By Charlie Vascellaro
If she talks like a football player, that's because she was a quarterback in the women's pro football league. If she looks like a Playboy pinup, that's because she posed for Playboy. Stop Googling; it's the September 2002 issue.
"I look at myself as a sports chick not a supermodel," says ESPN radio host Anita Marks.
Since 1200 B.C., when the first Aztec cheerleaders lined up on the sidelines for matches of Juego de Pelota, also a fertility ritual, sports and sex just go together, like hand and glove, ball and hoops. That many guys appreciate the fairer sex as an accompaniment to spectator sports is not lost on ESPN, so Radio 1300 has found Anita Marks.
"Want to get to first base with Anita?" goes the promo. "Join her team and maybe she'll give you a little pat on the ass." What is left to the imagination is: "And then you can pat hers."
"It definitely works," said Marks, pointing out that her listeners are mostly men ages 18-52.
"I look at myself as a sports chick not a supermodel," she said. "I don't wear make up. But because I did Playboy, Muscle and Fitness and some modeling, that side of me gets a lot of play. When I hear that ad I kind of get a little squeamish. I'm really just one of the guys."
Sure. And Ray Lewis is just one of the girls.
Marks arrives for breakfast in a t-shirt and shorts, topped with an Orioles cap. She might be on her way to the gym. She will not be mistaken for any one of the guys at Lenny's Deli in Owings Mills.
A five-year veteran of a women's professional football league, Marks was the quarterback for the Miami Fury of the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL) for four years beginning in 1999 and for the now defunct Florida Stingrays of the Women's Professional Football League (WPFL) for another year. She has the battle scars to prove it.
"I still have some severe injuries from playing as long as I have," said Marks. "I've torn my ACL three times. I've had five knee surgeries. I've had my nose reconstructed. I've had an AC joint separation, a shoulder impingement. My L5 is out of whack, and will be for the rest of my life. I have a sciatic nerve problem and I have a shattered sesmoid bone. Johnny Damon has a broken sesmoid bone. I have a shattered one. It's two floating bones that lie underneath your big toe. I do run on it but it hurts a little bit. I play with a carbon fiber plate in my cleat."
And in fact she is still playing, quarterbacking an all-male flag football team in Hunt Valley, as well as being the only woman in a men's pickup basketball league on Monday nights in Towson.
"I enjoy playing sports with men," said Marks. "I like playing with men more than I like playing with women. There's too much drama with women."
She reluctantly accepts the term "jock," as a means of identification admitting an addiction to competitive sports that she cannot break.
"No I can't," said Marks, one-upping herself by listing more of her athletic pursuits. "I've played several golf courses since I've been here. I love to play golf. I'm also looking to get on a softball team."
The move from playing in the male-dominated arena of professional sports to working in the testosterone-fueled world of sports talk radio completes a circle for Marks who graduated from University of South Florida with a degree in communications and later worked as a sports television producer for 10 years.
"I graduated from college in 1992. Women's professional football has surfaced and failed and surfaced and failed. It resurfaced in 1999," Marks said. "A gentleman by the name of J.T. Turner, who played for the Minnesota Vikings, ran the league. A year later he created the Miami Fury team that I played for."
Marks' segue into sports talk radio came after former Miami Dolphin running back Jim Kiick heard her as a guest and wanted her to be on his Monday Night Football pre-game radio show for Fox Sports' Miami affiliate station. Soon she found herself with an afternoon show.
Being one of few women in her profession and a newcomer to the Baltimore sports scene is both a blessing and curse to Marks, who acknowledges the niche she occupies.
"It is a double edged sword," she said. "First and foremost there is a lot of skepticism because I am a female, but then when they realize that I am sports savvy and I do my homework and I am knowledgeable and I am credible, then it plays to my advantage because I am an oddity. There are not a lot of women hosting sports talk radio."
So far the response she has received to her show has been mostly positive, with the exception of some provincially-spirited e-mails.
"I've gotten a few 'you don't belong here,' 'you don't know the Baltimore way,' 'you don't know the Baltimore customs' 'you should be in New York or L.A.' or 'go back to Miami,'" she said.
Baltimore is brand new to Marks who had never been here before and did not know anything about the city.
"I knew that Miguel Tejada likes B-12 shots," she said. "That's what I knew and of course Johnny Unitas is an idol of mine and I've always had a fondness for Cal Ripken. My number has always been No. 8."
Having been in town for less than two months, Marks is still finding her lay of the land and receiving a crash course in Baltimore sports history.
"John Angelos e-mailed me an invitation to the ballpark to watch the game from Suite 33 and I said 'Are you a Larry Bird fan?'" said Marks, illustrating her sometimes embarrassing lack of local reference points. "He wrote me back and said we did have this guy who played for us named Eddie Murray who wore the number 33 and our old stadium was on 33rd Street. It's just going to take time."
Coming from the land of sun and fun throws Marks a curve, but she believes the plusses professionally outweigh the minuses.
"So many people ask me, 'why would you move here from Miami?'" said Marks. "But in my profession, Miami is not where it's at. Sports in Miami is a happening, it's not a love, it's not a passion. I've come to a city that has so much passion and love for their teams."
For the most part, on the air Marks is relatively soft spoken and congenial with a very girlish tone, but, like a lot of sports talk radio jocks, she is not above embracing or, in the case of one of last week's show, creating controversy. Last weekend when the Baltimore Orioles were in New York for a three-game series with the Mets, New York Post baseball beat writer Mark Hale was a guest on Marks' show.
It seems that Marks and board-operator Patrick Schuck's pet peeve is the Latinization of the New York Mets and general manager Omar Minaya's supposed intent to field an all-Latin squad, inappropriately labeled by Marks as a representation of South America.
"He wants to create a team solely based on South American players, specifically from the Dominican Republic," said Marks.
"He's racist and nobody's calling him out on it," Schuck said. Marks and Schuck then went on to propagate their own rumor that Minaya wanted to rid the Mets of star third baseman David Wright based on the fact that he was white.
When the guest reporter was asked to comment on Marks allegations, Hale disagreed.
"I think actually the criticism is pretty unfair," he said. "You look at the guys that Omar's acquired, and I know there has been a lot of attention on this subject but you look at the guys that Omar's acquired, I mean they're tremendous players. Two years ago in the off-season they went hard after Pedro Martinez, they went hard after Carlos Beltran and they made a bid for Carlos Delgado. Well it's true that all three of those players are from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico but they're also three of the best players in baseball."
"He did come flat out and say he wants to build a team of Latin-born players," Schuck said. "True or false?"
"I've never heard that," Hale said.
"I distinctly remember him saying that," Schuck said.
"I had heard that he had said that," added Marks, neither host substantiating the claim with a source.
This type of rebel-rousing is often the nature of sports talk radio, taking a contrary position or playing the devil's advocate to the point that agitated listeners might get fired up enough to pick up the phone and chime in with a retort.
Off the air Marks is decidedly less controversial and easily approachable.
Despite her amiable character, as far as her personal life is concerned, Marks says her unique position as a sports media celebrity both attracts and discourages potential suitors.
"I run into different types of men, guys who are absolutely thrilled about what I do," she said.
"Then there are other guys who just don't believe it. What do girls know about football? They're skeptical in the beginning. And other guys are intimidated because maybe they're not that athletic. Maybe I'll let them beat me at pool, if I like the guy. I'm probably the most competitive person you'll ever meet but if I'm hot for a guy I'll let him win."
But this Playboy model still wants us to think she's just one of the guys.
Issue 1.9: June 22, 2006