Pam Oliver opens up about being replaced by Erin Andrews

The decision by Fox Sports to replace Pam Oliver with Erin Andrews as the sideline reporter on their top announce team certainly made waves this summer.  Fox was heavily criticized for replacing a vastly experienced reporter for what appeared to be cosmetic reasons.  After 19 years, Oliver was being replaced by someone younger, with much more fame and notoriety, but also less experience on the NFL sidelines.  Fox isn’t paying Erin Andrews the salary they likely are to be relegated to secondary broadcast teams.  However, accusations of ageism and homogenization amongst sideline reporters in the industry were lobbed in Fox’s direction because of the move.

What was notable about the change in assignments was Oliver speaking out to Sports Illustrated about how it went down behind the scenes.  It’s not typical for meetings with executives to become known in the public arena, but Oliver opened the door to how the decision was made and how she had to lobby her bosses just for a final season on the sidelines.

Now, Oliver is opening up even more about being demoted to Fox’s B-team and spending her last year on the sidelines.  She wrote a first-person piece for Essence on Fox’s decision, the network’s direction, and her personal reaction to the developments this summer.

On having to deal with rumors about losing her position beginning with the hire of Erin Andrews, even from NFL players…

Even before my bosses told me what was going on, there had been rumblings that my days as a sideline reporter were coming to an end. Two years earlier, Fox Sports had hired Erin Andrews, a high-profile side-line reporter from ESPN, and I knew they hadn’t brought her on just to be a benchwarmer. Colleagues, and even coaches and players, would come up to me and say things like, “Boy, you’re handling this well. You’re really a class act.” But I let the rumors roll off my back. Without official confirmation about a change in my position, I decided I was going to do my work like I always had. Still, I was humiliated.

On Fox having a reputation for desiring a certain look among its female talent and the sideline reporting position…

Once the changes were announced, people started talking. Some asked, “Do you think it had something to do with your race?” No. I definitely do not. Others asked, “Does it have something to do with your age?” Well, maybe. The business is very demographic-oriented. As one executive said to me, Fox Sports will look radically different in the coming years. I assume that means they want to look younger. It’s not difficult to notice that the new on-air people there are all young, blond and “hot.” That’s not to say that Erin isn’t capable. I think she’s very capable. She’s also popular on Twitter and social media, so I can see how that would also make her highly sought after. Still, covering the NFL is a big deal. Stations like ABC and NBC entrust their programming to veterans. So when people talk about all networks making a turn to a particular type of girl on the sidelines, it doesn’t hold water…

On her personal sadness over losing the position…

For a while I was lost in sadness. I kept thinking, What am I going to do on Sundays? … Among my friends I’m the tough girl. I am not a crier. But I realize I was in mourning. I had to let it go.

On how she is moving forward…

My first step was to get back to my routine. Every morning I begin my day the same way: meditate, pray and affirm. I call it my “P.O. Power Hour” because it fortifies me. Through all the changes, I had abandoned the things that help me the most, and then I was wondering why I was so miserable! So I reinstated my Power Hour—I visualize what I want for my day, what I want for the big picture and what I hope for the world. Then I read the Bible until I’ve gotten the answer I need. With that, I began to feel better.

It’s a fascinating read from Oliver and opens up even more questions about not just Fox’s decision, but the state of sideline reporting as a whole.

Why is it that many network executives value experience in the broadcast booth or in the studio, but not the sidelines?  Why are veteran sideline reporters who do their job well and are respected cast aside once they reach a certain age?  It’s one of the great double standards in the television industry.  It’s doubtful anyone from Fox is going to Joe Buck when he reaches 50 to tell him they want to go younger.  And yet women in the industry, particularly sideline reporters, must always be looking over their own shoulder because at a certain point, networks will inevitably want to go in a “different direction.”


Matt Yoder

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.