Q&A with SI's Richard Deitsch

Q&A with SI’s Richard Deitsch

Kate Scott, who works as a morning sports anchor at San Francisco-based sports-talk station KNBR Radio, is an anomaly in sports broadcasting: She is a women who has been given play-by-play assignments for men’s sports. Her first foray calling games was doing high school football in 2011 for the Bay Area-based Comcast Hometown Network including perennially national-ranked De La Salle high school. She has since called women’s soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball for the Pac-12 Network as well as a West Coast Conference men’s basketball game on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area last February.

Now comes her most-high profile assignment to date: Scott called the Niners preseason game against the Texans on Sunday and will also fill in next week when the Niners play the Broncos. She is the third woman to do NFL play-by-play. Gayle Sierens called the Dec. 27, 1987 game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs—the only woman to call a regular season NFL game. ESPN’s Beth Mowins did two Raiders’ preseason games on TV last season and will do the same this season.

Live from Santa Clara: SI’s training camp report for the San Francisco 49ers

Last week Scott and I exchanged emails on how this assignment came about:

SI.com: As specific as you can: How did this assignment come about?

Scott: Back in April, my program director at KNBR—Lee Hammer—called me into his office and said the 49ers had a question for me. He then got them on speaker phone and Bob Sargent—the team’s longtime director of broadcast partnerships—told me that the organization enjoys my work and that because of Ted Robinson’s Rio responsibilities, there was an opening on the radio side the first two weeks of the preseason, and that they wanted to offer me the opportunity to fill-in. I told them I was overwhelmed and incredibly flattered by the offer and asked if I could have a few days to think about it.

When my wife got home from work that night, I said, “Soooo … Hammer called me into his office today, got the 49ers on the phone, and they offered me the chance to call their first two preseason games because Ted’s in Rio,” to which she replied, “Holy s—.” To which I replied, “Yeah, holy s—.” She then asked, “Sooo … what do you think?” I told her I was scared to death, but wanted to say yes. So I called Hammer and, told him I’d given it some thought and told him I was in. And then I got to work.

SI.com: How have you prepared for the assignment?

Scott: Intensely. Very intensely. I’ll go back to the week after I accepted the assignment. I reached out to both Ted (the Niners preseason television play-by-play announcer and regular season radio play by play announcer) and Bob Fitzgerald (who usually does radio while Ted does TV in the preseason, but is doing TV while Ted’s away) and asked them to lunch so that I could pick their brains about their prep, get a look at their boards and also beg them for advice. They were both wonderfully helpful and Ted recommended I get my hands on Pat Kirwan’s book, “Take Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0,” so I ordered it as soon as I got home from our lunch and read it cover to cover in May and June. During that time, I also started attending OTAs and minicamp practices in Santa Clara and created 3×5 index cards for memorization purposes for every player on the Niners 90-man roster. Number on one side, name, age, height, weight, draft position, hometown, college, years of NFL experience, previous teams played for, position(s) and a few interesting notes on them on the other.

I asked our broadcast producer, Mike Hohler, to locate some old preseason broadcasts for me since preseason broadcasts are so much different than the regular season ones we had saved in the KNBR archives. He did, I dubbed them into mp3 form, loaded them onto my phone, and have been listening to them every few days.

I’ve also been listening to radio calls on YouTube, especially Kevin Harlan’s call of the Pats/Seahawks Super Bowl from a few years back. Chip Kelly’s offense moves so fast, like the offenses did in the second half of that game, so I’ve found it helpful to watch the game while listening to Kevin’s call to work on my pacing, figure out what he focuses on, what he leaves out, what words he emphasizes, etc.

In the past month, I’ve been down to Santa Clara for practice as often as possible, spent an hour or two each day reading everything I can find about the 49ers (all the different beat writers here in the Bay Area, blogs, players features from hometown papers, etc.), starting “calling” games I’ve pulled up on YouTube and muted, and also begun to create the boards I’ll use on game day.

I texted Beth to let her know about the assignment and ask if she might have any advice. I wasn’t sure about texting her, because we’d met for the first time at the Super Bowl in February and I have no idea what she thinks of me. She called me the next day, gave me some fantastic advice, and proved yet again why I’m flabbergasted to even know her.

And this past Tuesday, my analysts—Keena Turner, Dennis Brown—and I went into a studio at Levi’s Stadium with some preseason game tape from last year for a run-through. Since we’ve never worked together, we wanted to get a feel for each others pacing and likes/dislikes in the booth.

SI.com: Other women have called NFL games and Beth Mowins most recently did the Raiders last August. But the number is very low, as you know. How much do you think of this assignment as a pioneering one?

Scott: I’m well aware that others feel it is. I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if it wasn’t, but to be completely honest, to me, it simply feels like another—albeit big— opportunity to get to where I want to go in my career. After not being hired by ESPN like I thought I would straight out of college (spoiler alert, up-and-comers, that only happens to an extremely select few) I’ve tried to strip each opportunity I’ve been given down to the following:

1) Will this help to make me a better broadcaster?

2) Does this require a skill(s) I need to learn/improve/refresh?

3) Can I make it work with my schedule?

4) Will it help me accomplish my end goal?

5) Do I want to do it?

Obviously, in this case the answer to all of those questions was “yes,” so here we are. I guess I’m not as focused on the whole pioneering aspect because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the actual pioneers: Beth Mowins, who you mentioned, who’s doing preseason TV again this year for the Raiders here in the Bay Area. Gayle Sierens. Pam Ward. Lesley Visser. Christine Brennan. Amy Trask. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone, but to me those are the pioneers for women in football, because without them, this opportunity doesn’t exist.

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