(journeyman Jack, for the time being anyway,portrayed in a very SFW context)

Are sideline reporters useless eye candy or under-utilized-awesome-journalists? Writing in the Times’ Play Magazine last Sunday, Bryan Curtis bemoans the treatment afforded to the likes of Erin Andrews, Suzy Kolber, et al (“Producers will boast of the sideline reporter’s journalistic credentials, her nose for news, and then, come game time, treat her like another ornament of the broadcast, like the trivia games and network promotions. (Jack Arute and the armada of male sideline reporters also come in for ridicule, but as yet, no one has made a video ode to Arute”), and suggests, “if there is to be a general smartening-up of football TV, the sideline reporter should lead the way.”

The problem is not just the vapidity of the sideline reporter’s work but the ribald environment in which she delivers it. For years, fans have been taught that any woman on a football show is strictly a sex object, there to put an extra arch in Terry Bradshaw’s eyebrows. We need only look back to Roone Arledge’s football telecasts on ABC ; sprinkled with so-called “honey shots”, the leering camera takes of cheerleaders and the prettiest women in the stands. More recently, Fox NFL Sunday hired Jillian Barberie to perform a ditzy weather report, and in 2003, Monday Night Football tapped Lisa Guerrero, a veteran of an Aaron Spelling drama series, as its new sideline reporter.

If viewers missed the broadcast’s subtle sexual dynamics, the game announcers were happy to remind them. Earlier this year, ESPN paid tribute to Erin Andrews’s career as a University of Florida Dazzler dancer, which prompted Dick Vitale to yelp, “She’s still a dazzler!” Roaming the Purdue sidelines during a 2005 football game, Holly Rowe of ESPN pointed out that despite trailing by four touchdowns, the Boilermakers coaches hadn’t given up. “Holly, it’s not giving up”, sniffed play-by-play man Ron Franklin. “It’s 49-21, sweetheart. ” Given a pittance of airtime and placed in a hothouse of male libido, it’s no wonder the sideline reporter isn’t taken more seriously. The intellectual distance between the honey shot and the sideline report has become precariously small.

The final frontier is play-by-play, which for some reason remains an all-male realm. (Andrea Kremer actually turned down an opportunity for a play-by-play job with NBC in 1989, fearing she would become a lab rat.) The more real football work the sideline reporter does, the more airtime she gains, the more her talents will look underused in what is essentially an apprentice job. And if her football savviness should illustrate a certain disparity vis-à-vis the play-by-play man, well, that’s too bad. It’s not about embarrassing anyone. It’s called competition, sweetheart.

Curtis makes an excellent point, and certainly the NFL could take a tip from the New York Yankees’ long and wildly successful relationship with Suzyn Waldman, who despite suffering no end of sexist slurs, has never embarrassed her employer or herself. Well, maybe once, but compared to her male counterpart in the booth, that’s not so bad.