Veteran Fox Sports sideline reporter Pam Oliver is officially being replaced by Erin Andrews, her younger, blonde colleague. With nearly two decades under her belt and all of the old men talking sports on television, 53-year-old Oliver’s forced career shift sounds like ageism.
As Oliver tells Sports Illustrated in a feature surrounding her new role for Fox Sports:
“To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking,” Oliver said. “I said I wanted to do a 20th year [on the sidelines]. 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.”
Fox management reiterated to SI that they flew down to Atlanta to personally discuss her position with the company — Oliver says they came to break the news of her dismissal — either way, she didn't take their words lying down. Yes, Andrews, of Richard Sherman screaming fame, would be her replacement but Oliver had other plans.
“The emphasis at the meeting was always placed on how they saw what was next for me versus what I saw would be next for me,” Oliver said. “I felt I was not done. I still felt I had more to offer with sideline reporting. I think that took them by surprise a little bit. So we focused on what the next step was and that’s how we ended up where we now. And I am excited about that.”
Under her new multi-year contract, Oliver will craft long-form pieces, specials, major interviews and produce as well as continue her work on Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports.
Fox Sports president Eric Shanks also spoke to SI’s Richard Deitsch about how awesome Oliver was, though he refused to describe exactly what Andrews brought to the table that the two-decade vet does not. Perhaps because the casual observer would automatically call shenanigans if Shanks answered the question with code words describing Andrews as "hotter" and "younger."
Here's a peek at the cast of last season's Fox Sports roundtable and it's all hair plugs, bald spots and silver foxes. (Go Raiders though, I see you 54-year-old Howie Long.):
Oliver herself said no one at Fox mentioned her age as a problem, but that she knows what America is all about.
“But I live in the real world and I know that television tends to get younger and where women are concerned,” Oliver said. “Just turn on your TV. It’s everywhere. And I’m not saying these younger girls don’t deserve a chance. I know I’ve had my turn.”
Another NFL broadcaster who spoke to Deitsch anonymously added: “She’s not blonde, nor is she in the demographic,” said the reporter. “I’m not naïve and I understand it’s a business, but I think that Fox did not treat her as befits a woman who has been the female face of their sports operation for the past 19 years.”
And there’s the rub.
Barbara Walters damn near had a parade to celebrate her retirement and Diane Sawyer probably had a party just for changing jobs. For a company that purports to aim for more in-depth sports analysis, trying to put their most knowledgeable female correspondent out to pasture sounds like the opposite of success. Even restructuring her position is like dismissing Bob Costas because he's too knowledgable or telling Bryant Gumbel to take a walk because his neck’s too wrinkly and the folds aren't testing well with audiences. But for old men, age isn’t as big of a factor as it is for their female counterparts.