When it comes to sideline reporting, and even engaging in it, there are inherent risks.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Rephrasing it, the term “risk” lacks precision here. More specifically, those who consider this work unnecessary will never perceive any value in the reporting provided by those who excel in it, or in real-time coverage of injuries and strategies.
And that’s okay.
However, this does not discount Charissa Thompson’s admission that she, apparently on multiple occasions, exclusively conducted halftime reports while she was on the field or communicating during her tenure as a Fox Sports sideline reporter for football games. She couldn’t converse with the returning coaches. This has not caused significant harm to my profession. Thompson, host of Fox Sports and NFL games on Amazon Prime, apologized on Friday and stated that she “chose the wrong words” during an interview, although she said she “never lied” during her halftime report.
It’s very late.
There is a persistent onslaught on journalism. It is an extension of the attack on truth by influential entities – be it autocratic governments, multinational corporations, or various forms of ignoramus – who resist regulation, challenges, or criticism. The fact that journalism faces continuous criticism from numerous quarters is indicative of its enduring influence.
It’s evident: Journalism is now consistently considered one of the least trusted professions, and misinformation thrives. A falsehood to those who lack awareness.
The finest journalism offers a critical counterbalance to this illusion. It is about seeking the truth and reporting actual events – how they transpired and their significance.
Maintaining the importance of truth is particularly challenging in this realm of journalism – sports. We, who have dedicated our lives to covering sports, understand: Many individuals turn to sports to escape and enjoy a few hours where they don’t have to worry about bills, politics, or other inconvenient subjects. There’s no need to fret. Watching sports with your sick grandmother or grandfather is a brief and comforting break; gathering with loved ones on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to support your favorite team can create lasting joyous memories. (In certain cases, this may be the only time you engage in civil conversation all week.)
There are also individuals who will never view sideline reporting as earnest work.
The majority of those who engage in it, and those who have done so, approach this undertaking very earnestly.
Not us. Work.
However, Thompson has provided ammunition to those who already believe that all journalists deceive, or that we only produce content for clickbaits and ratings.
Most individuals in journalism love narrating stories – stories that inspire, inform, and incite strong emotions. We strive to be the conveyors of news, city carriers, and tribal elders. Sometimes, our responsibilities necessitate confronting authority, posing tough questions, and demanding answers – on your behalf, not ours. It may be challenging for some to recognize these qualities, particularly those who fall into the “I never gain anything from a sideline reporter/I always ignore them” category.
Every game, whether it’s a championship event like the World Series or the Stanley Cup Finals, or an inconsequential match between two .500 teams in a mid-conference, has a narrative. Sideline reporters aid in clarifying these narratives.
During my tenure at Turner Sports, we were reminded every week, “The beginning, the middle, the end.” Commence narrating the story of the week from the beginning of the show. Progress the story during the game. Culminate the story at the final buzzer or whistle. This approach led to better broadcasts. When executed adeptly, sideline reporting contributes to this.
I worked for over a decade, primarily at Turner, mostly covering NBA games. However, this is not about me. It’s about individuals who were and are exceptional in this field: Andrea Kramer, Pam Oliver, the late Craig Sager, Tracy Wolfson, Holly Rowe, and, in the past, Jim Gray, Leslie Visser, and James Brown.
Sideline reporting often provides a pathway for non-former players – both male and female journalists, particularly journalists of color – to participate in game broadcasts, particularly when studio shows are now primarily occupied by former players and coaches. These former players and coaches also conduct pregame interviews with current players and coaches that you see on the pregame show.
Thompson dealt a severe blow to those journalists, particularly to aspiring individuals entering the field. Many of whom attended journalism schools at Syracuse, Missouri, Northwestern or, my cherished alma mater, American University, to master this craft and practice it with integrity and fervor, without trivial chatter. Pioneers like Kramer, Oliver, Lisa Salters, and Laura Okmin have astounded everyone with their decades of outstanding work on the sidelines, and they have had to endure considerably more unwarranted criticism than I have – about their appearance, their voices, and every aspect of them. Their visual representation has vexed certain viewers, mostly men.
Sideline reporting was not my preferred pursuit after college, and I didn’t anticipate that some of my interviews with Gregg Popovich would become viral moments at the end of the quarter.
Yet, once I committed to it, I dedicated myself to uncovering stories that could be interwoven between the plays from the moment I arrived in each game city. This involved conversing with players and coaches the day prior to the game, attending shootarounds on the morning of the game, conducting interviews with star players as they arrived at the field, participating in pregame interviews with both head coaches, conversing with individuals from both teams, and extracting valuable information and stories from these interactions. (I was fortunate to collaborate with game producers as well as seasoned play-by-play professionals like Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan, and others who respected my contributions and accommodated me during broadcasts.)
Regarding reporting, whether on the sidelines or in other news, there is no such thing as a “small” lie. You either possess the information, or you don’t, and if you lack it, you openly concede. If the head coach is unavailable, engage an assistant. Or a player. Or a trainer. Get someone, it’s always up to you.
The reaction from journalists to this incident has been fervent because all we possess in this profession is our reputation. Upholding a profession requires a profession. And this is an arduous feat once tarnished.
(Photo: Cooper Neal/Getty Images)