Gardner proves that hard work has its rewards

TV STARTING TO TUNE IN

December 24, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

As Gayle Gardner grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1960s, her school, Samuel Tilden High, didn't offer interscholastic girls sports. She says she wonders what her life would have been like if she had been born 10 years later, when schools did offer competitive programs for females.

Instead, her introduction to sports came through listening to New York Giants football games in her cousin's basement and watching every available sporting event on television.

"It was purely through watching television that I became a real sports fan," Gardner said. "And I used to watch everything from the time I was very small."

Today, Gardner, 41, is one of television's most prominent female sportscasters, and she has returned to her first love, pro football, as a features reporter on NBC's NFL coverage, appearing during pre-game shows and at halftime.

Gardner spent three years here as a sportscaster at WJZ-TV in the early 1980s. She said her career and those of other women in sports media are proof that, given the opportunity, a woman can be as competent at broadcasting sports as a man.

But the opportunity is hard to come by.

"What's happened is there's a realization that we can be worked into the operation in a serious sort of way that is not just tokenism, that we can contribute, that we know what we're doing, that we're professionals,that we have a sports background," Gardner said. "My hope is that it will keep coming."

On the network level, the influx of women into sportscasting is increasing.

NBC has added Hannah Storm, formerly of CNN, to join Gardner and give each of the broadcast networks two full-time women. ESPN, the all-sports cable network, has added a second woman, Linda Cohn, who previously worked in Seattle, to join its rotation on "SportsCenter," its three-times-daily sports newscast. ESPN has four women working full time in on-camera jobs.

"It used to be that, in the beginning . . . there weren't a lot to choose from, and the really talented people stuck out," said John A. Walsh, ESPN's executive editor. "Now, there's a lot of talented people to choose from."

Gardner said talented women aren't getting the chance to hone their craft at the local level.

"The reality is that, before I even got to ESPN, I had worked in Baltimore and Detroit and in Boston. I had major-market local experience," said Gardner.

"When I was here [Baltimore] doing the 6 and 11 o'clock news in 1983, I was the only female in the country doing that. Now, how many years later is it? I don't know if there's anyone doing the 6 and 11 o'clock news in a top 20 market."

The Baltimore Sun checked the nation's 50 largest television markets, which have at least three, or, as in Baltimore's case, four nightly newscasts, and found that 17 have women working as sportscasters. None of those women anchors sports on the more widely watched weeknight news broadcasts. They either anchor weekend sportscasts or are reporters.

In Baltimore, where Gardner, and her predecessor, Andrea Kirby, were among the first women sports anchors, there have been no women on camera as regular sportscasters since Gardner left in 1983.

Paying their dues

Gardner said the reason for the absence of women in sports broadcasting is that they faced obstacles that were too large to overcome.

"There was a generation of [female] sportscasters before me . . . trying to move up," Gardner said. "And most of that generation gave up. The battle was too big. It was too stressful to keep trying to make something happen with people who really didn't want to hire you.

"At a point, you say, 'Why am I doing this?' "

Kirby spent the '70s paving the way for Gardner and others. She began her sports broadcasting career at WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Fla., in 1971 as the station's sports director, anchor, reporter and producer for three years before coming to Baltimore in 1974.

At WJZ, Kirby did a little of everything during her three years, serving as commentator on the station's broadcasts of Orioles and Colts games, as well as anchoring and producing sportscasts. She left Baltimore to become ABC Sports' first all-purpose female sportscaster in 1977.

TTC Kirby left the network when ABC didn't give her a chance to do college football play-by-play in 1980. Yet she doesn't accuse ABC of sexism.

"Had I known when I was in high school that I was going to get into that, I would have started working on my play-by-play a long time ago," Kirby said. "Now, when you throw a woman into it, she hasn't been trained for it. I just had no clue that I was going to do this. I would have paid my dues."

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