it’s none of your business.

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        1. Fagstein Post author

          Why the hell do you care? It’s not affecting you.

          I’m a viewer.

          And you’re feelings shouldn’t trump the fact of employers being forced to hire people they don’t want to.

          Indeed. I’m not proposing that employers be forced to hire people they don’t want to.

          And for the women, if they won’t hire you, go get another job in a profession they will hire you in.

          You must be a hit at feminist parties.

          You never see midgets anchoring a sports news show, where’s the campaign for getting more midgets on TV.

          Though there might be practical considerations for sideline reporters, I don’t see why dwarfism should prevent people from offering opinions at an anchor desk. It’s hard to prove systemic discrimination in sports broadcasting because the condition only affects about one in every 10,000 people. But there’s absolutely a problem in broadcasting in general when it comes to people with disabilities or apparent physical conditions, and it needs to be addressed.

          Women, meanwhile, represent 50% of the population, so when you have a group of dozens of people that doesn’t include them it becomes more apparent.

          Think about it, if you were hiring someone to come in to your personal home and were essentially forced to hire someone you weren’t comfortable with, for whatever the reason may be, how would that make you feel? That isn’t wrong?

          My home isn’t a TV studio. And it would really depend on why I’m not comfortable with that person. I don’t have an irrational fear of vaginas.

          Wishing we could do more is essentially proposing a quota.

          It’s not. Hell, I’m not even asking Sportsnet and TSN to hire more women. I’ll be happy if they just ask the ones they already have to offer opinions about sports.

          Just because people question them doesn’t mean they should.

          Funny how someone so gung-ho on protecting employers’ right to be sexist and racist has a problem with a blogger expressing an opinion.

          Reply
          1. It's Me

            Fagstein: I’m a viewer.

            Me: You’d have more credibility criticizing their choices for anchors if you were to criticize them based on substantive things such as their personality, knowledge of the game, insights and perspectives, etc., yet instead, you main point of contention is basing it on gender. Simply putting a woman in the anchor chair doesn’t automatically give you a different perspective, a woman can agree 100% with the existing men on there. If you want different perspectives, ask for different perspective, not that in addition to something so silly as wanting a woman on there for the sake of gender equality.

            Fagstein: Indeed. I’m not proposing that employers be forced to hire people they don’t want to.

            Me: You are in a way proposing employers to hire someone they don’t want to. If you’re wanting them to hire more woman and they’re not doing it, they clearly don’t want to hire them for whatever reason… but yet you still want them to hire them.

            Fagstein: But there’s absolutely a problem in broadcasting in general when it comes to people with disabilities or apparent physical conditions, and it needs to be addressed.

            Me: Again, just like the women issue, it doesn’t need to be addressed because there is no problem.

            Fagstein: My home isn’t a TV studio. And it would really depend on why I’m not comfortable with that person. I don’t have an irrational fear of vaginas.

            Me: That’s a great non-answer to a specific question. I’m speaking in general terms here – not just about TV and not just about “vaginas”.

            Fagstein: It’s not. Hell, I’m not even asking Sportsnet and TSN to hire more women. I’ll be happy if they just ask the ones they already have to offer opinions about sports.

            Me: You are suggesting hiring more women, not simply asking those existing women their opinions. You specifically mention play-by-play announcers. That is a specific job which requires hiring someone for that role. That’s not something you can just bring the side-line reporter in for 5 mins and ask their opinions and move on to the next person. That’s a specific role. By getting people in that role, you hire them specifically for that role, and ipso facto, you’re hiring more people.

            Fagstein: Funny how someone so gung-ho on protecting employers’ right to be sexist and racist has a problem with a blogger expressing an opinion.

            Me: It’s a “supposedly” free country and you should be able to express anything you want, although it doesn’t make it right. So, of course you can go ahead and express your opinion as I am with mine.

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  5. Graham

    At least 90% of the audience is male. So it’s not inconceivable to think a lot more males would go into that field. To imply sexism means women are directly discouraged to work in the field which isn’t the case. Is it sexism that most if not all of the fishermen on the Deadliest Catch are male? no. Sexism against men in predominately female careers? no. I think your definition of sexism is flawed

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      At least 90% of the audience is male.

      What’s your source on that statistic? According to Nielsen’s measurement of the 2012-13 NHL regular season, 32% of the TV audience is female. I don’t see why that would drop below 10% for the Canadian audience in 2015-16.

      To imply sexism means women are directly discouraged to work in the field which isn’t the case.

      I argue it is the case. Besides, encouragement is kind of irrelevant since it’s the bosses who choose who appears on the air.

      Sexism against men in predominately female careers? no.

      I think a case could be convincingly made that careers that are strongly female are that way because of sexist tendencies in society.

