The news Monday was stunning. Pam Oliver is being moved to Fox Sports’ No. 2 announcing team and will work the sideline no more after this coming NFL season.
Erin Andrews, hired from ESPN by Fox in 2012, will replace Oliver with the top team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Among those who were stunned was Oliver, who resisted the move for the 2014 season and wanted to complete her 20th year reporting on the sidelines of the sport’s biggest games.
“To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking,” Oliver told Richard Deitsch of SI.com. “I said I wanted to do a 20th year. I expressed to them that I was not done and had something to offer. Again, I think it was predetermined coming in. Not at that meeting, but two years ago it was determined that no matter what I did or did not do, a change would be made for this year.”
Oliver, 53, will be a senior correspondent for Fox and Fox Sports 1 and she’s philosophical about the switch.
“The No. 2 team is not chopped liver,” Oliver told Deitsch. “It is an up-and-coming crew and a really good group of guys. They called me the other day and we had some laughs. So I will savor this year. I will get my goodbyes to the security guys and the fans I’ve known for years. It is not even remotely bad, not even anything remotely like ‘Poor me.’ I feel like I have landed in a pot of gold at this stage and how it could have gone. My role has changed. Sideline reporting is being phased out and I’m fortunate enough to get this year. I am lucky. I do know that.”
Oliver brought a professional approach to the job week after week. Neither breezy nor blonde, she supplied information without becoming a distraction to anyone other than internet trolls. Only last season did she become part of the story when she was struck on the head by a football and suffered a concussion. Andrews, 36, has done some solid work, but isn’t in the same league as Oliver or, for that matter, NBC’s Michele Tafoya. As Jeff Pearlman wrote in an eviscerating blog post:
Oliver is, truly, as good as it gets at this sort of job. She knows how to interview, and doesn’t merely ask fluff nonsense. She’s quick on the fly, researches the hell out of games, has a long and storied history of asking the right question at the right moment. She also has never, ever, ever used the medium to turn herself into a nonsense-endorsing celebrity spokesperson for dietary supplements and the like. In pro athlete translation, Erin Andrews would be, oh, Mark Sanchez; Pam Oliver is Peyton Manning.
However, Pam Oliver is also 53. And African-American. She isn’t white and blonde and perky. These days, that’s what sideline reporters almost always are—blonde and perky. They’re eye candy for the neanderthals who need eye candy.
He wasn’t alone in questioning the move.
We live in a world where TV execs think Tony Siragusa is “pretty enough” for the sidelines but Pam Oliver…I mean, c’mon.
— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) July 14, 2014
— Kavitha A. Davidson (@kavithadavidson) July 14, 2014
Oliver was recognized as the highest-profile African-American woman in sports broadcasting, a fact that reminds us of the massive reach and strength of the NFL. Her bad hair day last January was in fact important enough to be a major story in black media, forcing her to respond to critics and raising troubling concerns about racial double standards for appearance created from both outside the black community and from within. As silly as it all sounds, it mattered because Pam Oliver carried symbolic significance, no matter what she was actually doing.
But Fox needs to park Andrews somewhere that can possibly validate her acquisition, and this move helps promote her further her out of harm’s way. To say she’s a lightweight would be taking it easy on her, as her level of discomfort has been obvious in any role so far, whether behind a desk or in a dugout. She just isn’t very good at anything and doesn’t offer much of a personality. One doesn’t have to be smart, interesting, clever or funny to generate pageviews, but the camera asks for more.
Meanwhile, Fox pays Tony Siragusa to stand in the end zone and talk about local food, tell us that the fans are loud or that the field is increasingly slippery in a rainstorm, providing all the insight of a beef sandwich. He’s not a woman, so he’s not part of the conversation. The rules don’t apply to him.
Andrews said she was unaware of when the announcement would be made and was surprised by it when she got to Minnesota for the baseball All-Star Game. Like Oliver, she was classy about the move.
“I have huge shoes to fill here,” Andrews told USA Today. “I’m not ignoring that at all and in fact that’s going to challenge me and make me want to be better than I was before. She set the standard, she is a trailblazer. … She’s the first person to ask me if I’m okay and if I need anything and that’s going to make my job 15 times more difficult just because I know, I’m going to have to try to live up to that and that’s not easy at all. I can’t thank her enough for being such a wonderful example for me.”