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Ms. Pam Oliver, Weaves and Women in SportsCasting

I am not much of a sports fan.  I mean, I like to watch the NBA Finals, the SuperBowl…you know, I’m a fair weather sports enthusiast only watching when BIG events are coming up.  So I was taken off guard when FaceBook and Twitter blew up with remarks about soon to retire Pam Oliver, a woman who began her journalism career in 1985 and began sports journalism in 1991.  The remarks weren’t about Oliver per say but her HAIR.  This is an old story dating back to 1/14 when Oliver provided sideline commentary for the National Football Conference.  I won’t honor the comments by repeating them here but let’s just say that folks (many of them Black apparently) took umbrage with what they considered a bad weave.

Fast forward to 7/14 and it was announced that Oliver would no longer be on the “A” team comprised of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman that has been together for mor ethan a decade.  Instead, Oliver would be relegated to the “B” team. Oliver’s replacement on the “A” team?  Erin Andrews, who began her sports journalism career in 2000 and recently began hosting Dancing with the Stars.  

Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews

Image found at Eonline!

Again, this is somewhat old hat but I’m bringing it up now because I recently learned of an Essence interview that Oliver did for the magazine’s 10/14 issue.   In the interview, Oliver details how hurt she was by her demotion and how she had to learn to move on.  She adds that she believes that she wasn’t removed because of her race but perhaps because of her age.  Others have chimed in that the 1/14 social media uproar over her hair as well as the TV station’s desire to have a new, younger, blonder cohort of journalists may have also contributed to the decision.  Oliver stated “It’s not difficult to notice that the new on-air people there are all young, bond and “hot”.” (Essence, 2014).

This is so unfortunate to me.  Granted, I’m not a sports fan but when I have tuned into sports events, I find Oliver’s commentary to be sharp, insightful and personal.  She seems able to connect with the players, coaches and fans in a way that is authentic.  I haven’t seen Andrews in action.  But, I listened to a HuffPost Live interview with several sportscasters / media personalities.  During the discussion, the panelists made two key points.  First, Pam Oliver is the top in the field, bar none.  It will be difficult to replace the social and professional capital she’s accrued during her career.  Second, why in the world are most sideline reporters female.  Is there some sort of force field in the TV studio that only permits males, causing women to spontaneously combust when they approach the inner sanctum (please, hear the sarcasm in my voice)?

I also wonder why the debate becomes boiled down to Oliver versus Andrews rather than broadened to focus on the entrenched gender discrimination in sports reporting?  If a knowledgable, well-liked person like Oliver can be replaced at the drop of a…weave, what is sideline reporting REALLY about?

What do you all think?  Is this about agism?  Racism?  Sexism?  Feminism?  Please, weigh in.

  • Sharifa

    Great article. I’m a fellow “fair weather sports fan” (except for college football, I watch all of the FSU games…go Noles!).

    That being said, perhaps the “X factor” is that the Andrews also hosts DWTS. That show has a cult like following and network execs can reasonably expect for Andrews to pull some of that attention to the sporting events. Could it be about age? Maybe. Could it be about race? Perhaps. Could it be about money? Absolutely.

    Being more seasoned and experienced doesn’t always translate to the bottom line, which in this case is viewership which impacts advertising revenue.

  • Nadia

    I am not a fair weather fan. I am a sports addict. My TVs (yes, plural) are also on ESPN. I have to say that I was guilty many times of making derogatory comments about Pam Oliver’s bad hair days but it also didn’t keep me from appreciating her tremendous works as a sports journalist. But I’m an equal opportunity abuser when it comes to that. I get distracted when anything physical, hair, makeup, tic, etc. is noticeable. I was very struck with Pam Oliver’s demotion not because of race, gender or hair but on the merits. Pam is a far more superior journalist than Erin Andrews, Sam Ponder and a whole slew of others. But that’s the way of the business. It happens in the newsroom too, where maturer, seasoned anchors and reporters and traded in for younger and fresher faced though not necessarily better.

  • MeredithD

    Being a woman that watches NFL football as a religion, I can say that I have always found Pam Oliver to be honest, knowledgeable and not afraid to ask the players and coaches those hard but needed questions. The last thing I look as is her hair, or weave. Yes, I do think that overall there is a bit of sexism in terms of women working the sidelines rather than being in the booth. Granted these women have not been on the gridiron like many of the male commentators, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know the game nor can provide insight, which is what I feel drives them to being relegated to the sidelines. No one has really given them the opportunity to showcase their insight into male dominated sports. Now, as far as Oliver being passed over for Andrews, its a sad fact but it happens all the time in the media. Not to say that Andrews isnt a capable reporter, but networks will push aside the veterans for the next “it” girl. It’s like Hollywood. Once you hit a point you go from being the love interest to the love interests parent. Until we as a society start putting more stock in wisdom over youth, we will continue to see this happen.

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