Mary Carillo: I Want To "Sit In The Big-Boy Chair," Do Play-By-Play

10/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Robin Finn New York Times

Just out of spitting distance of the spray from the fountains that frame the Unisphere, Mary Carillo was waiting, and waiting, to interview Dinara Safina, the strapping young tennis player from Russia -- a prospective world No. 1 -- who had just earned the herculean task of confronting a resurgent Serena Williams in the semifinals of the United States Open.

Which in turn earned her an off-court, on-camera chat with Ms. Carillo, herself a former player, albeit one who peaked and retired ranked 33rd in the world at age 23 after a career of just four years (chronically bum knees) and a single Grand Slam title (1977 French Open mixed doubles, partnered by a not-yet-iconic John McEnroe).

A sports commentator since 1980, and the winner of an Emmy (for her work on "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel") and two Peabodys (for the HBO documentaries "Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer" and "Dare to Compete: The Struggle of Women in Sports"), she aspires to a somewhat loftier ranking in her second career. Her breakthrough goal: to provide play-by-play analysis, not color commentary and folksy features.

"In sports, it's hard for a woman to get to sit in the big-boy chair," she said. "Television sports are still, in the minds of the networks, the province of men, sort of the last bastion of machismo. And there is definitely, looking at sports like football and baseball, an attitude that a woman has no business in the booth doing play-by-play because women do not traditionally grow up playing those sports. But tennis is a little different; I'd like to think the day will come when I can sit in that big-boy chair for my sport and show them a woman can perform in that role."

But for the moment, she was deep into Week 2 of the Open, standing next to a fountain with a microphone clipped to her shirt. Actually, pacing next to a fountain.

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