The stereotype of a sideline reporter never changes

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Football season has hardly started and fans are already grousing about sideline reporters. To be sure, these reporters, often referred to as sideliners, now exist in most sports, and a handful of them - notably Craig Sager of Turner Broadcasting, whose attire mimics that of a clown's - are downright famous. While Sager is best known for basketball, football sideline reporters are most identifiable and most infamous in their position.

Just as football offensive linemen are supposed to be fat, football sideline reporters are supposed to be women - attractive women. Who can ever forget a drunken Joe Namath mumbling to one of the poor sideliners that he wanted to kiss her? But evidently, the television version of the laws of the Medes and the Persians says that football sideline reporters must be female. There's even a website to support the claim: Presumably, TV believes that a touch of pulchritude behind the mic improves rating - affirmative attraction action.

And so the sideliners are delegated to freeze down on the tundra while the male play-by-play announcer and his hefty old gridiron warrior expert babble on comfortably up in the heated booth. The sideline reporter is sort of like the scroll at the bottom of the screen; it rolls on endlessly, especially on ESPN, even when it doesn't have anything of consequence to say. Likewise, the sideliner. If you've got the technology for a scroll or a live body on the field, use them.

The most asinine task sideliners are required to carry out is to ask coaches, before the second half, what plans they have for the rest of the game. The answers are always the same: the coach who's ahead says he wants to keep up the intensity and avoid turnovers, while the coach who's behind says he wants to get more physical and avoid turnovers. Back to the booth. And all the guys watching with their buddies at home laugh at the ditzy babes who ask such obvious, stupid questions.

But the irony is that almost any sideline reporter - whatever sport, whichever gender - usually has done his or her homework and knows his or her stuff; most of them are terribly overqualified for the assignment of being a human scroll. But, while it has not been uncommon for newspapers to have women writing the football beat for years, television wouldn't dare allow a female up into the booth to actually call the game.

I was reminded when I heard Mary Carillo doing tennis commentary during the Open that when you hear a female voice in tandem with a male voice, the contrast sets off both advantageously, as TV stations always pair male and female anchors on the local news.

But in sports television, sideline reporters can only go side to side, never up. Their place is down on the field, with the cheerleaders.