For the first time ever, a woman will do network television play-by-play on football when Gayle Sierens of Tampa, Fla., works a game at Kansas City between the Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks Dec. 27.
The telecast will be shown in about 10% of the country, in 9 states and 28 markets.
Dave Rowe, a former Raider lineman who has worked for NBC in the past, will be the commentator.
Sierens is a news anchorwoman for the NBC affiliate in Tampa. Before taking that job six years ago, she was a sports reporter for the station for nine years.
However, her only previous play-by-play experience is on soccer and equestrian events.
But she has done three practice National Football League games the past three weekends, working with Rowe, and will do one more this weekend.
“We feel she’s ready,” said Michael Weisman, the executive producer for NBC Sports, in making the announcement Wednesday.
Weisman said that it’s not a publicity gimmick.
“If we were doing this just for publicity, we would hold off using her until next season,” he said. “We would stretch this out, then during the off-season, reporters would continue writing about the prospect of NBC using a woman.
“This whole thing is not about Gayle. It’s about giving a woman the opportunity to do NFL play-by-play. Gayle just happens to be the woman we choose to do this with.
“It wasn’t too long ago that there were no women news anchors. And now they’re everywhere.
“Here we are in 1987 and there are no women play-by-play announcers, not even on the local level.
“We can’t hire an experienced woman play-by-play announcer because there are none. They’ve never had the opportunity, not on the college level and not on the high school level.
“We hope this opens the door for them. Women who want to get into broadcasting have never considered play-by-play because no one has ever done it.
“I’ve known of Gayle for six years; we talked about this last August, after she applied for a job as a studio host. She didn’t apply for a play-by-play job, but then nobody ever has.
“After Dec. 27, we’ll probably get an avalanche of mail from women interesting in doing play-by-play. They’ve never had a role model before. Now they’ll have one.”
Sierens says she’s ready.
“You can practice and prepare only so much,” she said. “Eventually, you just have to jump in and do it.
“I don’t expect to have a perfect telecast, but even if I did I know there are going to be people who won’t accept a woman doing football play-by-play.
“There’s nothing I can do about that.”
Weisman said he plans to use Sierens more next season.
“This is not a one-shot deal,” he said. “We think she’ll get better and better with each telecast.
“The first time viewers hear her it might be somewhat of a shock. But eventually, we think, people will get used to a woman doing football play-by-play.”