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  6. Graham

    -What’s your source on that statistic?
    The 90% was in reference to the sports radio market in Canada. I’m sure the Numeris ratings tomorrow will back it up. http://conferences.infopresse.com/pdf/cogeco_ppm%20printemps%202013.pdf

    -encouragement is kind of irrelevant since it’s the bosses who choose who appears on the air.
    Again you have to look at the crop of talent. First, a lot of media positions are given to ex players or management. And the rest are mostly veterans of their craft. Second, I wouldn’t throw rocks at any glass houses. How many sports reporters are there at The Gazette? Who gets most of the assignments? Does it mean The Gazette actively practices in sexism? No

    -careers that are strongly female are that way because of sexist tendencies in society.
    Again, depends on you’re definition of sexist.

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      The 90% was in reference to the sports radio market in Canada. I’m sure the Numeris ratings tomorrow will back it up.

      The link you provide gives a figure of 80% to 20% for TSN Radio, which is a small sample in any case. And I’m talking about television, not radio. I also wonder if the audience would be more balanced if there were more female voices on the air.

      First, a lot of media positions are given to ex players or management. And the rest are mostly veterans of their craft.

      I address both of these issues in the post. We need to create more veterans.

      I wouldn’t throw rocks at any glass houses. How many sports reporters are there at The Gazette?

      Three. All male. But that’s too small a sample size to come to conclusions. And it had women in the sports department when it was larger. If there were no female sports reporters at any newspaper in Canada, I could consider that a big problem as well.

      depends on you’re definition of sexist.

      Systemic discrimination based on gender.

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      1. Graham

        -The link you provide gives a figure of 80% to 20% for TSN Radio, which is a small sample in any case.
        So it’s safe to say it’s anywhere between 70-80% for TV or radio in North America? Underrepresented doesn’t mean sexism.

        -We need to create more veterans.
        By using the best talent available

        -Systemic discrimination based on gender.
        Then we agree because there wouldn’t be any women at all if that was the case. There’s a lot of great talent however I never seen you talk about male talent in Montreal in any media outlet. There are new shows and talent I never hear/see you talk about. Work both ways.

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  7. Brett

    In the US women who do play by play tend to work for networks that produce women’s college sports broadcast. Last time I was in the US came across a College owned channel and it was broadcasting women’s basketball and the play by play was done by a former woman’s basketball player.

    Seems that women in the US only cover woman’s sports. In Canada they are far behind.

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  8. Dilbert

    I read the story twice. Three times, actually. I checked the calendar – nope, not April 1st, so apparently you aren’t kidding. Not sure why, but you appear dead serious. It’s either that you didn’t realize what you wrote, sort of a drunk dialing version of blog posting, or you do know what you wrote and you are just trying to get a rise out of people. There are no other sane explanations,.

    Why? It’s pretty simple really: TV (Radio, newspapers, and so on) are run on differing versions of “ratings”, the measurements of human engagement in a given product. Every TV boss can probably tell your from heart the exact ratings for every quarter hour in their day. It’s a given piece of information that they all need to know, it rules their worlds. The goal in any advertising supported medium is to get the most eyeballs, for the most time, to earn the most money from advertisers.

    When it comes to sports reporting, the situations are generally pretty simple. We want knowledgeable people, pleasant people, and engaged people to not only tell us what is going on (play by play) but why (color commentary, background information, reporter on the scene…). Sports absolutely and utterly depend on TV to generate the interest and income that drives the money to the leagues and to their teams, so they can pay the bills.

    The people the public appears to want in those jobs, especially when you are talking about male stick and ball sports, are male. In color commentary it’s almost a given to have an ex player or coach there. The principal host needs to be able to interact with the color commentator and other reporters to stitch together a great packge – without distracting from it. Generally, that goes to men.

    Interestingly, if you want say women’s curling, the announce team are often women, and I am fine with it. They know the game, they know the players, and they can provide the color commentary that a man might miss. It’s pretty much a question not of meeting quotas, but in meeting up with the public’s expectations and desires. You need to keep the people on the channel to get paid, pure and simple.

    If the channels choose to use men instead of women, it’s not sexism – it’s the business of popularity and retaining long term viewers. Selecting women to meet an arbitrary goal of sexual equality doesn’t make sense in a part of the business that is driven by the public and not by the stations themselves. Trust me, if talking goldfish got better ratings, then men would be out the door quickly as well.

    Most importantly: Arbitrarily selecting women (or next visible minorities) is “fixing” a problem by creating another, bigger one: Having someone who is less than the correct candidate in the job. Artificial equality isn’t a step forward, it’s two steps back.

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    1. Fagstein Post author

      The principal host needs to be able to interact with the color commentator and other reporters to stitch together a great packge – without distracting from it. Generally, that goes to men.

      Actually, the host position, at least on regional broadcasts, is often filled by women like Chantal Desjardins and Leah Hextall. The problem is analysts.

      Interestingly, if you want say women’s curling, the announce team are often women, and I am fine with it.

      Actually, play-by-play during women’s curling is almost always men, too. Analysts can be both genders, either men or women who have retired or aren’t competing.

      Arbitrarily selecting women (or next visible minorities) is “fixing” a problem by creating another, bigger one: Having someone who is less than the correct candidate in the job.

      So don’t “arbitrarily” select women, whatever that means. Just consider them.

