Although Suzanne Smith refuses to be labeled a pioneer, it’s hard to not use the term when discussing her accomplishments. As the first and only woman directing NFL games, the CBS Sports director may remain behind the camera, but she is no less of an inspiration to young girls looking to join the sports industry.
Working as an associate director for the NCAA in 1988, Smith presented her proposal for how the upcoming Volleyball National Championship should be covered.
“OK, hotshot, you think you know so much? You’re going to direct the event,” she recalled her boss saying in an interview with WISE. “I panicked. I thought I was just giving the idea for the event, not directing it. But he pushed me to do it. This was pivotal. It launched me into my first directing assignment. It taught me about being proactive and believing my ideas are as good as everyone else’s and maybe even a little better.”
Since 1988, Smith has directed NCAA basketball tournaments, NFL games, Olympic games and U.S. Open tennis championships–quite an impressive list for someone who refuses to consider herself a trailblazer.
For years Smith has worked to master her profession with the mindset that no one should be able to tell whether a man or woman is directing each game. She arrives at the stadium five hours before kickoff, ensuring each camera hits the right angle and checking in with crew members.
“Her camera operators would run through a wall for her, they believe in her vision and her leadership,” play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle told Sports Illustrated.
The respect Smith has garnered from her colleagues is evident in her reception of the 2017 Association of Women in Sports Media Mary Garber Pioneer Award.
While she has been recognized for laying the groundwork for future women in the field, she is deeply adamant about the irrelevance of her gender, sexuality, and race as it pertains to her job.
“Someone walks in the room and they see you are a female. That’s what people see. My crew knows I am the person directing the show.I’m not a female director. I’m not a gay director. I’m not a white director. I am the director of the show,” Smith told Sports Illustrated. “Has there been some backlash? Absolutely. Have there been some incidents with people? Yes. It is just part of it, but also it is part of our daily lives.”
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