Game Face: Why Women as Sideliners And Not More Airtime?

A case could be made that anyone listening to the radio-cast of tonight's New Jersey-Minnesota NHL game could benefit from a head examination. It's the middle of an endless season and neither team is doing particularly well. And yet, there is an unexpected reason to listen: Sherry Ross.

The radio analyst for the Devils in the New York area is a longtime hockey journalist. With her verve and insight, she can make the banal rousing. And frankly, it's invigorating to hear a rare female voice on a men's team broadcast -- and not in a comically limited role as a sideline reporter.

In the four major team sports -- which use hundreds of TV and radio broadcasters on the local level -- only Ross and the New York Yankees' Suzyn Waldman are regulars in a play-by-play or analyst role. It's worth noting both work in radio and not the higher-profile TV. Ross would likely also be superb on TV.

On the network level, the numbers are about the same. On TV, there are just two play-by-play announcers on ESPN for college football Bowls, while the network has a single analyst on the NBA.



But head down to the sidelines and female reporters are everywhere. As ESPN carries 33 college bowl games, 59% of the sideliners on TV are women. While females make up less than 3% of the announcers "in the booth," so to speak.

The recent incident where ESPN announcer Ron Franklin went Hootie Johnson on a female sideliner once again raises the question: Why women are so overrepresented in the on-field role? Franklin was yanked from a broadcast after calling Jeannine Edwards, "sweet baby" before the game and then following that up with a colorful insult.

The elephant in the room: is the glut of female sideliners an attempt to capitalize on sex appeal?

After all, there's the Web site, which says it was "born because (the founder) started to notice that a lot of the reporters doing sideline duties during football games were mostly female, and hot ones at that."

In that vein, women sideliners get much less airtime than men in the booth. Yet, arguably just as much time on camera. In the broadcasting totem pole, they play a second-class role (as do their male counterparts in the job). And the sideline role doesn't offer much chance to distinguish oneself.

To their credit, sideliners such as ESPN's Lisa Salters and Suzy Kolber try to be artful and add a personal twist. But that's tough when they offer essentially four circumscribed things:

*The brief on-field insight: "X player has been working hard all week and tells me he wants to improve his speed, so he can sack the quarterback."

*The end-half interview with a coach: "They really are stopping your run game, how can you get that going?"

*The start-half interview with the other coach: "What did you tell your team at halftime?"

*Post-game interview with winning coach: "That Gatorade bath must feel great after all you have been through?"

To be sure, being a sideline reporter has to be one of America's great jobs. Attend the best games; get the best seat (or standing room) in the house; and speak before a camera for about four minutes. Female sideliners don't need pity for sure, and many could be content to continue in the role.

But in most businesses, people are willing to start at a lower level with the hope that hard and successful work will lead to a promotion. For in-game broadcasting, that would mean moving into a play-by-play or analyst role.

But if the limited sideline role has given men a chance to move up, women seem landlocked and stuck on the sidelines -- literally.

That's a bummer for viewers, since there are some superb ones who might thrive -- from Salters and Kolber to ESPN's Bonnie Bernstein and Fox's Pam Oliver. If they'd like a shot in the booth, why aren't they given a chance to prove their mettle? Not to pick on ESPN, but it has a rife of cookie-cutter, can't-tell-the-difference male broadcasters on lower-level games, so can't that platform serve as a female farm system, as it were?

ESPN has had multiple issues with relations between male and female employees, but thanks to entrepreneurial efforts and lots of cash, the network has been a trailblazer in sports broadcasting and journalism.

As far back as 2005, in the wake of another misogynist incident by Franklin, ESPN's ombudsman wrote that the network "needs to give" female sideliners "more airtime and more serious issues to address."

Why has it not been more aggressive in getting women in the booth? Go to any college journalism program and there are young women eager to cover men's sports and emulate a Vin Scully or Gary Danielson.

They might just find another Sherry Ross.

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