Doris Burke Rumors
She is so sure, so steady, and so knowledgeable during a broadcast that it’s hard to imagine a major basketball broadcast without her. As Jeff Van Gundy called her, she’s “the LeBron James of sportscasters.” That’s why it was huge news when she announced earlier this year that she was stepping away from the women’s game. This WNBA season has been the first one without her.
“I’ve known Doris for over thirty-some years,” Van Gundy told me. “She’s the best, most-versatile analyst and commentator at ESPN. She does it all—great interviewer, commentator, studio analyst—everything. And she is an expert at it all—women’s and men’s college basketball, the NBA and the WNBA. She’s the LeBron James of sportscasters. There’s no better broadcaster out there right now.”
Burke announced this spring that she is stepping away from the women’s game, both college and the WNBA. “That was an incredibly difficult decision for me. But I’m over 50, and I’m thinking I’d like a little more balance in my life. The other part of it is that I think I would be even better on the other two sports I cover—men’s college and the NBA—and frankly, somebody else deserves a shot in the women’s game. I’ve call the women’s NCAA Championship and been a part of women’s basketball for 17 years. Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson, LaChina Robinson—let them have a shot at it. They’ve earned the right. I’m a big believer in that there is enough room for all of us. And it is incredibly important for other women to lift the people up beside them. That’s part of the job.”
ESPN made headlines last year when it announced Jessica Mendoza would take over Sunday Night Baseball color duties from Curt Schilling, making her the first ever female national baseball analyst. But on the NBA side, something even more remarkable is happening. Many of the network’s most prevalent NBA voices, from Burke to Countdown anchors Michelle Beadle and Sage Steele, are women. And nobody seems to be talking about it. That’s perhaps the strongest indication of the country’s changing social landscape. “I’m thrilled that ESPN has been the leader in trying to find opportunities for women in visible and non-traditional roles,” Burke says. “You can criticize ESPN for many things, but as a company, we should be commended for the fact that we’re now starting the process of putting women in these roles.”
Though women are now featured far more prominently in media, there are still several systemic inequalities. One of the most striking is ageism. Television is littered with older men –– the median age of all three nightly news anchors is 53 –– but the same can’t be said for women. While times are better now than ever, that’s still the third-rail. “I’m not naive to the fact that my gender has at times helped me. Employers are now thinking, ‘Let’s get perspectives that are different than the ones we have,'” Burke says. “The one thing I would say is, I do think women are evaluated differently than men. How we look, what is our age? Do you see a ton of 55-year-old women in sports television? No. But there are men in their 60’s and 70’s across many networks who are still in sports television. That’s a barrier that hasn’t been broken yet.
Several years ago, Burke approached Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, during an otherwise nondescript game with the Phoenix Suns, but her question, she said, was not particularly incisive. In fact, she remembers it as “horrible.” The interview was not broadcast live — it was recorded during a commercial break — and Burke is fuzzy on the details. She thinks she asked Popovich something about Shaquille O’Neal, who was then playing for Phoenix. Regardless, as she was retreating to her courtside seat, Burke’s producer reached her on her headset. He wanted to know if she would be O.K. if the network chose not to air the exchange. “And my response was, ‘Thank you for not humiliating me,’” Burke said.