Phyllis George, the former 1971 Miss America who became a female sportscasting pioneer on CBS’ “The NFL Today,” has died. She was 70.
A family spokeswoman said George died Thursday at a Lexington 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 to have. 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 statement also pointed out that the beauty they recognized outside of her was a mere fraction of Phyllis’s internal beauty, only outdone by an unwavering spirit that allowed their mother to persevere against all the odds.”
As Miss America in 1971, George got into television in 1974 at CBS on “Candid Camera” and 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 worked on “The NFL Today” until 1984 and also covered horse racing. She hosted the entertainment show “People” and later co-anchored the “CBS Morning News.”
George was briefly married to Hollywood producer Robert Evans in the mid-1970s and 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.
“A true pioneer who approached her job with enthusiasm, empathy, and humor,” ESPN broadcaster Hannah Storm tweeted. “She was herself-charming and funny .. helped her audiences connect with some of the great sports figures of the day.”
According to ex-husband John Brown Jr, George, the first woman to be a sportscaster for a major television network, died on Thursday at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. The former Kentucky governor told the Louisville Courier-Journal that George died from complications due to a blood disorder.
George got viewed as a pioneer due to her role on the CBS studio show with Brent Musburger and Irv Cross. Jimmy, “The Greek” Snyder, was part of the show for some of the years.
George served two stints on the show — totaling eight seasons — between 1975-84. Musburger was a strong backer of George, who often had her knowledge of football questioned because she was a woman as well as a beauty queen.
“Phyllis George was special. Her smile lit up millions of homes for the NFL Today,” Musburger said in a statement posted on Twitter. “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.
“Folks — men and women — were comfortable with Phyllis talking about their favorite sport. And in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, they loved Phyllis despite her Dallas Cowboys bias!
“RIP Phyllis George. Irv Cross, and I will miss you dearly.”
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus expressed condolences on behalf of the network.
“The CBS Sports family deeply saddened by the passing of Phyllis George, an icon in the sports broadcasting industry who contributed greatly to the rich history and tradition of CBS Sports,” McManus said in a statement. “Phyllis was not only a key member of a show that remains the gold standard of NFL pregame shows, The NFL Today with Brent, Irv and ‘The Greek,’ but also a pioneer for all women in broadcasting.”
George was born in Denton, Texas. After winning Miss America, she relocated to New York City and eventually was hired by CBS in 1974.
One year later, she was in the high-profile studio role, and it didn’t start well. George said she received a barrage of hate mail and had to prove that he was more than “BQ — you know, beauty queen.”
“When you’re the first, you’re a pioneer,” George told USA Today in a 1999 interview. “I felt they didn’t know who Phyllis George was. They played me up as a former Miss America, a sex symbol. I can’t help how I look, but below the surface, I was a hard-working woman. If I hadn’t made that work, women eventually would have come into sportscasting, but it would have taken them longer.”
After the show won multiple Emmys, George figured that proved she knew football.
ESPN’s Hannah Storm is one of the women working in sports who is thankful for George’s efforts.
“Rest In Peace Phyllis George,” Storm said on Twitter. “A true pioneer who approached her job with enthusiasm, empathy, and humor. She was herself-charming and funny helped her audiences connect with some of the great sports figures of the day. Condolences to her family & all who loved her.”