Deadspin has a lengthy profile of Doris Burke from Lyndsey D’Arcangelo, and it’s an excellent read, with Burke talking about her career, about how she learned to lighten up on air, and about how she feels her gender and conventional expectations for female broadcasters held her back at times. Some of the most interesting comments are from Burke’s colleagues, though, with WNBA and women’s college basketball analyst LaChina Robinson and NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy (who’s known Burke for decades, as they coached at Providence at the same time way back when) delivering not just high praise of her, but a discussion of the impact she’s had in opening doors for other women:
“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.”
“I think Doris has reached a level of success and respect that some people never saw a woman working in a man’s world reaching. Not only is she the gold standard for women in sports broadcasting, but really for people in general because the way that she has done it has been through a lot of hard work and integrity,” added WNBA and women’s college basketball analyst LaChina Robinson. “There have been times where some people hear a women’s voice on an NBA broadcast and they turn it off. Doris had to pave the way for the rest of us and take all of the criticism and to prove herself far beyond what any man would have had to do in this business in order to make a way for the rest of us to pursue a career that we love. What she has done for the business of broadcasting itself is priceless.”
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is for women and minorities in this industry,” Van Gundy said. “Even 15 years ago, you’d wouldn’t have seen this—a female analyst covering a game. Doris is, in her own way, a pioneer. She helped knock down a barrier and it wasn’t easy. She had to be great. Because if she wasn’t, it wouldn’t have made a difference.”
There’s another story in there from colleague Rebecca Lobo as well about how much effort Burke put into helping her develop as a broadcaster, with Lobo saying “What people don’t see is how much she helps young women who want to follow in her footsteps.” And Burke also acknowledges how she wants to pave the way for other women. That’s similar to what her ESPN colleague Jessica Mendoza said earlier this year, and it’s a lofty goal; women are getting more and more sports broadcasting opportunities all the time, but they still face significant barriers and still hold only a fraction of high-profile jobs, so there’s a long way to go.
And it’s not easy for female broadcasters even when they reach a high-profile job. Burke has some frank words in there about some of the online abuse she’s taken, and some of the challenges she’s faced, including feeling stuck at lower levels of broadcasting, having to deal with difficult interviewees like Gregg Popovich, and feeling pressure to change her appearance (which adds further context to how she shot down Jalen Rose’s criticisms of Michelle Beadle’s outfit back in June).
Still, Burke has certainly proven to be a knowledgeable and insightful analyst and reporter at multiple levels of men’s and women’s basketball, and she’s doing a great job of paving the way for others. And it looks like she’ll be doing so for some time to come, and focusing even more on men’s college basketball and the NBA this coming year. It’s terrific to see her getting some well-deserved recognition, both as a profile subject and as someone who receives this kind of praise from colleagues.