Veteran journalist Pam Oliver has been a staple on the sidelines of the NFL for a very long time—20 years, in fact. But her role there, at least in the top position, has abruptly come to end. On Monday it was announced that Oliver, 53, had been essentially demoted, from the No. 1 team to No. 2, a seeming courtesy before Fox Sports removes her from the sidelines completely after the 2014 season.
“To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking,” Oliver told Sport Illustrated’s SI.com, clearly being diplomatic. “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."
Oliver will be replaced by Erin Andrews, a 36-year-old blonde who is best-known as the woman who happened to interview the Seattle Seahawks’ excitable Richard Sherman, who went on a much-publicized (and blown-out-of-proportion) rant against San Francisco 49er Michael Crabtree just before the Seahawks headed to the Super Bowl (for a win). The exchange, which went viral on YouTube, made them both household names, even for those (like me) who don’t closely follow the sport.
“[The new position] is a dream come true,” Andrews told ABC News. “It’s exactly what I’ve wanted.”
Fox Sports President Eric Shanks explained the replacement as an attempt by the network to keep things “fresh.” Others, including Oliver, think it has more to do with ageism.
“I live in the real world, and I know that television tends to get younger and where women are concerned,” Oliver told SI.com. “Just turn on your TV. It’s everywhere.”
In case you think that’s just her being (rightfully) salty, others are backing up her (astute) assessment. In a blog post titled, “Women in Sports Media: Intelligence and Talent Lose Out—Yet Again,” former SI writer Jeff Pearlman noted, “Men can do these gigs forever. Nobody demotes Chris Berman or Phil Simms or Troy Aikman as they age. Nobody ever will.”
Bustle speculated about how much Oliver’s “expanded role” had to do with her age as well, concluding, “We can only speculate what Pam Oliver’s demotion to No. 2—and eventual departure from sideline reporting—means for middle-age women and women of color broadcast journalists in America. And from what we know so far, it sure doesn’t look that good.”
But there may be another factor at play in Oliver’s “expanded role”—apparently the new PC term for “downsizing”—one that hasn’t been widely discussed: us. Fox has a history of bad behavior, so it’s easy to attack for being ageist and shallow (and possibly racist and misguided). But for all the folks screaming, “Poor Pam!” now, where were you—not me, because I defended Oliver—a few months ago when, before and after the Super Bowl, her appearance was making national news? Folks were very loud on social media about their disapproval of Oliver’s hair, and there was a widely circulated, mean meme that compared Oliver’s appearance to Star Wars’ Chewbacca.
Not that I ever like to let Fox off the hook for anything, but is it at all possible that the network heard the social media cries about Oliver and ran too far with it? No one complaining about Oliver’s hair wanted her to lose her job, just tidy up a bit. But Fox has demonstrated that it’s not so good with nuance, especially when it comes to black people. Oliver may just be another victim of Fox and social media. Perhaps we should be more careful what we criticize.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.