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Beth Mowins inspires Syracuse women broadcasters on Monday Night Football

Erin Fish sat perched on her couch, eyes trained toward her TV. The black leather couch was directly in front of the TV, separated only by the coffee table. Not even the plate of cookies sitting on the table could distract Fish from the screen. Then, she grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch and settled in.

Fish, an S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications master’s student in television, radio and film, purposefully set aside this time to watch Monday Night Football. Around 10:30 p.m., the Los Angeles Chargers kicked off to the Denver Broncos for the NFL’s second game of MNF.

“It’s a little close to my bedtime,” Fish said. “Usually I would be asleep by 11 or 11:30. But this is important.”

This night, Fish’s interest is rooted less on the field and more in the broadcast booth. Standing there was Beth Mowins, the first woman to call a regular season NFL game in 30 years and only the second ever. Gayle Sierens was the first, calling a regionally broadcast Chiefs-Seahawks game in 1987.

This broadcast was beamed to millions of homes across the country, but perhaps no city was watching and listening more closely than Syracuse. Mowins is a native of Syracuse, and she attended graduate school at Newhouse.

Olivia Stomski, the director of Newhouse’s Sports Media Center, who also produces weekend broadcasts for ESPN, said Mowins was the perfect woman to end the drought for women in NFL broadcasting.

“Not just because she’s so good at her job,” Stomski said, “but because she’s always getting better.”

In her Syracuse apartment, Fish looked at the screen and saw someone similar to herself. Mowins is further along on the path Fish recently began traveling. Both are from upstate New York. Both played soccer, basketball and softball in high school. And both went to Newhouse for graduate school.

Like Fish, Peyton Zeigler is a master’s student in the sports communications emphasis at Newhouse, studying broadcast and digital journalism. She was working as a lab supervisor in Newhouse during the game, but made sure to watch the game on her laptop.

“There’s a lot of pride tonight as a woman that wants to get into that field,” Zeigler said. “I’ve never seen a woman do play-by-play for a pro football game in my lifetime. It’s primetime, it’s a big game, so this is huge to me.”

Brooke Meenachan studies in the same program as Zeigler and recently founded a Syracuse chapter of the Association for Women in Sports Media. While Meenachan does not want to do play-by-play for football, she knows Mowins’ ascension is more important than one sport, that it holds larger implications for women in the field.

“She has worked her way all the way up to this,” Meenachan said. “I may have different aspirations, but for someone in my position, it says a ton about opportunity.”

On the TV, Rex Ryan finished his analysis on an instant replay. As the replay ended, Mowins stays silent. Fish noticed this pause.

“You don’t have to be talking all the time,” Fish said, turning up the volume. “I’m sure other people notice how good she is.”

Fish’s roommate, Zach Lennox, said he would have to hear more from Mowins before forming an opinion on her broadcasting. But, Lennox mentioned, Mowins sounded far more comfortable than the knowledgeable but unpolished Ryan.

On Twitter, not everyone was as convinced. One tweet said Mowins was “completely intolerable.” Several others said that ESPN had “ruined” MNF with Mowins and Ryan.

“There are going to be critics,” Meenachan said. “It’s going to be harder as a woman working in a male-dominated industry. But you’ve got to do what you can to perform your best.”

During a timeout, Fish read aloud several other tweets critical of Mowins. She wasn’t surprised. She is at the beginning of her broadcast career, but already she understands criticism comes with being a woman with a microphone.

“You always want that feedback,” Fish said. “I want her to do well, but it’s important we hold her to the same standard (as we would men).

“That’s how she can keep paving the way.”

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