For this series, Julia Adams spoke to women from various positions around the league – from play-by-play broadcasters, to analysts, to producers – in order to capture how the NBA is supporting women to enter roles on a league-wide basis.
When looking at veterans in the broadcast industry, ESPN’s Beth Mowins and Lisa Salters names usually come to mind. Mowins is a play-by-play analyst with 30-plus years of experience covering the NBA, men’s and women’s college sports and the NFL. Salters is an accomplished reporter with three decades of expertise, and predominantly works as a sideline reporter for two of ESPN’s biggest sports properties – NBA games on ESPN and ABC and the NFL’s Monday Night Football. She also co-hosts the company’s award-winning E:60 film and documentary series. Both Mowins and Salters have made a female’s path to sports a bit easier – by tackling the challenges first.
On February 9th’s Warriors vs. Jazz game, they will make history once again – but together. Mowins and Salters make up ESPN’s first all-women led NBA broadcast along with fellow veteran and ESPN analyst, Doris Burke.
Despite their similar career accolades and playing background, Mowins’ and Salters’ path to a career in broadcasting couldn’t be more different.
Mowins’ dad was a high school basketball coach and she would often attend his practices and play a variety of sports with her three brothers. She played varsity basketball at Lafayette College where she is a member of their Hall of Fame, and earned a master’s degree in communications from Syracuse University right near where she grew up.
“It has always been very natural to me to be involved in sports. I fell into play-by-play while we were playing kickball or playing basketball…doing a running commentary from a very young age,” Mowins said. “I knew early on that something I’d love to do as I got older was to call sports.”
Salters played basketball at Pennsylvania State University while receiving a broadcast journalism degree, but instead she spent the first 12 years of her career as a news journalist. In 1995, she was named the first West Coast correspondent for the ABC affiliate news service, NewsOne. Among many notable stories, she covered the O.J. Simpson civil and criminal trials, the Oklahoma City bombing trials, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and the crash of TWA flight 800 for the network. It wasn’t until ESPN reached out in 2000 about a general assignment position that she decided to transition to sports journalism.
“ESPN was looking for people with news backgrounds who were more than just sports fans. They wanted people with journalistic integrity … so they started to branch out to look for journalists with news backgrounds, and I was one of those people,” Salters said,
However different their paths may be, both women are often associated with the word “first” in their respective careers. Salters is the longest-tenured reporter for Monday Night Football on ESPN. Mowins was the “first” female broadcaster to call a nationally televised game in ESPN’s season-opening doubleheader for Monday Night Football in 2017. Earlier this season, she was the “first” woman to call play-by-play for a regular season national NBA game on ESPN. Mowins said her background playing basketball has helped her through nerves in these history-making moments.
“There’s always adrenaline … I’ve been lucky enough to have that background as an athlete to approach the game as if I was playing in it,” Mowins said. “You have your head down. You’re doing all the preparation and feeling confident in the way you prepared. I think it’s more of an adrenaline rush, and you’re excited to be a part of the team that’s calling the game as much as the teams on the court.”
Despite their long list of accomplishments, neither of these women view themselves as a pioneer in the industry.
“I hear that word and I can appreciate it when people tell me, but I don’t see myself as that,” Salters said. “I see myself as someone who goes to work everyday trying to do the best job that they can. I’m humbled by it, but I’m trying to do the best that I can for ESPN and for myself.”
“I hope that I am a positive role model,” Mowins said. “Somebody that decision-makers can look at and say she does a really good job – I think we ought to at least consider a woman the next time we are hiring for a job or we need to make sure that there’s a woman in the conversation when we are making a decision.”
Both have seen immense growth within the league supporting women entering roles and have individually felt support from the NBA in growing the game around women.
In discussing Lisa Byington and Kate Scott’s accomplishments as first female full-time play-by-play broadcasters for an NBA team this season, Mowins said she was thrilled to hear the news.
“We want confident and qualified women who have earned the opportunity just like anybody else would,” Mowins said. “The next time a woman has a role in the NBA it will probably not be covered quite as extensively … and that’s a good thing.”
Salters added she has always felt like the league is in her corner, and has contributed to her career longevity.
“Going back to David Stern — he was a big supporter of mine. Adam Silver has always been a big supporter of mine,” Salters said. “If the league is not in your corner, you won’t last very long. I’d like to think that we’ve been good teammates and that I’ve been somebody they can count on to uphold the brand.”
It is important for both Mowins and Salters to support young women following in their footsteps. They offer these parting words of advice for those looking to do so.
“Be a good writer,” Salter said. “People think I stand in front of a camera and talk but it all goes back to my journalism training – how to gather information and put it into a concise package. The final part is presenting it in front of a camera … be a good writer because that will set you apart.”
“What I’ve discovered over the years is people love to share. Some of us older folks in the business appreciate having conversations with younger folks about what worked for us and what didn’t work for us,” Mowins added. “I wish I would tell my younger self because I always thought oh I don’t want to bother them … we don’t mind at all setting up a time where we can have a conversation if it will help you along your journey.”