Women covering sports find victories are rare

March 08, 1994|By Bob Raissman | Bob Raissman,New York Daily News

Robin Roberts is on the back end of a quick turnaround. The ESPN reporter had taken the 10-hour flight to Lillehammer, Norway, worked for 72 hours cutting a Winter Olympics preview and was back on a plane headed home.

On her lap is a large pad. She busily fills the pages.

"That's not your March to-do list -- is it?" a man in the next seat asks.

"Yes, it is," Ms. Roberts says.

The list is long. "Personal life? I remember what that was like," Ms. Roberts says. "I think I had one in college."

From the outside looking in, it's easy to imagine that anyone who sits in front of a camera, covering the sports world, lives a glamorous life.

Travel. Big events. The limelight. Everybody knows your name. Many would like your job.

The perception is cockeyed. Although those who climb from the small TV markets to the big time aren't complaining, they do confide that life can be a grind.

This is especially true for the women of TV sports. For most of them, the road to the marquee is pitted with giant potholes. And once there, a woman's got more than her job to deal with.

"I hate to put it this way," says ESPN reporter Andrea Kremer, "but a lot of my male colleagues have wives who can pay the bills and take care of all the things that I have to take care of in addition to doing my job."

Having any kind of social life is another headache. Recently, NBC Sports' Hannah Storm, a studio host and reporter, married her network colleague Dan Hicks. But Ms. Storm says the drive it takes to get to the top, combined with the notoriety a TV job brings, is hazardous to intimate relationships.

"I had a problem as far as long-term relationships because a lot of the men I dated weren't secure with what I was doing," Ms. Storm says. "They weren't secure with the fact that I was on TV, that I worked every weekend, that I worked with all men, that I went into locker rooms -- it was the whole nine yards."

So it is no mere coincidence that Ms. Storm and other women in the business marry men also in the business. CBS Sports' Lesley Visser is married to CBS play-by-play man Dick Stockton, and the same network's Andrea Joyce is married to Harry Smith, co-host of "CBS This Morning."

But there are other men, with no connection to TV, who share the ups and downs of wives trying to negotiate the star-making machinery.

In 1989, Linda Cohn, now an anchor at ESPN, had taken a radio sports career as far as it could go in New York. She got an offer from KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle, to become the station's sports anchor.

Her husband, Stewart, a market researcher, had to give up his job to make the move.

"He was not thrilled. My in-laws were not thrilled," Ms. Cohn JTC says. "He's not even a mega-sports fan. I was asking him to leave his job to go to Seattle, where he had one business connection. But he really knows me. He understood that there was real potential for me to grow in my career."

And he was astute enough to realize that any opportunity a woman gets in TV sports must be jumped on. Although the market for female sportscasters has opened up considerably, there is still a reluctance -- especially on the part of local news directors -- to hire women to talk sports to a male-dominated audience.

"The local markets -- especially the top 10 -- are simply not hiring women. They have this misconception that men don't want to watch women doing sports," Ms. Roberts says.

"They're so driven by ratings they're afraid if they don't play it safe, the ratings will go down and it will cost them money," she adds.

Once a woman arrives at the network level, some say, there is a gender double standard on salaries.

NBC executives consider Ms. Storm a star.

But when her contract expires in just over a year, will she be paid like one?

"I'll be able to answer that when I negotiate the contract," Ms. Storm says.

"I'm really curious. Diane Sawyer just signed a $7 million deal. It's pretty obvious, at least at ABC, that they put her on a par with the top men in the business. I'm the only woman who hosts events at a network, so I fully expect to be given a salary equal to any man in my position."

Ms. Storm's way was paved by women such as Gayle Gardner, formerly of NBC and ESPN and now at the new Food Channel, and Ms. Visser, who broke down barriers. They also set the stage for women who didn't come up the traditional way, such as Willow Bay, co-host of NBC's "Inside Stuff."

Ms. Bay came to sports TV after a career as a model. "There was a few years of transition where I just tried to get any TV job I could," she says. "I was under no illusions that because I was successful at modeling I could jump right into television and be as successful."

But the pressure of doing TV was something Ms. Bay could control. "In modeling, you have no control over how someone thinks you look when you wake up in the morning," she says. "That's pressure. In TV, the best weapon you have against the pressure is being totally prepared."

That's not to say there is no fear factor for a woman covering sports on TV. It's about the future. "It's a very scary thought," Ms. Kremer says. "It's a ways away, but I don't want to be groveling in locker rooms when I'm 40."

Last Tuesday night, Andrea Joyce sat in her Manhattan apartment holding her 4-month-old son, Grady. She had just returned from Norway, where she had been one of CBS Sports' Olympic hosts.

She was reflective. Five years ago, she was full of business goals. Now, if she can make it through each day, juggling her family and career, she's happy. Ms. Joyce has come to the realization that there's more to life than being recognized as a star.

"I don't mean to sound blase about my job, but I don't look at it as a career anymore," she said. "When you become consumed by it, you don't enjoy it anymore. I'm no longer obsessed."

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