Ageism, sexism and racism have been at the center of the controversy over Fox Sports’ decision to place Erin Andrews in Pam Oliver’s No. 1 sideline reporting spot covering the NFL.
Fans and pundits alike have also criticized Fox for making the move in Oliver’s 20th year with the network and for focusing on entertainment value over journalistic expertise.
Oliver has been praised for her experience — and for taking the high road. Andrews, whom Fox Sports had hired away from ESPN, admits that she has large shoes to fill. Both women have agreed to stay out of the drama zone.
“I want people to know that this ain’t that tragic in the grand scheme of things,” Oliver said in a Sports Illustrated interview. SI reported that Oliver will move to the No. 2 team and that she will also do “long-form pieces, specials, major interviews and some producing” under her new contract.
Oliver said that she knew something was in the works for two years and that Fox executives flew to Atlanta where she lives in April to break the news.
“It is a change,” Oliver told SI. “Despite me having a two-year heads up, it was still kind of shocking. I went through all of the emotions you can imagine. It’s just that I love the job. Nothing else.”
Oliver has been one of the most familiar faces covering pro football. In addition to Fox, where she has worked since 1995, she has covered pro sports for ESPN and TNT.
“Oliver brought a professional approach to the job week after week,” said Cindy Boren, social media editor for Sports at the Washington Post where she also blogs for The Early Lead.
“Neither breezy nor blonde, she supplied information without becoming a distraction to anyone other than Internet trolls,” Boren said of Oliver. “Only last season did she become part of the story when she was struck on the head by a football and suffered a concussion. Andrews, 36, has done some solid work, but isn’t in the same league as Oliver.”
The 53-year-old Oliver also became part of the story over a bad hair day that went viral earlier this year.
Born in Dallas but reared in a military family in several states, Oliver grew up watching sports with her father, which she preferred over children’s shows, according to her bio. She was a standout in tennis, basketball, and track and field at the Niceville, Fla., high school. An All-American in track at Florida A&M University, she graduated with a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism in 1984.
In 1985, she started her career as a TV reporter at WALB in Albany, Ga. After a year, she moved on to WAAY in Huntsville, Ala., and then WIVB in Buffalo, N.Y. She became a sports anchor at WTVT in Tampa, Fla., in 1991, and KHOU in Houston.
Here’s a timeline on Oliver and other black women who have covered sports on air or behind the scenes from the 1940s to the present. Also see a Fierce Storify, “Play by Play on Pam Oliver,” capturing the buzz in cyberspace on the sports journalist.