Dear Pam Oliver Haters

Dear Pam Oliver Haters

On Monday, Sports Illustrated was the first of many outlets to break the story of veteran NFL sideline reporter Pam Oliver being replaced as Fox Sports’ #1 sideline reporter by Erin Andrews, who is professionally known for hosting FOX College Football on Fox Sports, co-hosting College GameDay on ESPN and contributing to Good Morning America. She will join the veteran team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on Fox’s top NFL broadcasts while Oliver will be relegated to the second team with Kevin Burkhardt. In the SI report, Oliver states that she had known of her demotion to the second team for several months and the sting has dissipated for the most part. However, from her statement, one could easily see that she is still pained by this unfortunate turn of events.

“To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking,” Oliver said. “I said I wanted to do a 20th year [on the sidelines]. 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.”

It is difficult to fathom how any tenured employee with over 20 years of experience in their current position will be replaced by an individual with significantly less experience, but that’s exactly what happened here. Andrews’ experience with Fox Sports goes back to 2000, when she was a freelance reporter. Oliver, on the other hand, began her journalism career in 1985 as a reporter at WALB in Albany, Georgia. She started working at Fox Sports in 1995. In most industries, when such a drastic shake up is made it is usually at the behest of the reporter unless said reporter’s professionalism and credibility were ever called into doubt.  But Pam’s career skins are the envy of any journalist regardless of gender. Again, under what circumstances do such changes occur? Well, when it comes to television, image is everything and it doesn’t take Dr. Henry Louis Gates to tell you that Fox Networks and Fox Sports, as well as other networks, have become very image conscious as of late. Jamie Hersch was recently hired as a sideline reporter for the Minnesota Twins by Fox Sports North in February, Brooke Olzendam was recently hired as sideline reporter for the Indiana Pacers by Fox Sports Indiana. We would be remise for not mentioning Erin Andrews’ replacement at ESPN in Samantha Steele as well.  What do they all have in common? With the exception of one, all are tall, blonde-haired white women. 

According to the SI article, Oliver and her agent held several meetings with other outlets before ultimately accepting her new role as the second team reporter. The article also states Fox initially wanted Pam off the sidelines altogether before agreeing to give her a final year covering the NFL.

For The Shadow League, this relates to the downgrading of Pam Oliver for several reasons. 

Though professional acumen should be the standard by which all are judged, things get a little murky as far as television is concerned. The only industry that could be considered more image conscious than broadcast television is the film industry. Though Oliver’s initial hiring at Fox Sports came in 1995 during the Clinton administration, a time when affirmative action and an increased emphasis on minority inclusion dominated public discourse, Pam’s pedigree could never be assailed. Not even by her most dire critics. The thing that was seized upon to besmirch her on several different occasions? Her hair. Not her line of questioning, not her vocabulary and not her education, but her hair. More often than not, NFL sideline reporters are exposed to the same elements as the players. High humidity, as was the case during Super Bowl XLVIII this year, and blustery stadium winds have wreaked havoc on her hair. True, but that’s not the half of it. Her choice of hair color has been called into question in the past as well. Nothing helpful or respectful was uttered in the digital din. Only haterism and ridicule. The hashtag #PamOliversHair is a favorite of social media trolls and effeminate "tastemakers" engaging in jealous bitchassedness, then that fervor is passed on to irrelevant comedians looking to cause a stir for the sake of notoriety and ultimately ends up as news fodder and space filler for blogs desperate to cash in on the SEO properties of dissing Oliver—who usually laughed off the haters.   

To be certain, there have been multiple instances of sideline reporters, of different genders and ethnic backgrounds, who have had bad hair days in the past.  However, none of those instances grew the type of Internet legs as Pam’s instances. In addition, Pam Oliver is a 53-year-old woman, so not only does her professional reshuffling have a racial component, but it also contains an obvious tinge of age-ism as well. 

Yet, we’re all supposed to take Fox Sports News president Eric Shanks’ words at face value when he said this.

“I think in the last five years we have made a lot of changes with the NFL crews,” Shanks said. “We have made changes to keep our coverage across the board fresh, including the addition of Burkhardt and Lynch -– which has been one of the more exciting pairings we have put together. This is kind of the next move in that evolution.”

That evolution looks like something of a devolution from our perspective as one of the most respected Black journalists of the past 20 years is being unceremoniously removed from her position in favor of a younger, white journalist. Interesting how her move is being called an “elevation to senior correspondent” on their website, yet she’s basically being demoted to the second team on the sidelines (no disrespect to Burkhardt and Lynch, who are a very good team).

It’s difficult not to notice how Fox’s changes with their NFL crews mirror changes being made across their other sports properties, including Fox Sport 1. From the host of “Fox Sports Live”, to their live sports breaks, it appears that most of their hosts have blond hair and blue eyes. What makes it a bit more of a bitter pill to swallow is how stupid comments by Internet haters may have been the catalyst for Fox feeling comfortable enough to remove a tenured staff member. We are not trying to call management at Fox racist, but too many events have occurred around Pam Oliver for that word not to surface in the thoughts of those that read the news about her on Monday.

Assuming her higher-ups discounted the impact these social media statements about one of their own is laughable and criminally naive. It’s far too easy to imagine a situation where Shanks and his constituency were nudged toward a decision they may have wanted to make anyway by negative comments being made about the image of a woman who toiled in a position of high visibility. 

Despite our instinct to categorize this under the “racism” title, we must hold black people accountable as well. The negative comments and reactions around her hair made by black people last season contributed to the fading light around a stellar career for Pam Oliver. Instead of football, it was about her hair. Gabby Douglas part II arose during the NFC Championship Game last season, taking away from an amazing game with an incredible ending (ironically, Erin Andrews benefitted the most from that game through her now infamous post-game "interview" with Richard Sherman). Side by side comparisons were made with Chewbacca and D.L. Hughley said she looked like Roger Rabbit for crying out loud. It was so bad that she actually had to address the issue with So, thanks a lot Black people. Thanks again for shooting one of your own in the foot with your shallow, effeminate, ratchet and childish Internet behavior, giving those who toil against your interests in all venues fodder to act against you and those who resemble you. Congratulations. You probably didn’t think that you could be the haters and race baiters.

But hating is an equal opportunity sport, and Pam Oliver got caught in the avalanche from both sides.

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