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What It's Like To Break Barriers In Sports Broadcasting


As usual, the headline from "Monday Night Football" this week was the score - Denver Broncos, 24; LA Chargers, 21. But there was another storyline. For the first time in 30 years, a woman, Beth Mowins, provided play-by-play in a regular season NFL game.


BETH MOWINS: Big hole right up the middle for Melvin Gordon and a first down across the 25.

GREENE: ESPN has been pushing broadcast boundaries. And Mowins got a lot of praise. But her colleague, sideline reporter Sergio Dipp, had a tougher debut Monday night.


SERGIO DIPP: Beth, Coach, it's a pleasure to be with you guys here on the field, from up close, just watching Coach Vance Joseph.

GREENE: All this got us thinking about the pressure in these moments. Jessica Mendoza knows it really well. Two years ago, the ESPN analyst became the first woman to call a nationally televised playoff baseball game. She told us on Skype, she was delighted watching Beth Mowins make her debut Monday. And she was thinking about the significance of the moment.

JESSICA MENDOZA: You know, it's funny because it is twofold. Part of it's like, OK, she's a veteran. Like, why is this even a big deal? But, yes, like she's the first woman to do "Monday Night Football." And this is a really big deal that you almost have to make because you want more girls and women to see it and notice it and be like, oh. I want the messaging to get out there for a young girl to think about what she wants to do in her life and know that this is a box that she can check. This is an option that she can pursue.

GREENE: It's amazing. It's been kind of an extraordinary week in terms of breaking barriers in sports broadcast. The sideline reporter, Sergio Dipp - he's Mexican. He often broadcasts in Spanish. This was the first time on such a big stage for him. And when they went to him for the first time, he seemed very uncomfortable. And he was talking about the two African-American head coaches of the two teams.


DIPP: You watch him now on the screen. This diversity in his background is helping him a lot tonight.

GREENE: And a lot of people on social media sort of said that he bombed his debut. But then I want to play you something 'cause he came out with this video hours after the game to kind of explain what happened.


DIPP: So what I wanted to do was to show some respect making my debut as a minority on American national TV.

GREENE: What do you hear in his voice, Jessica?

MENDOZA: It feels like he's been beat down. Like, to be honest, he could have been the best reporter in the entire world, and he would have still gotten beaten up in some way because people just like to do that. Right? I just - I feel for him because, you know, I love that he wanted to come in and make attention. But at the same time, you also - I can see where it's a "Monday Night Football" game, you know. It's a fine line. It really is, especially when the biggest goal is just to be - you know, not bring so much attention to yourself but bring more attention to the stories you're trying to tell.

GREENE: Is there that much pressure on you when you're making your debut on a stage like that?

MENDOZA: I mean, yes, especially if you're a first or one of firsts. I feel like there's so much pressure because, in my mind and the way that I was raised - and similarly, I'm sure with Sergio and even Beth - it's like, we live in a world where we are in an open room. And the first time I did it, I understood the responsibility. As much as I wanted to pretend like I was any other ex-MLB player dude, I'm not. I'm a woman. I didn't play Major League Baseball. But I'm going to sit in a seat that normally is occupied by that person. And that responsibility brings pressure.

Billie Jean King, who's a huge mentor of mine, always said, though, pressure is a privilege. There's a crap load of pressure. It - yes. But it's because there's a responsibility to throw every woman, every Hispanic, every person on my back and say, yes, we're all just going to be in this together. But if I do mess up, that door closes. So it's one of those things - yeah, it's pressure, but you almost try to reverse it in your mind. It's like, but I'm privileged to be in this position. I'm going to do me, and I'm going to do it well. That's all I can control. And hopefully, we knock down this door permanently.

GREENE: Jessica Mendoza, it's always great talking to you. Thank you so much.

MENDOZA: Thanks.

GREENE: She is a baseball analyst for ESPN. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.