May 18, 2020 10:03 AM

Phyllis George, female sportscasting pioneer, dies at 70

Posted May 18, 2020 10:03 AM

Phyllis George, the former Miss America who became a female sportscasting pioneer on CBS’s “The NFL Today” and served as the first lady of Kentucky, has died. She was 70.

A family spokeswoman said George died Thursday at a Lexington, Kentucky, hospital after a long fight with a blood disorder.

Her children, Lincoln Tyler George Brown and CNN White House correspondent Pamela Ashley Brown, released a joint statement, saying:

“For many, Mom was known by her incredible accomplishments as the pioneering female sportscaster, 50th Miss America and first lady. But this was all before we were born and never how we viewed Mom. To us, she was the most incredible mother we could ever ask for, and it is all of the defining qualities the public never saw, especially against the winds of adversity, that symbolize how extraordinary she is more than anything else. The beauty so many recognized on the outside was a mere fraction of her internal beauty, only to be outdone by an unwavering spirit that allowed her to persevere against all the odds.”

Miss America in 1971, George joined Brent Musburger and Irv Cross in 1975 on “The NFL Today.” Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder later was added to the cast.

“Phyllis George was special. Her smile lit up millions of homes for the NFL Today,” Musburger tweeted. “Phyllis didn’t receive nearly enough credit for opening the sports broadcasting door for the dozens of talented women who took her lead and soared.”

George spent three seasons on the live pregame show, returned in 1980 and left in 1983, winning plaudits for her warmth of her interviews with star athletes. She also covered horse racing, hosted the entertainment show “People” and co-anchored the “CBS Morning News.”

George was briefly married to Hollywood producer Robert Evans in the mid-1970s and to John Y. Brown Jr. from 1979-98. Brown owned Kentucky Fried Chicken and the NBA’s Boston Celtics and served as the governor of Kentucky.

“Phyllis was a great asset to Kentucky,” Brown told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “We had a great partnership. I think we enjoyed every single day.”

From Denton, Texas, George attended the University of North Texas for three years, then went to Texas Christian University after earning a scholarship as Miss Texas in 1970.

In her 2002 memoir, George wrote that a male friend told her sportscasting wouldn’t work because it was a man’s job. George even acknowledged knowing nothing about the industry and having neither experience nor another female mentor to follow.

None of it stopped her.

George was a friend of minister Norman Vincent Peale and a devout believer in his best-selling philosophy of positive thinking. George credited that approach for launching a defining career she didn’t expect — one that saw her range into an astonishing variety of ventures and roles, in media, the film industry, food and beauty products, and as the glamorous first lady of the bluegrass state.

“Saying yes to yourself opens up opportunities that can take you anywhere,” George wrote. “Having a mentor in your life who says yes to you is also key. Appreciate your mentors when you’re starting out. And later, always give credit to the people who were there with you at the beginning.”

ESPN sportscaster Hannah Storm remembered George as “the ultimate trailblazer” who inspired other women by showing that careers in sportscasting could be within their grasp.

“A lot of times when you’re dreaming of something as a career option, you have to see it in order to believe it,” she said. “And someone has to be first, and that was Phyllis.”

Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, called George’s hiring as part of “The NFL Today” team a “groundbreaking decision” that “changed the face of sports television.”

“She had an openness and enthusiasm that made her a valuable contributor,” Pilson said. “She didn’t claim to know a tremendous amount about sports, but she knew about people, which is why her interviews resonated. She could do the best interviews with athletes and family members. She was a warm person and that came through on the set and in the interviews.”

George conducted one-on-one interviews with star athletes such as NFL greats Joe Namath and Roger Staubach.

“People were uncomfortable with the idea of seeing a woman on TV talking about sports in a prominent role,” Storm said. “But someone has to go first. I give her so much respect for truly her courage. She had to put herself out there. Phyllis George did something out of the norm. And I’m forever grateful for her leading the way.”

George wasn’t the first but made her entrance around the time that other women were getting their starts reporting on sports, too.

Jane Chastain was hired at CBS in 1974 and became the first female announcer on an NFL telecast that fall.

Lesley Visser became the first female NFL beat writer during a 14-year career at The Boston Globe that started in 1974. She later worked on “The NFL Today” as well as ABC and ESPN, becoming the first woman assigned to “Monday Night Football” in 1998.

