Spot quiz. How many of the following names do you recognize? Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya, Andrea Kramer, Lisa Guerrero, Armen Keteyian, Colleen Dominguez, Jill Arrington, and Jeanne Zelasko.
If you said "zero," you're a normal, red-blooded American sports fan. Hey, put the gun down, I'll answer the question. All the aforementioned women have been employed as NFL sideline reporters. These worthy professionals have skulked around gridiron perimeters in service of ABC, CBS, NBC, and ESPN for years...for decades.
At first glance, a sideline reporter appears to be one of the great make-work jobs. Ranks right up there with inherited wealth. The position pays big, big money, it's a show-biz job, a sports-biz job, on-air TV job, requires 90 seconds of work once a week. How did this golden egg ever slip through the cracks?
FADE IN: INT PLUSH HOLLYWOOD OFFICE.
A BARREL-CHESTED, HEAVYSET TELEVISON MOGUL SITS BEHIND A HUGE ZEBRAWOOD DESK SMOKING A STOGIE. TWO CATHEDRAL-SIZED DOORS OPEN AND A MUCH YOUNGER MAN, DERK FONTAINE, PERSONAL VICE PRESIDENT TO MOGUL, ENTERS.
MOGUL: Gotta do better with our NFL telecasts. We have the men...impossible to screw that up, but why not put a bimbo on the sidelines? Put her on camera every once in awhile with a human-interest tidbit. We'll rake in a few more moms.
DERK: Human-interest tidbits! In the middle of a football game?! Are you nuts? What in the hell would they do on the sidelines? What would they talk about?
MOGUL: Who cares? Let 'em talk about babies.
* * *
This is how many men view sideline reporters. Since most guys don't talk about their feelings with other men, particularly while watching football, indeed they believe a football game is sanctuary from feminine demands of intimacy; a place where men can be left alone to drink and scream. It's remarkable there has been so little public criticism of the job
The male opinion is, "I'll believe these are real jobs the next time I see a homely, overweight, 50-year-old woman in bad clothes reporting from the sidelines." Sideline reporter does seem like a bimbo job. One is required to look pretty and be able to say, "Back to you, Michael." Or, for eager beavers, one asks a coach, as he trots off the field at halftime (which is not too hard to do since the coach is ordered to talk to you by the NFL), a tough question, such as, "What are you going to tell the team?" The coach says, "We've got to play better defense and better offense." Bimbo repeats what the coach just said and adds, "Back to you, Michael."
Apparently, I'm not the only one who has noticed, shall we say, a lack of content to the position. The NFL Network, starting its first season broadcasting company games on November 23, won't employ a sideline reporter. CBS eliminated the position before the season started. No one noticed.
No woman has ever called play-by-play in the NFL. Of the megathousand Division I college-football games played every year, I've found only one woman, Pam Ward, who does play-by-play (Big Ten football on ESPN).
To be honest, we can't use the "Never played the game" argument against women. Howard Cosell, no matter what you think of him, was the premier sportscaster of his day. Al Michaels is the gold standard today. Neither man played football.
Regard Lesley Visser, 52, who has been a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football, CBS, and ESPN. Saying that, I couldn't pick Visser out from a police lineup of Century 21 Real Estate agents, which tells you something about the impact of sideline reporters.
Visser began working for the Boston Globe in 1974, became the first female NFL beat writer. That's impressive; that had to be hard. That's the whole world against you and you sticking it out. Plus, there's no way you can be a beat reporter and not know the game.
Visser has been given the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, which, unfortunately, sounds like a make-work award. She's worked NCAA Final Fours, Super Bowls, World Series, U.S. Open, Olympics, NBA, and everything else, usually as the first woman.
In fact, if you look at Visser's job as sideline reporter from another angle, you could say she was underemployed. Maybe it's the nature of being a sideline reporter that makes anyone doing it look stupid. Maybe the NFL should try putting a woman in the booth.