In the locker room of basketball’s Portland Trail Blazers, the cameramen were set for the post-game show. The producer was in the final countdown—”-4-3-2-1, you’re on, Jane.” Jane Chastain, the first woman to broadcast live sports over network television, started to talk. Suddenly, from the back of the room, someone whooped. “I just knew,” says Jane, “that some character was back there walking around a cappella. I just prayed he wouldn’t walk in front of the camera.”
Last summer when Bob Wussler, the eager new president of CBS Sports, set out to brighten his network’s coverage, he went looking for a woman—any woman. Jane was a natural for the job. Her father, who’d wanted a son, taught her team sports and in 1962, Chastain joined WAGA in Atlanta as football prognosticator. “It was a gimmick,” she admits, but she took it seriously, working day and night to sharpen her knowledge of every major sport. By 31, with 12 years of sportscasting for three major stations under her 23-inch belt, she signed a five-year CBS contract this past summer to do color on network sports. The money is in the lower six figures but the contract is open ended. So far she has covered football, basketball, tennis and bowling.
After her first NFL game in Denver this fall, CBS got the expected flood of sweaty letters of the “Football is a man’s game, we don’t need a broad around” variety. Even some nonchauvinistic fans felt that, feminism aside, she didn’t know the game intimately enough. Despite that criticism and a delivery that’s still pretty flat, a lot of viewers were glad to see a woman in the press box. They encouraged her to “hang in there.”
She hung in, and once-doubting pros in all sports have come to respect her. Joe DiMaggio, after two questions from Jane, said admiringly, “You know what you’re doing, don’t you!” Dolphin football coach Don Shula says, “Jane continually surprises us with her knowledge of the game—and we first thought she was just a good-looker.”
Her husband Roger, who owns an auto accessories firm, is her kindest critic. “He told me I should be lighter—less serious,” Chastain admits. (CBS agreed.) “It’s a problem, though,” says Jane. “I assume there are novices who need to know exactly what’s happening, and that offends the old diehards. Frankly, some men just hate to hear a woman talk sports. What they really want from me is a cross between Phyllis Diller and Margaret Mead.”