Visser said George “always made you feel important and warm. I never heard her talk about anyone in a negative way. She made everything look so easy. She had a magnetic personality.”

The industry discovered George after she co-hosted “Candid Camera” and the Miss America pageant. She received a 13-week option from CBS in 1974 without a defined role. But a popular interview with reluctant Boston Celtics star Dave Cowens soon earned her a three-year deal and paved the way to her breakthrough role the next year on “The NFL Today.”

“Phyllis George was a great person and a true pioneer for women in television,” President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday.

George moved on to co-host the “CBS Morning News” in 1985 but quit after less than eight months. Among the people she interviewed was former first lady Nancy Reagan. She later interviewed President Bill Clinton in 1994 as part of her own prime-time talk show.

As a businesswoman, George founded “Chicken By George,” an eight-item line of fresh, marinated chicken breast entrees, and sold it two years later to Geo. A. Hormel & Co. She created “Phyllis George Beauty” in 2003. The cosmetic and skincare product line was sold through a TV home shopping network.

She also wrote several other books and had roles in a pair of Hollywood comedy films.

“Phyllis is a pioneer. Her range is what impresses me the most,” former Kentucky and Louisville coach Rick Pitino, now at Iona, wrote in the forward to her memoir, “Never Say Never: Ten lessons to turn you can’t into YES I CAN.”

“She entered a highly competitive pageant and emerged as Miss America,” Pitino wrote. “She became the first national female sports broadcaster. She flourished in the limelight as First Lady in the state of Kentucky. She’s been successful in business. And she is a respected humanitarian. Each step along the way, she embraced the mission at hand.”

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May 18, 2020 10:03 AM
Monday Sports Headlines

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick was the winner as NASCAR resumed its Cup schedule following a 10-week layoff caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Harvick took the lead from Alex Bowman on a late restart and pulled away over the final 30 laps in front of empty stands at Darlington Raceway. Bowman finished second, followed by Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. The event was run without fans and with an emphasis on masks and social distancing.

JUNO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Rory McIlroy delivered the money shot in the TaylorMade Driving Relief exhibition that raised $5 million for COVID-19 relief funds. With the match down to a closest-to-the-pin contest after regulation, McIlroy barely stayed on the shelf left of the pin, measured at 13 feet to beat Matthew Wolff’s attempt by five feet. The final carryover gave McIlroy and Dustin Johnson $1.85 million for the American Nurses Foundation.

HOUSTON (AP) — A 5-year-old boy and a woman drowned in the backyard pool of former major league outfielder Carl Crawford's Houston home Saturday afternoon. That’s according to reports from The Houston Chronicle. The paper says Houston police were called for a reported drowning at a north Houston home that property and business records list as belonging to Crawford. A police spokeswoman told the Chronicle that the boy was swimming in the pool when he began to have trouble breathing, and the woman jumped in to save him.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — New York Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker and Seattle corner Quinton Dunbar have been released from Broward County Jail after surrendering Saturday on felony charges stemming from a cookout at a Miramar home. Baker posted a $200,000 bond and is charged with four counts of armed robbery with a firearm and four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. Dunbar posted a $100,000 bond and is charged with four felony counts of armed robbery.

HOUSTON (AP) — Authorities say Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver was arrested during a traffic stop in the Houston area and charged with drunken driving and illegally carrying a handgun. Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies pulled Oliver over Saturday night after receiving reports of someone driving recklessly in a construction area. The Montgomery County Constables say that Oliver failed a sobriety test and deputies found a small caliber pistol in his truck.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SPORTS

Cal. State teams could play football as scheduled

UNDATED (AP) — The California State University system’s plan for a mostly virtual fall semester due to the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t necessarily close the door on football at its three schools that play in the far-flung Mountain West Conference.

San Diego State athletic director John David Wicker says the school is looking at having football players return to campus no earlier than July 7 and is making plans to play the season as scheduled. SDSU is proceeding because it envisions a fall schedule that includes a hybrid model of classes, in which some students will be on campus for in-person instruction such as labs while other classes will be held online.

The Mountain West also includes Cal. State schools Fresno State and San Jose State. Fresno State AD Terry Tumey says it’s too early to determine when athletes could return to campus, adding that the safety of the community, the players and support staff is paramount. San Jose State said in a statement that it continues to work on timelines.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said recently that campuses must be open “in one fashion or another” in order to have sports this fall.