      If the channels choose to use men instead of women, it’s not sexism – it’s the business of popularity and retaining long term viewers.

      I haven’t seen any evidence that female play-by-play announcers or analysts lead to a loss in ratings. And I don’t think playing into the prejudices of viewers is something to be applauded.

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      1. Dilbert

        “o don’t “arbitrarily” select women, whatever that means. Just consider them.”

        By arbitrarily, I mean saying “oh, we must hire a woman to balance the workforce and avoid sexism charges”. It would mean most of the time selecting a poorer choice because you are more concerned about gender and not about ability.

        I am sure they are often considered, but rarely selected as the best candidate. If you are particularly stuck on analysts, remember that the best ones generally are either coaches from the past or players from the past. With women’s professional sports generally still in it’s infancy, it’s pretty easy to see why there are so few really qualified to sit in that chair.

        “I haven’t seen any evidence that female play-by-play announcers or analysts lead to a loss in ratings.”

        You are sitting here complaining that there are few if any on the air. You are unlikely to find proof one way or the other because nobody is willing to take the chances you are telling them they must take.

        ” I don’t think playing into the prejudices of viewers is something to be applauded.”

        It’s not about prejudice, that is a horribly simplistic framing of a much more complex social interaction thing. It’s a question of who we believe, who we would rather “discuss” things with. and so on. There are plenty of studies relative to our general preferences in who we would choose to deal with, who we trust, etc.

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        1. Fagstein Post author

          It would mean most of the time selecting a poorer choice because you are more concerned about gender and not about ability.

          OK, how about just hiring the best woman then, instead of the worst qualified man?

          You are unlikely to find proof one way or the other because nobody is willing to take the chances you are telling them they must take.

          This is my point. Though I have no power to compel broadcasters to do anything.

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          1. Dilbert

            “OK, how about just hiring the best woman then, instead of the worst qualified man?”

            If the worst qualified man is still a better choice than the best qualified woman, then no, there is no reason to pick the woman just to satisfy the need to appear less sexist. The job should be “sexless”, it doesn’t matter what parts you have as long as you are the best available for the job.

            “This is my point. Though I have no power to compel broadcasters to do anything.”

            As a viewer, you always have the power. But it’s small, and requires plenty of other views to join you to make it matter. If 20% of the people watching NHL hockey suddenly stopped watching because the broadcast team was selected in a sexist manner, then perhaps you might get their attention. The reality is that sports fans are way more interested in the game and the announce team is only an issue if it’s wrong and stands out as such.

            Sometimes things aren’t sexism at all, sometimes it’s just who the best people are. Otherwise, we could say that the NFL and NBA are incredibly racists because more than 20% of the players are black – and hell, NONE of them are women, sexist bastards!

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  9. Mario D.

    I do agree with your comment about the poor place given to women in sports broadcasting. Unfortunately there is a lot of sexism still in radio and tv in general but clearly in sports. Some will say that you had to play the game to be able to talk about it. Most of the on air personnalities excluding former pro athletes never did reach a level better than pee-wee..

    In MTL there are a lot of good experienced female voices like Robin Flynn,Andie Bennett ,Amanda Stein ,Jess Rusnak (now in TO) Chantal Machabée just to name those. But most of them get a second fiddle role wich they fill with pride and success.

    The old boys club still rule though and when it s time to choose betweeen a boy and a girl for a key position…let s not even go there. There is also a matter of being able to afford the on air personnalities wich explains for instance that on TSN radio you get rid of old pros like Price and/or Bird and get nobodies like McKenna instead. Nobodies are still better than proven female hosts !

    On TV the slap in the face goes even further because you can have all you need to make it but if you do not have the looks or if you are getting old then there is no place for a woman. You would think this was the sixties all over again !

    What s even more puzzling is that in other radio stations in general the mixed gender is the way to go to get ratings . One guy sharing and debating with a girl on anything and everything. It is a proven recipe.

    There are candidates to fill that void and although i have mixed feelings about the obsession these days to have equal hirings in every sphere of the job market , media could and should do better. To make myself clear, i tend to think that if in some type of jobs women are not more present , maybe they just are not interrrested in being there ? For instance in politics ,who can blame them from staying away from that !

    On the bight side, one must rejoyce that the few that hang in there get some opportunities altough not of the top jobs to go up the ladder somewhat. Andie Bennett, Robin Flynn,Jess Rusnak got new challenges and are doing a great job !

    I just do not see real changes making it interresting for good new candidates to get a chance of making it. Media managers will say that things changed a long time ago but we know better. We see and hear what is really going on.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      What s even more puzzling is that in other radio stations in general the mixed gender is the way to go to get ratings . One guy sharing and debating with a girl on anything and everything. It is a proven recipe.

      TSN and Sportsnet do this too, usually with mixed-gender anchor teams on their news/highlights shows. And often women host regional broadcasts. The problem with this thinking is it means casting by stereotype.

      Reply
  10. George

    Actually Sherry Ross does the colour on New Jersey Devils radio broadcasts, been there for years. She’s good too.

    I do get the point though, tough field to enter for sure.

    Reply

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