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Phyllis George: Trailblazing Sportscaster
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Phyllis George, the former Miss America who became a trailblazing sportscaster and actress, died on May 14, 2020 at the age of 70. She made history as one of the first women to have a prominent on-air role in national sports broadcasting as a co-host of CBS Sports' "The NFL Today."

Early Life and Upbringing of Phyllis George

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Phyllis George was born on June 25, 1949 in Denton, Texas to a hard-working Methodist family. Growing up in the then-small town, her parents instilled in her a strong work ethic and sense of determination from a young age. George was a talented classical pianist in her youth before attending North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). Her striking beauty and infectious personality led her to compete in pageants, winning Miss Texas in 1970 on her second attempt. This opened the door for George to be crowned Miss America in 1971 at age 21. The Miss America title proved to be a launching pad for George's multifaceted career, giving her a national platform at a young age. "It was the springboard to everything I've done in my life," she later said of the achievement. The experience also honed George's poise and communication skills that would serve her well in her pioneering broadcasting career.
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Winning the Miss America Crown

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Phyllis George's journey to becoming Miss America in 1971 was a pivotal moment that launched her trailblazing career. After winning the Miss Texas title in 1970 on her second attempt, George went on to claim the national crown at age 21. Her striking beauty, charisma, and talent as a classical pianist helped her stand out among the 50 contestants. During the competition, George's poise and ease in front of the cameras was evident as she glided across the stage in an elegant chiffon gown. Her dimpled smile and perfect white teeth lit up the stage as she performed "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." The Miss America title proved to be a springboard for George's multifaceted career, providing her with a national platform at a young age. She traveled the world and gained valuable experience that would later help her become a groundbreaking sportscaster and television personality. George's Miss America journey also reflected the cultural backdrop of the early 1970s. Her win came amidst the women's liberation movement and protests at the pageant by feminists. While George did not identify as a feminist, her subsequent trailblazing career helped break barriers for women in broadcasting.
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Pioneering CBS Sports Broadcaster

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Phyllis George's groundbreaking work as a sportscaster on "The NFL Today" earned her a place in the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. As one of the first women to co-host a national pregame football show, George helped pave the way for future generations of female sports journalists and broadcasters. When CBS Sports producers approached George about joining "The NFL Today" in 1974, it was a bold move to bring a former Miss America with limited TV experience into the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting. But George quickly proved herself, co-hosting the pregame show and providing insightful interviews with star athletes. Her warmth and ability to connect with players humanized them in a way rarely seen before. George co-hosted "The NFL Today" pregame from 1975-1978 and again from 1980-1983, working alongside broadcasting legends like Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder. The show was a ratings hit, and George's popularity was a key factor in its success. Beyond football, George was a versatile broadcaster, covering premier events like the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Super Bowl and Rose Bowl for CBS. She also co-anchored the "CBS Morning News" in 1985, further demonstrating her talent and wide-ranging appeal. Phyllis George's pioneering work in sports broadcasting opened doors for the many women who followed in her footsteps. Her legacy as a trailblazer who broke down barriers in a tough industry is cemented in the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
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Versatile Television Host

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In addition to her groundbreaking work on "The NFL Today," Phyllis George showcased her versatility as a broadcaster by taking on a variety of other television roles. In 1978, she briefly hosted a TV version of People magazine.
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This allowed George to expand beyond sports and cover entertainment and human interest stories. George made history again in 1985 when she was named co-anchor of the "CBS Morning News," becoming one of the first women to anchor a national morning news show.
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Although her tenure was short-lived, it further demonstrated George's ability to succeed in different formats. In the 1990s, George continued to be a pioneering presence on television. She hosted her own prime-time talk show, "A Phyllis George Special," in 1994, where she landed a coveted interview with then-President Bill Clinton.
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George also hosted a cable talk show, "Women's Day," on the PAX network in 1998.
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These shows gave George a platform to discuss a wide range of issues and connect with newsmakers and celebrities. Throughout her diverse television career, Phyllis George displayed a unique combination of warmth, intelligence, and skill as an interviewer.
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Her ability to transition seamlessly between different genres - from sports to news to entertainment - was a testament to her talent and versatility as a broadcaster.
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These varied roles beyond "The NFL Today" solidified George's status as a trailblazing figure in television history.
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Successful Entrepreneur and Businesswoman