In other developments related to the coronavirus pandemic:

— Former major league manager and infielder Art Howe has been released from a Houston hospital after a stay in intensive care because of the pandemic. The 73-year-old Howe will be isolated at home for another week or two.

— English Premier League clubs will try on Monday to agree on protocols to allow a return to training during the pandemic. Teams already have started checking players and coaches for COVID-19, with a total of 1,600 weekly tests anticipated across the 20 clubs in England's top division. Monday’s meeting comes two days after the German league resumed its schedule.

— All Spanish league clubs can begin group training sessions this week despite stricter lockdown restrictions remaining in place in parts of Spain because of the pandemic. Cities like Madrid and Barcelona have not been allowed to loosen confinement measures like most of the country, but teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona have been given the go-ahead to move into the second phase of training. The league has told clubs that on Monday all players can start small group sessions regardless of the lockdown phase in their regions. Players had only been allowed to train individually across Spain until now.

— Park Hyun-kung shot a final-round 67 to win the Korean Ladies Professional Golf tournament by one stroke. Park had a four-round total of 17-under 271 on the Lakewood Country Club course. Lim Hee-jeong carried a three-stroke lead into the final round before falling into a second-place tie with Bae Seon-woo. The tournament was played without fans and with players using hand sanitizers and following social-distancing rules. Caddies wore masks but players were allowed to play without them.

— Russia has relaxed border restrictions for athletes and coaches in a move that will help soccer to restart in the country next month. Russia has barred most foreign arrivals since March in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Now the government says athletes and coaches will be allowed in if they have a contract with a Russian sports team or organization. They will have to spend 14 days in isolation on arrival and will be observed by doctors.

MLB-CRAWFORD-POOL DROWNING

Two drown at property owned by ex-outfielder Carl Crawford

HOUSTON (AP) — A 5-year-old boy and a woman drowned in the backyard pool of former LA Dodger player Carl Crawford's Houston home Saturday afternoon. That’s according to reports from The Houston Chronicle.

The paper says Houston police were called for a reported drowning at a north Houston home that property and business records list as belonging to Crawford. A police spokeswoman told the Chronicle that the boy was swimming in the pool when he began to have trouble breathing, and the woman jumped in to save him. Both were unresponsive when police arrived and later declared dead at a hospital, according to the spokeswoman.

No further details were immediately available.

The police department did not immediately respond Sunday to a request for comment from The Associated Press. Contact information for Crawford could not be immediately found.

NFL-ROBBERY

Baker, Dunbar released after posting bond

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — NFL cornerbacks DeAndre Baker and Quinton Dunbar were released from Broward County Jail on Sunday, a day after surrendering on felony charges stemming from a cookout at a Miramar home.

Baker posted a $200,000 bond after a Zoom hearing with Broward Circuit Judge Michael Davis. The New York Giants defender is charged with four counts of armed robbery with a firearm and four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

Dunbar is charged with four felony counts of armed robbery. The Seattle Seahawks player posted a $100,000 bond.

The warrant said Baker and Dunbar were attending the cookout Wednesday night when a fight broke out and Baker pulled out a handgun. Witnesses told investigators that Baker, Dunbar and two other men began robbing people of thousands of dollars, watches and other valuables.

The players’ lawyers say they have witnesses who will clear them.

NFL-BILLS PLAYER ARRESTED

Buffalo Bills player charged with drunken driving in Texas

HOUSTON (AP) — Authorities say Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver was arrested during a traffic stop in the Houston area and charged with drunken driving and illegally carrying a handgun.

Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies pulled Oliver over Saturday night after receiving reports of someone driving recklessly in a construction area. Oliver failed a sobriety test and deputies found a small caliber pistol in his truck, according to a statement from the Montgomery County Constables.

The Houston Chronicle reports that he was released from jail after posting bond.

Oliver was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 2019 draft.

SOUTH KOREA-SEX DOLLS

Korean soccer club apologizes for putting sex dolls in seats

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean professional soccer club has apologized after being accused of putting sex dolls in empty stands during a match in Seoul.

In a statement, FC Seoul expresses “sincere remorse” over the controversy. It insists that it used mannequins, not sex dolls, to mimic a crowd at the Seoul World Cup stadium.

The country’s top-flight K-League returned to action on May 8 without spectators following weeks-long postponements because of the coronavirus.

Professional baseball has resumed under similar conditions. The leagues plan to ban fans until the risks of infections are meaningfully lowered.