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Savran: Sideline reporters needless intrusion

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Being a sideline reporter on football telecasts is an impossible job. I know, I've done it. The only value to the audience -- which is at best a minor consideration for television producers and executives -- is providing information about injuries. But those medical updates are provided in the press box, readily available to the announcers in the booth.

Other than that, what significant things do we learn from this third person on the announcing team? Virtually nothing, and part of that is inherent in the assignment.

These reporters are restricted to certain areas of the sideline, unwelcome inside the dotted lines around the benches, generally left with no access to players or coaches.

So what's left? Planned, canned vignettes, so that when somebody does something good, we go to the sideline and Suzy blurts out the text she's been memorizing all week.

Seldom is there any analysis of what's happening in the game.

"Okay, Bruiser McDuff just scored his 11th touchdown, let's go down to Suzy to find out what he likes to eat for breakfast!"

Riveting.

It's also possible/likely that producers won't allow them to render an analytical thought. What we get is this incessant name-dropping. "I talked to Kordell yesterday, and he told me...".

Hey, if you've got something, let's see it on tape.

Of course, there's always the scintillating coach interview on the field before the game and at halftime.

I imagine these guys would prefer a root canal than having to talk to the melange of Melissas, Suzys, Hollys, Alishas, Alannas and Adrians.

"Hey, coach. You had minus 12 yards of offense in the first half. What do you have to do?"

Get ready for this, sports fans: "We've got to play better and put some points up on the board."

Sure glad I delayed my trip to the refrigerator for that.

It's not necessarily the fault of the reporter, given the circumstance in which she's placed. You're just not going to get much out of the guy.

But because the league forces coaches to be available, producers take advantage of that availability. Even if Bill Cowher recites his favorite recipe for tollhouse cookies when he's asked about his defense, the producer is deliriously happy.

Both genders are generally inadequate in the position, given its parameters. So this isn't about males vs. females, nor is it about females "invading" a male domain. It's the thought process that gets them there.

I know about TV and I know how TV executives think ... when and if they do. And generally, they're much more interested in sizzle than steak, and they believe a woman reporter (and better make sure she's very attractive while you're at it) at an athletic contest is downright sizzle-icious.

Doesn't matter what they know; it's about the novelty of it. But the novelty has worn off.

Depends on what you want.

Would you rather hear from Lynn Swann or Mark Malone doing game analysis from the sideline, or Paula Perky in an Annie Hall floppy hat?

It's not all about former players either, because you can end up with Eric Dickerson, who treated English as a second language. But even a Jack Arute gives you something once in a while, if only momentary relief from Brent Musburger.

It has become standard issue, formulaic sports television. Play-by-play guy, ex-jock/coach, and a Samantha Sideline behind the bench. It has become the norm, not a novelty. Back in my TV news days, I once accidentally overheard a conversation among executive types who were in the process of hiring a female reporter. One guy said, "Well she's clearly the best we've interviewed." Another guy said, "Yeah, but the consultant says we have to hire a blonde!" That may not be the rule, but it's not an exception, either.

I'm not suggesting a woman can't do a better job than a man. But the pertinent question is, why do TV bigwigs presume a man can't do as well as a woman?

If I may be presumptuous enough to supply the answer to my own question, it's basically because it's not about who can do the better job. The biggest strike against the man is that he's not a woman, qualifications be damned.

Do you think the Lisa Guerreros of the world are there because they know what a body check is? They're there because the TV types want a predominantly male audience to check out their bodies.

I truly don't mind women occupying what have traditionally been positions dominated by males. What I do mind is that it's all predetermined, and that women are the only ones being considered.

I wonder if Martha Burk is aware of that.


Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970)

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