It’s not easy being a woman in the sports media world.
You are objectified constantly and consistently.
And it’s not getting easier.
During the NBA Finals, one of the more amusing subplots was Gregg Popovich’s obvious disdain for the in-game interview with the sideline reporter. That sideline reporter happened to be Doris Burke, a tremendous analyst and announcer. Here’s an excellent interview with The Sherman Report that goes over Burke’s own amusement – or lack thereof – with the whole sideshow.
On Twitter, the reaction was less measured and articulate. When Doris Burke trended during the NBA Finals, it was due to 2 groups of people. There were those who wrote hateful, disgusting things about her looks – none of which I will link to here – and there were those who wrote about her attractiveness in aggressive terms – I ain’t linking to those either.
It properly summed up the female experience in the sports media – you will inevitably be judged on your looks.
But looks only get you so far. When you think about the females in sports that have had long, prosperous careers, it is the substance that drove them. Even though Joe Namath made her a punch line, it is Suzy Kolber’s skills that have kept her at the forefront of ESPN’s Monday Night Football coverage. While Dennis Miller loves Lesley Visser, it is her command of the microphone that has kept her a viable commodity for decades. Linda Cohn went on a date with a Deadspin editor, but that’s not why she’s one of ESPN’s most valued SportsCenter anchors.
Doris Burke, like those women mentioned above, will work in basketball as long as she wants to because she has the talents. She knows the game. She explains it well. She asks the right questions.
Substance always trumps style.
No one has learned that lesson harder than Erin Andrews, who should probably write the aforementioned Deadspin a royalty check every month.
The rise of Erin Andrews coincided with the rise of Deadspin – among other TMZ-like websites – that brought a different spin to the sports world. While 80 percent of Deadspin staff and readers will disagree, it is pictures of women that first brought the site readers. It evolved and has produced compelling, fascinating coverage – the saga of Manti T’eo clearly jumps to mind – but it grew thanks to the page view culture we live in.
At the forefront of this was Erin Andrews. An attractive, tall blonde with a killer smile, there was no mistaking that she was going to become a pet project at ESPN. Thanks to her coverage of college basketball and college football – and all the young, unadulterated testosterone that surrounded her – her aura grew.
Her celebrity took a huge leap forward when another Disney property, Dancing with the Stars, put her on the show and introduced her to a wider audience. It was not just the horny sports fan who was now into Erin Andrews, it was the male (and female) population at large. It took an ugly turn with the peephole incident but there was no mistaking the fact that Erin Andrews had crossed over from “well-known sideline reporter” to “emerging celebrity.”
There was just one problem – she didn’t have the talent to back it up.
I never paid too much attention to her skills as a sideline reporter because, for the most part, I find sideline reporters to be completely and totally useless, especially in football. They do some “fun” features to kill time. They relay information that anyone else in the world could. They do quick, no substance interviews at halftime. With the exception of the on-field postgame interview, which is usually all “We played hard” fluff, there is little value a sideline reporter can provide.
But then I watched Erin Andrews host College Football Live on a random weekday afternoon. Perhaps it is unfair, perhaps it is harsh, perhaps it was her first time hosting the show – but she was awful. After watching pros like Chris Fowler, Rece Davis and Joe Tessitore host the daily show with the ease of putting on a left sneaker, the lack of polish from Andrews was startling.
This is not to disparage Andrews – I highly doubt I have the skills to host a college football television show, though I would love the opportunity.
The higher ups at ESPN, I have to believe, knew deep down that Andrews was never going to rise above sideline reporter. That’s not an indictment – Lesley Visser has had one helluva career doing just that. But that wasn’t where Andrews thought she should be, that wasn’t where her celebrity level would allow her to be and that’s not where her pay grade would accept for her to be.
Fox took a chance. They hired Andrews and made her the face of their new college football pregame and postgame shows as the network jumped into the regular season college football fray.
They did no favors by saddling Andrews with Eddie George and Joey Harrington – two other unproven, if popular, former superstars. There is likely enough blame to go around for all three. The fact, however, remains unchanged.
The studio show sucked. It was unwatchable. It was uncomfortable. I had discussions with friends, coworkers and family about how bad it sucked. “How long could you stand it?” “Isn’t it the worst?” “What was Fox thinking?”
It was the equivalent of pulling back the curtain and revealing the secret – Erin Andrews is extremely pretty. And that may be it.
It is remarkable to see how far she has fallen in such a short timeframe. Just a couple of years ago, she was arguably the most recognizable female face in sports – athlete or otherwise. She was everywhere. ESPN promoted the heck out of her. Deadspin and the like posted seemingly daily updates with new pictures, new anecdotes and new rumors about her love life.
People cared then. People do not care now.
The rumors are already flying that Fox will dramatically revamp their college football studio team for the upcoming season, though how it affects Andrews is still up for discussion. Fox has invested (I would assume) a lot of money and effort into grooming her into a star. Maybe there is more to her hosting skills than I am giving her credit for. Maybe she has a future as a host.
More likely, she will return to the sidelines and resume her previous, successful role as in-game reporter. It will feel like a demotion, both to her and the public at large. But it is inevitable.
No one should feel bad for Erin Andrews – she has made a tremendous amount of money, received a tremendous amount of coverage and has created a tremendous amount of buzz.
We are an increasingly superficial society. It has not changed our fundamental need to be entertained.
Substance will always overcome style. Unless you’re Kim Kardashian.
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