Nov 12, 2016
By MERI-JO BORZILLERI
Suzanne Smith parlayed an upbringing of playing and watching sports into a TV broadcast career where she calls the shots.
Smith, a director and producer for CBS Sports, is AWSM’s 2017 Mary Garber Pioneer Award winner. She is the first Pioneer winner in the field of TV production, and the only woman to currently direct NFL broadcasts for CBS Sports, where she has worked for three decades.
“I am humbled and honored to be selected by you,” Smith said. “My goal is we can keep getting the message out there.”
The “message” is that more women are needed in her field, where sideline reporters have substantial visibility, but few women occupy roles behind the camera. Fewer work in top positions like Smith.
Smith said it’s understandable how women in her position are rare – only 15 people direct NFL broadcasts, she said – but it’s more troubling when she looks to the future and TV production management in general.
“At some point there’s got to be some other women in the pipeline,” she said. “If I were to leave today, I think there’d be a long time before (another woman) directs or produces.”
The 2017 Pioneer Award will be presented at AWSM’s 30th convention, set for May 7-10 at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa outside Austin, Texas. The award has been given annually since 1999 to those who have distinguished themselves in the field while reflecting and advancing the values and mission of AWSM. The award was renamed for Garber in 2006 to honor one of the industry’s original pioneers. Read more about the Mary Garber Pioneer Award and its previous recipients.
“We are thrilled to honor Suzanne Smith as our Mary Garber Pioneer Award winner at our 30th anniversary convention,” AWSM president Jenny Dial Creech said. “Suzanne has helped paved the way for so many women covering sports at the highest level as she has broken down barriers in the NFL and with her broadcasting career.”
Smith is in charge of directing the images TV viewers see – live camera shots, replays, features — during the live broadcast. Smith has the respect in a profession dominated by men, from the crews she works with to those in the NFL, say those who work with her.
For example, Smith is one of seven or eight people in the room during weekly production meetings with CBS crew members and NFL coaches, players and others.
“When she shakes John Elway’s hand, he knows her,” said Jamie Erdahl, NFL on CBS reporter and 2011 AWSM scholarship winner who works on Smith’s crew. “We have coaches that give her hugs. They want to see her, they’re happy to see her … There’s automatically an air of trust.”
The first AWSM Pioneer award recipient was Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Lesley Visser, the NFL’s first female beat writer and the first woman to appear on “Monday Night Football.” Visser worked with Smith at CBS Sports and is part of the first women-only sports TV talk show, “We Need To Talk,” where Smith, a six-time sports Emmy winner, is coordinating producer.
“Suzanne Smith is the total package — kind, smart, effective, a leader (she even gives her frozen cameramen a hot-chocolate break when it’s zero degrees in Green Bay!),” Visser, AWSM’s inaugural Pioneer winner, wrote in an email. “Like everyone, I love her, I’m crazy for her talent and I’m so proud of AWSM for this woman and this choice.”
In Title IX’s early years, Smith juggled athletics and studies as a radio, TV and film major at Temple University. She was awarded Temple’s first volleyball scholarship and also played softball.
Her early hard work paid off with contacts and opportunities: She worked the Philadelphia’s Phillies’ new video board; freelanced for a fledgling ESPN; learned how a TV production truck worked; dug ditches to lay cable; covered boxing and horse jumping and directed local news.
Smith was inducted into Temple’s School of Communications Hall of Fame in 2008, and was honored with its Excellence in Media award.
Only recently has Smith been convinced, after prodding by others, she’s a pioneer.
“My hope is with this exposure in an organization like yours I can keep helping women and men,” said Smith, “(and) to be a good role model and show that women can do these things, even though there are so few women, even now, doing what I do.”