The modern sports broadcast has three noticeable voices: the play-by-play commentator, the color commentator and the ever-present sideline reporter. However, only the first two contribute anything to the viewing of an NBA game. I find sideline reporters to be pointless ornamentation, just like the painted logos on the NBA hardwood and the shots of celebrities in the crowd (except Jack Nicholson, who is an absolute treasure).
So where did these sideline “reporters” come from? Well, the profession of sideline reporter dates back to just after the 1972 Munich Olympics, the site of the infamous kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes, when ABC decided it wanted to be able to report on live sporting events more closely. At the same time, the latest technology in cameras and microphones made remote reporting feasible. Thus, the sideline reporter was born, and the profession’s early days gave us iconic figures like Jim Lampley.
While the first sideline reporters were a novel addition to the broadcast, giving viewers a different view of the action, today’s sideline reporters are largely useless. Just look at the ranks of this profession, from Erin Andrews, who is more famous for her looks than her reporting, to Craig Sager, whose biggest contribution is his outlandishly colored suits.
The sideline report is basically a glorified interview. A sweaty coach or player stands near the bench during halftime or after the game and mumbles cliches about changing the momentum and believing in teamwork. The reporter then fills the inevitable awkward silences with even more awkward laughter. By the end of the interview, no one has learned anything useful about what’s gone on in the game.
The flaws of the sideline interview are shown best through the legendary gruffness of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. When a reporter like David Aldridge or Doris Burke asks him to reveal his game plan, Popovich brushes him off. When the reporter attempts to ask Popovich an extra question, he cuts him off. In fact, Popovich resists showing warmth in any way at all.
While it might seem like Popovich is being rude, he is merely trying to do his job to the best of his abilities. For example, imagine you are a surgeon. Mid-surgery, a hospital administrator approaches you at the operating table and peppers you with questions that you are contractually obligated to respond to. Do these questions help you better perform the surgery? No, they actually hinder you from focusing on the task at hand. In a similar fashion (albeit at far lower stakes), the sideline reporter infringes upon the ability of players and coaches to focus on winning the game. Seen in this light, Popovich’s brusqueness is entirely justified.
Moreover, I would say that the existence of sideline reporters contributes to the sexism in sports journalism. The large use of women as sideline reporters is sexist in that it gives them the reporting job with the least substance and the most vanity. Plus, broadcasters can hire an attractive young woman as a sideline reporter and then point at how diverse their broadcast team is instead of giving smart women the chance at doing play-by-play or color commentary.
Clearly, the sideline reporter is a relic of another age. Today’s basketball players are very familiar with the media, and as a result they are trained to never reveal anything of substance. Thus, the interview has lost the cutting-edge insight it was conceived to convey. In lieu of this archaic exercise, broadcasters like TNT and ESPN should let coaches and players focus on the game itself. The product will be better basketball and, by extension, better ratings. Ending sideline reporting benefits broadcasters, coaches and, most importantly, a worn-out viewing audience.
Russell Guertin is a rising sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Benchwarmer Report appears every other Tuesday.