Women fill the sideline reporter role whenever a sports fan watches a sports telecast. It’s not even a secret that networks find a young, attractive woman to do the job. Sex symbol sells, and women know how to draw a good rapport with the athletes.
They should thank Phyllis George for making that happen. CBS took a chance on her in 1974 by hiring her to work on the network’s NFL Today. She helped make the show popular along with Brent Musburger, Jimmy the Greek, Irv Cross and Jack Whitaker. If not for her, who knows if women get an opportunity to work as sportscasters? Eventually, it would have happened, but it does not change the fact she started the domino effect.
Her work did not go unnoticed by her peers when George passed away on Saturday following a decades-long bout with a blood disorder. ESPN’s Hannah Storm, Golf Channel’s Molly Solomon, ESPN’s Beth Mowins, Spectrum Sportsnet LA’s Alana Rizzo, ESPN’s Laura Rutledge, Former CBS Sports Executive LeslieAnne Wade, Fox Sports Wisconsin’s Sophia Minnaert, NBC’s Michele Tafoya and Lisa Guerrero paid their respects to her on Twitter.
Even male announcers such as Chris Fowler, Dick Vitale, Tim Brando and Musburger paid their respects for her work as an announcer and what she meant to women in the sports industry.
George never made it a big deal that CBS took a chance on her or that she was a pioneer in working in a media that is dominated by men. She did her job like a professional by knowing her subject when it came to interviewing and breaking down Xs and Os of a game. She expected to do well at her job. This garnered respect from the players and coaches.
To CBS’ credit, the higher-ups never hired her because of her charming personality or her looks. She earned the job by merit. That itself made her job easy in a sense she did not feel any pressure to validate her hiring.
I wish I could have watched her in her prime, but I wasn’t born back then. I started watching sports in the 90s, and my first experience of watching a lady working in sports was Lesley Visser being the sideline reporter for CBS’ NFL telecast.
Thankfully, videos of George’s work can be accessed on YouTube. From watching her, she sounded like a natural at doing the job. She complemented Musburger and Cross when both asked her about football questions and the games she observed. She also answered follow-up questions by Musburger about her interview with the players for a feature.
George came off so dignified with her humility and grace. She did not act like she wanted to be part of the boys in talking sports. She trusted her ability to talk sports, and if her male colleagues or critics didn’t like it, it was their problem. She did not have to come up with style or shtick to gain a following. She let her work make people notice her rather than being dressed up or putting on so much makeup to get attention.
She came off more like your next-door neighbor than a TV star, which may have been her best attribute outside of just talking about the game.
George’s ascension made every young girl believe she can accomplish anything in life whether it’s being an executive or being a manager or playing sports or coaching or running for government office.
For this, George’s career should be celebrated. She lived a great life on her own. She paid her dues. Nothing was handed to her, and she made the most of it.
George became bigger than life for years, and her legacy enhanced each decade for every woman sportscaster achieving success at her craft. It wasn’t because of a cult following. It was because of how great she was.
There can be so many great women sportscasters that can do better than what George did, but in the end, there was one Phyllis George in a sense it is unlikely that another woman sportscaster will ever become so universally beloved and admired. She was a pioneer and trailblazer. No one can take that away from her. Not even her critics if she even had one.
George earned being worthy of our affection.
She made good use of her opportunity and never looked back.