I tell Doris Burke how much I admire her work.
She responds, “I appreciate you saying that. It isn’t unanimous.”
Indeed, it hasn’t been easy being a trailblazer in TV sports. As an analyst on NBA and men’s college basketball games, she has heard it all from various segments who object to a woman in that role.
Burke (link to her bio) also has faced questions from colleagues about whether she is hindering her analyst career by also being a sideline reporter, a job typically done by women.
In part two of my Q/A, Burke talked frankly about all of those subjects on the eve of serving as the sideline reporter for ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals. In part one, she discussed the challenge of trying to do an in-game interview with Gregg Popovich.
How do you answer questions about sideline reporters and the perceptions that those jobs go mainly to young, attractive women?
I was in a college classroom. We did a Q/A at the end of the session, and a couple of women said, “It’s ridiculous that (looks) are the only criteria they use to fill those jobs.”
My response is always the same. If you enter television, and you allow yourself to be bothered by the reasons you believe someone was hired, then you’re wasting energy. I tell young women who want to be in the business–in fact, I implore them–to be as professional as possible.
This is a visual medium. Are women evaluated differently than men? Is an attractive woman likely to get the job ahead of someone who is perceived as less attractive? Well, the answer is probably yes.
My whole thing in 23 years of being in this business is that I try to be prepared and professional as possible. I can’t worry about why this woman may have gotten the job and I didn’t. You just keep plugging. The reality is, if you don’t have a thick skin, this is going to be a tough business for you.
How do you respond to criticisms about your work?
I so appreciate you saying you think well of my work. It’s not unanimous. Opinions about announcers are very subjective. I get blown up on social media all the time. “She’s ugly.” What’s a woman doing the NBA?” “She has no credibility.”
It’s the nature of it. People will like you or hate you. If you allow that to bother, boy…
My kids get more upset about it than I do.
Really, you’re telling me the criticism and cheap shots don’t bother you?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you it doesn’t hurt. We all want to be well liked. We all want to be thought of as exceptional on the job.
Does it hurt? Of course it does. But it can’t have an impact when you go to do a job.
How do you like being an analyst compared to a sideline reporter?
Yeah, it’s an entirely different job. I have come over the course of time to appreciate the value of the sideline role. I grew up in the business as an analyst. Obviously on much lesser games, but that was my background. I was not a communications major. My strength always was breaking down the game. So I had to learn a few things when I was asked to do sideline work.
The first person I called was Al Trautwig. He gave me the best piece of advice. I have to remember it sometimes. He said, ‘There are going to be days when you get off the air as a sideline reporter, and you’re going to feel like you were an integral part of that telecast. In fact, you helped raise its level.’ He said, ‘There are going to be far many more nights when you get off the air and you say, ‘They just paid me do to that?’”
You have to be willing to sit there and know you researched and worked as hard as the play-by-play and color man, and you’re not going to get 90 percent of your content in. You have to be OK with it.
My preference is to be the analyst. You have far more input. You’re so much more engaged.
But the day I worked the Celtics game as a sideline reporter and Rajon Rondo tore his ACL, I had all this information and I was on all the time. That’s the nature of this assignment.
Given your work as analyst, do you come in with a level of credibility that might be higher than other sideline reporters?
I don’t know about that. I have had colleagues who have asked whether I should keep being a sideline reporter. They have questioned whether that hurts my credibility. I recently asked Jeff Van Gundy about this. I said, “I don’t think it does, but do you think it does?” He said, “Absolutely not. No way.”
Do your colleagues think you’re getting pigeon-holed as a sideline reporter?
Perhaps. I think that’s their suggestion.
Both jobs require some level of relationship of the people you’re covering. So the more Tony Parker sees me on NBA coverage in either role, he’s more familiar with the job that I do. As long as I am completely professional in both jobs, I think it helps me in the long run.
And finally, Burke talked about her roots in the business.
I’ll be honest, I was a good player at Providence College. I was an All-Big East player at a time (when the conference) wasn’t as powerful as it is today. I think it would be a lot more difficult for me to get in the business now. I was not an All-American. I was not the face of my sport, so to speak. I think those that are better known have a better chance of getting these jobs today.
I entered the business at a time (1991) when women’s basketball coverage was exploding. I had patient people who helped me overcome my mistakes and teach me along the way. I always will be indebted to Madison Square Garden. They taught me TV.
My timing was great. I feel fortunate for the opportunities I’ve gotten.