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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2001 / 9 Shevat, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

Babes in Boyland -- Superbowl Weekend brings out the worst in some people. The man haters release bogus stories about wife-beating; snoots complain about overall gaudiness; the law and order crowd goes on about the on-field felony count; and plenty of fans moan about the state of the modern game, as if Joe Namath would shine so brightly in today's NFL.

Those who take the game in the proper spirit, however, find ample bliss. Pre-game preparations find the Hidden Hand working its typical wonders. Budweiser, whose name is closely associated with football, sells beer so cheap its motto should be changed to: "Become a Drunk; We'll Pick Up Most Of The Tab." One can purchase a pallet-load of hamburgers, a gas grill, and a chaise lounge at Sam's Club for a song. Spouses can be bought off with a cheap movie ticket. All that's missing is the Swedish Bikini Team (SBT), which was nagged out of existence by the usual suspects -- but whose spirit is making a comeback in the form of a talented team of female sports announcers.

Indeed, their increasing visibility has not come a moment too soon. The unique talents these broadcasters bring to the game -- a powerful combination of beauty, authority, and poise -- must be elevated to the highest levels if football is to maintain its strength as a spectator sport.

The game itself is being played well enough. The crisis is in announcing. Consider ABC's Monday Night Football, which brought in comedian Dennis Miller to lift ratings. It was hoped that Miller's wise-cracking would appeal to younger viewers; unfortunately, his jokes seem to have soared over his audience's head, and so he came off as a wise guy (at least to critics). Miller, now the goat in ABC's stable, is blamed for not reversing the ratings slump.

He is not rightfully blamed. The problem is that Monday Night Football stretches far into the night, and as history has shown men will stay up late for very few reasons, wise-cracking bearded guys not being one of them. They will linger if there's a good looking chick in the mix, however, and the same is true of lopsided afternoon games. The networks know this. They have fielded a fine squad of female reporters. The question is whether they have the stones to put these women where they belong: In the top positions.

The talent is surely there. Jill Arrington of CBS boasts a terrific presence, as does ABC's Melissa Stark, NBC's Hannah Storm, CBS's Bonnie Bernstein, and Fox's Jillian Berberie. These women know the game well enough; anyone who would accuse them of spouting more or grosser inanities than male announcers cannot be taken seriously.

As it now stands, though, these women are kept in roles rooted in discredited stereotypes. While male announcers sit in their comfy booths, the females are dispatched to inquire after injuries, check the level of halftime scolding by coaches, and supply reports on the emotional status of players. These are football's "mommy issues," and we are left to believe that females cannot intelligently discuss bootlegs, flea-flickers, head-slaps, crack-back blocks, stiff-arms, and other issues and strategies that occupy the big boys. That of course is rubbish.

In a better world, there would be a great outcry over this injustice. Unfortunately, these gals have a major problem. They are babes, and the anti-babe activists are howling like sprinters with a blown Achilles tendon. The noise became unbearable when Playboy took a poll to establish the sexiest of the bunch (Jill won, though she is far from everyone's favorite). Clearly threatened by these women, their critics hope to do unto them as they did unto their parachuting SBT forebears.

As always, the hysteria switch on their bullhorns has been set at maximum. Keith Olbermann hissed that "all of television sports, not just the women who work in it, has been set back several years." He found a brother in Leo Shapiro, who asked his readers "Wouldn't it be nice if Playboy dropped the demeaning sexiest woman sportscasters poll now on its Web site?" The most ruffled skirt probably belongs to Christine Brennan, who aired her grievances in a USA Today column.

Ms. Brennan -- clearly no relation of fun-loving Walter "Real McCoy" Brennan -- returned to her central complaint several times. "Have you seen some of the women who occasionally pop up in the studio or on the sideline? Tell me, have you been impressed by their grasp of the Counter Trey? Oh, and by the way, have you happened to notice that they look pretty darn good?"

And this: "A few weeks ago, we had CBS's Jill Arrington showing up in a tank top for her Virginia Tech-Miami sideline assignment. (Excuse me, but what ever happened to elegance and sophistication? What ever happened to Armani suits? What ever happened to trying to look, dare I say it, professional?) All season long, we've endured preposterous Fox weather woman/sweater gal Jillian Berberie. This woman makes Phyllis George look like Madeleine Albright."

And we though Aunt Bea was straitlaced -- which she might have been, but at least she was not ridiculous. An Armani suit at a football game? And they used to laugh at Nixon for wearing wingtips on the beach. And what a nasty crack at Madeleine Albright. Jesse Helms, supposedly anti-woman, would never stoop so low.

Catty women we always have with us, along with their male counterparts, and we are best off ignoring both (whenever possible). As Pat Schroeder used to put it, they just don't understand the organic relationship between sport and sex in the modern era, a relationship expertly summed up by a University of Washington Husky during a pre-bowl tour of a Playboy Mansion: "All this place needs is a roller coaster."

This is not to say all male announcers should be benched. John Madden is a case in point: his loosened tie and tussled hair suggest he's just been in a minor scrap over a parking space, and his incisive commentaries on fat linemen, vicious hits, and multi-legged turkeys come straight from the Homeric playbook.

Yet even with John at the stick, many fans will fall away from a late or middling game by halftime. With a Jill or Bonnie, however, many will hang for the duration. As John himself might put it, he's very very good. But he's no Jillian Berberie. In fact, he's not even a Madeleine Albright.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000, Dave Shiflett