Tag Archives: photojournalists

Five Sundays on the Sidelines

5 Aug

I heard some great news on Thursday from my friend Drea Avent in L.A. She will be working as a sideline reporter during five games for FOX NFL SUNDAY during the upcoming season. The news came via Facebook, and I quickly posted a message of congratulations. This is national TV, the big time for a sports reporter who has been working her way up for years.

I’ve known Drea since she and I worked together at News 24 Houston, a now defunct 24-hour cable news channel owned by Time Warner Cable. She was very green at the time, but clearly demonstrated both an in-depth knowledge of key sports and a passion for learning her craft as a sports reporter. Seven years later, I am so proud to see her move to the next level in her career.

There are football fans who don’t share my appreciation for female sports reporters. Some may keep their opinion to themselves; others boldly tell anyone who will listen. In fact, on Friday morning I heard from a friend online who didn’t hesitate to share this perspective:

“I don’t think women should be police officers, fight in combat or be NFL sideline reporters. Period.”

This statement wasn’t made by a man. It came from a woman who considers herself a die-hard football fan. It reminded me of a story my ex-wife once told me about her line of work as a radio news anchor. Despite her superb on-air delivery, listeners in some of her markets have called to complain about a radio station having a woman anchor the news. Some listeners even said they couldn’t understand her. Clearly they must be deaf or have ears that were programmed to understand men’s voices only. Otherwise, I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

But back to football, one could argue that networks place women in high profile positions on camera to draw more men to the broadcast. Female sideline reporters may also draw more viewers who are women, perhaps looking to find someone they can relate to during the game. Whatever the argument, or the reasons given, women are here to stay in the field of sports reporting. They’ve earned it. They deserve it. And just like the men in the same field, there are good ones and not-so-good ones in those roles.

I suspect some people mistakenly use the argument that women can’t understand football because they haven’t played it. But one of America’s most celebrated sportscasters, Bob Costas, hadn’t played a single professional sport when he began his play-by-play duties for minor league hockey games while still attending Syracuse University. Later, at NBC Sports, Costas served as a play-by-play for NBA games despite never having dunked a basketball or even attempted as much as a foul shot.

As Derek Jeter approached the 3000-hit milestone this season, he wore a wire so the experience from his perspective could be captured by HBO for a documentary on the Yankee captain. But Jeter didn’t suddenly start doing his own play-by-play. He continued doing what he gets paid to do: play baseball. He left the play-by-play and color commentary to the people whose job it is to provide it.

You see, sports reporting and announcing is a different game altogether. Those talented men and women who bring us stories from the studio, the booth or the field come a variety of backgrounds, but the mission is always the same.  They serve to tell us what we need to know and what we want to know about a sport, a particular game and its players. They’re storytellers. Plain and simple. The good ones provide helpful insight and observations; the best ones break national stories. Ultimately, they all look at what’s going on, interpret what they see, and communicate with us, the fans.

It’s a similar situation in wartime news coverage. We don’t assume radio, TV and print journalists and photojournalists covering the stories actually spent time in basic training or on a battle field fighting the enemy. Their training came in how to effectively tell a story using the medium in which they work. The award-winning journalists—who often risk their lives to get the story—did not become better at their jobs because they had tours of duty in Iraq. They mastered their craft.

As the father of a six year-old girl, I listen to the “women shouldn’t be” objections carefully. I can’t brush them aside because that’s the reality of the world my daughter is growing up in. Once upon a time not everyone accepted women as doctors, but it still happened. Not everyone agreed that women could be astronauts, but it still happened. And not everyone is happy to see women working as sideline reporters, especially my friend who said, ” I’d rather look at a man than a woman.”

As for me, I’ll be watching the upcoming NFL season with a new sense of excitement and purpose. On five Sundays, my dear friend will be on the sidelines doing what she enjoys most in front of a national TV audience. And I’ll have Aidan by my side so she can see, despite the objections of some, it can be done.

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