Thursday September 4th, 2014

In a first person essay co-written with Essence Magazine, Fox Sports broadcaster Pam Oliver said she knew her standing as the network's top NFL sideline reporter was at risk when management brought in Erin Andrews from ESPN two years ago.

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"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," Oliver wrote in an essay with Jeannine Amber. "Two years earlier, Fox Sports had hired Erin Andrews, a high-profile sideline 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."

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In July SI.com broke the news that Oliver was moving to the network’s No. 2 team (with Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch) for her 20th NFL broadcasting season. As SI reported, last April, Fox Sports executives traveled to Atlanta, where Oliver is based, to tell her in person that she would no longer hold the job that has been her professional life for two decades. Oliver said that while she respected Fox Sports president Eric Shanks and executive vice president of production John Entz delivering the news in person, she was stunned when they initially informed her that not only was she being removed from Fox’s No. 1 NFL team, but also that she was being taken off the NFL sidelines completely in 2014.

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"Eventually my bosses agreed to give me a final year on the sidelines, but they told me I’d no longer be working with the network’s 'A' crew," Oliver wrote in Essence. "The three of us have been a unit for a decade and suddenly we were being split up. That was very difficult to hear. Even so, I kept my composure during the meeting. When we said our good-byes, there were hugs all around. I thought I’d handled it pretty well, but when I left the restaurant, I got into my car and noticed my hands were shaking. I was like, OK, that hurt. On my way home, I called my husband and told him what had happened. Then I stopped to pick up something for dinner. I’m usually very focused when I go food shopping. Instead, I remember walking aimlessly through the aisles not knowing where the rice was. I couldn’t maneuver the freaking grocery store! I was in shock."

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While Oliver said she did not think her demotion was race-based, she did tell Essence and SI.com that age might have been a factor. She turned 53 last March. "The business is very demographic-oriented," Oliver wrote. "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."

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