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In addition to her pioneering work in television, Phyllis George was also a successful entrepreneur. She launched her own line of beauty products, Phyllis George Beauty, which offered cosmetics and skincare items. George also founded Chicken by George, a food company that specialized in marinated fresh chicken breast entrees. She later sold the chicken company to Hormel Foods. These business ventures showcased George's versatility and savvy. She was able to leverage her popularity and name recognition into thriving brands. The beauty line and food company allowed George to connect with fans in new ways and expand her reach beyond television. George's entrepreneurial spirit was yet another example of her ability to break barriers and succeed in multiple fields. At a time when few women were launching their own businesses, she fearlessly entered the competitive world of retail and built successful brands from the ground up. Her accomplishments as an entrepreneur further solidified her status as a pioneering female figure who refused to be limited by traditional gender roles.
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Awards and Honors

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Phyllis George was a pioneering figure who achieved numerous accolades throughout her multifaceted career. Some of her most notable awards and achievements include:
  • Winning the Miss America pageant in 1971, which launched her into the national spotlight and opened doors for her future endeavors.
  • Becoming the first female co-anchor on the national sports show "The NFL Today" in 1975, breaking barriers in the male-dominated field of sports broadcasting.
  • Being named one of the top 10 Kentucky Women of the Century by the Kentucky Commission on Women in 1999.
  • Receiving the NCAA's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, in 2001 for her contributions to college sports.
  • Being inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 2005, recognizing her trailblazing role as a female sportscaster.
  • Having an annual award named after her, the Phyllis George Diversity in Media Award, which honors journalists who demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
These achievements highlight George's significant impact as a pioneering woman who broke down barriers and paved the way for future generations in various industries.
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Trailblazing Television Sports Pioneer

Phyllis George was a true television pioneer who broke barriers for women in sports broadcasting. Her groundbreaking work as a co-host on "The NFL Today" in 1975 made her one of the first women to have a prominent role in national sports television. As a former Miss America, George brought a fresh perspective and charisma to the male-dominated world of sports announcers. Despite facing criticism for her beauty queen background, George proved herself as a talented broadcaster. She became known for her insightful interviews with star athletes, showcasing a unique ability to connect with her subjects and bring out their personalities. Her charm and intelligence lit up millions of homes each week. George's success on "The NFL Today" opened doors for her in other areas of television. She co-anchored the "CBS Morning News" in 1985 and hosted prime-time interview specials where she spoke with notable figures like President Bill Clinton. Her diverse skill set allowed her to excel as an actress, television host, and even an entrepreneur, founding her own businesses in the food and beauty industries. Through it all, George demonstrated an unwavering strength and determination to succeed in the challenging, male-dominated businesses of sports and television. She paved the way for the many talented women who followed in her footsteps in sports journalism and broadcasting. Phyllis George will forever be remembered as a true trailblazer whose pioneering spirit and versatile talents made an indelible mark on television.
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Personal Life and Death

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Phyllis George was married twice, first to Hollywood producer Robert Evans and later to Kentucky Fried Chicken owner and Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown Jr. She served as Kentucky's First Lady during Brown's term. George had two children with Brown - Lincoln Tyler George Brown and Pamela Ashley Brown, who is a CNN White House correspondent. Both of George's marriages ended in divorce. She passed away at age 70 on May 14, 2020 at the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington due to complications from polycythemia vera, a rare blood disorder she had managed for over 35 years.
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Closing Thoughts

Phyllis George's unwavering spirit and determination allowed her to break barriers and inspire millions, even as she faced the winds of adversity throughout her remarkable life. As a pioneering female sportscaster, she brought a fresh perspective to The NFL Today, conducting insightful interviews with star athletes that were emulated for decades. Her charm and natural ability to connect with people extended beyond sports, as evidenced by her popularity as First Lady of Kentucky and even a potential candidate for governor. Tragically, George passed away at age 70 from polycythemia vera, a rare blood cancer she battled valiantly for over 35 years. Her death is a heartbreaking loss, but her legacy as a trailblazer who opened doors for women in sportscasting and beyond will endure. Phyllis George showed that with talent, perseverance and an indomitable spirit, a person can overcome doubters and obstacles to achieve their dreams while uplifting others. Her life story will continue to motivate and encourage people across the country who strive to make a positive impact in the face of life's challenges.
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