This week, ESPN’s Doris Burke was named National Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sports Media Association, the first woman to win a NSMA national award.

A longtime professional basketball announcer and one of the most popular sportscasters in America, Burke was one of the first women to call men’s sports. She’s been covering college and professional basketball for ESPN since 1991.

Along the way, she’s also had to fight back against the longstanding preference for men’s voices and visibility in the world of sports media.

Over the years, any women brave enough to cover men’s professional sports has endured terrible hazing and abuse. As the New York Times reported, for most of her career, Burke has felt “something ranging from indifference to icy skepticism, even outright hostility” from certain fans.

In September 2017, Burke became a full-time NBA color commentator – the first woman ever to take on such a regular national NBA game-analyst role, cracking what many consider to be the hardest glass ceiling in broadcasting.

Sports journalism – particularly sports broadcasting – has long been a boys’ club. Professional women still face abuse not based on their ability to do the job, but because of their presence and the sound of their voice.

It’s true, most women’s voices are different from men’s. Women have shorter vocal chords and smaller lungs. The sound that emerges is distinctly female. Does this impede their ability to call a game? 

It’s disappointing that in this age of diversity, so many people still cling to stereotypes of what authority looks and sounds like.

When she first started analyzing men’s college games in the 1990s – and later NBA contests – Burke heard plenty of objections from people who just didn’t like a woman calling men’s sports. She was undeterred.

Burke has become a powerful presence and a role model in the sports world, where journalists like Lisa Salters, Michelle Tafoya, Holly Rowe, Michelle Beadle and Pam Oliver have also had to stand firm against prejudice.

In 2017, Beth Mowins became the first woman to call a game on Monday Night Football. But from the moment she spoke her first word into the mic, Twitter began to light up with complaints about her “annoying” voice.

Doris Burke’s influence goes beyond the game of basketball. She’s a role model because of her professionalism, her perseverance, and the skillful way she thinks and speaks in her job. And she’s paved the way for the women who follow in her footsteps.

“This next generation seems to me more confident, more enlightened, less accepting that things should just be,” Burke told the New York Times. “And that just gives me joy.”


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