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.
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.