FOX ‘Demotes’ Oliver


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Black NFL reporter Pam Oliver

It was as if a mini-bomb had been detonated in the sports world. The news this week that trailblazing Black NFL reporter Pam Oliver is being demoted to Fox Sports’ #2 reporting team and will leave sideline reporting altogether at the end of this season has stunned everyone—including Oliver. The 53-year-old said Fox Sports executives delivered the news to her Atlanta home in April and she had to fight to finish off her 20th year on the field.

“To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking,” Oliver told Richard Deitsch of {Sports Illustrated}. “I said I wanted to do a 20th year. 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.”

Political analyst Michael Fauntroy, of Howard University, said Oliver likely read the writing on the wall when Fox hired former “Dancing With the Stars” contestant Erin Andrews, 36, away from ESPN in 2012—Andrews will replace Oliver on the top team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.

“This was not a terrible surprise to me given the media’s obsession with the ‘hot blonde,’” Fauntroy told the AFRO. “You know how television is—they always want the hot new face.”

Oliver, herself, seemed to recognize the age factor and seemed philosophical about the decision.

“I live in the real world and I know that television tends to get younger where women are concerned. Just turn on your TV. It’s everywhere,” she told SI.

“The No. 2 team is not chopped liver,” Oliver added. “…So I will savor this year. I will get my goodbyes to the security guys and the fans I’ve known for years. It is not even remotely bad, not even anything remotely like ‘Poor me.’ I feel like I have landed in a pot of gold at this stage and how it could have gone. My role has changed. Sideline reporting is being phased out and I’m fortunate enough to get this year. I am lucky. I do know that.”

Not everyone took the news so prosaically.

Oliver has built a solid reputation as a true professional who brought real journalism to sideline reporting.

“Her legacy is excellent work,” Fauntroy said. And as the highest-profile African American in sports broadcasting for almost two decades, Oliver “broke the mould,” Fauntroy added.

To replace such an individual is a travesty, said Jeff Pearlman, former SI writer, ESPN.com columnist and a New York Times bestselling author of six books, in a scathing commentary.

“Oliver is, truly, as good as it gets at this sort of job. She knows how to interview, and doesn’t merely ask fluff nonsense. She’s quick on the fly, researches the hell out of games, has a long and storied history of asking the right question at the right moment,” he wrote in his blog on July 14. “She also has never, ever, ever used the medium to turn herself into a nonsense-endorsing celebrity spokesperson for dietary supplements and the like. In pro athlete translation, Erin Andrews would be, oh, Mark Sanchez; Pam Oliver is Peyton Manning.

“However, Pam Oliver is also 53. And African-American. She isn’t white and blonde and perky,” Pearlman continued. “These days, that’s what sideline reporters almost always are—blonde and perky. They’re eye candy for the neanderthals who need eye candy.”

He was not the only one questioning Fox’s decision.

“Erin Andrews replacing Pam Oliver says everything about the state of the sports industry for women,” noted Twitter user Kavitha A. Davidson, a sports columnist at Bloomberg View.

Some are blaming African Americans for Oliver’s professional demise, saying they devoured their own.

Last January, Oliver’s bad hair day prompted a wave of criticism within Black Twitter and other social networks and became a major story among Black media. The negative publicity could have added weight to Fox’s decision, some said.

“I’m sure this had to do with the load of ‘ish’ thrown at her over her weave. We sure don’t know how to support our [own],” said Twitter user Karen Hunter.

Leroy Lannister added in a tweet on Monday, “[T]hem wig and weave jokes were flying last season every week on Twitter. No way Fox didn’t see that as a negative on her.”

ESPN’s Jemele Hill, another Black sports broadcaster, succinctly commented, “I’ll say this: Considering some of the things I’ve seen some of you tweet about her, don’t rally for Pam Oliver now #TooLate.”

According to Fox Sports’ execs, Oliver will switch her focus to long-form stories, specials, major interviews and her work on Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports.”

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