NFL sideline reporting is a noble profession with a proud tradition. My memory goes back as far as the days the mean streets of those bench areas were patrolled by pioneers like former Miss America Phyllis George:
Until she was replaced by former Miss America finalist Jayne Kennedy:
[Note: Either or both of them might have only been in the studio alongside Brent Musburger and Jimmy The Greek Snyder. The memories tend to get hazy as you get older. But I'm going with it anyway.]
Whoever started it, sideline reporting remains virtually unchanged since it first began. Much like late night talk shows, basic cable ghost hunting programs, and local news storm coverage, someone created a template decades ago and it's been strictly followed the same way ever since. To the letter.
At some point in the first quarter, the play-by-play guy throws it to the sideline where you report some pre-packaged human interest factoid about the most high profile player on one of the teams. Later, it's about someone on the other sideline. In between, you give vague, injury updates. Then chill until the start of the 3rd quarter when you repeat some non-specific platitude each head coach gave you about playing better and how they're not sure about something that may or may not happen in the 2nd half. Then the color analyst agrees with your assessment, and hopefully we're kicking the ball off.
It's not the easiest job in the world, I suppose. Maybe not everyone can do it. But it's not Walter Cronkite telling the nation JFK has been declared dead at Parkland Hospital, either. It's not like you have to get the facts 100% right or you'll throw the world into chaos. It's filler. Something to make the broadcast slightly more entertaining. Something that veteran, polished, professional sideline reporter Charissa Thompson of Fox acknowledged on Pardon My Take:
“I’ve said this before. I haven’t been fired to saying it, but I’ll say it again. I would make up the report sometimes, because A) the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime, or it was too late and I didn’t want to screw up the report. So I was like, ‘I’m just gonna make this up.’
“Because first of all, no coach is gonna get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves, we need to be better on third down, we need to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of getting off the field.’ They’re not gonna correct me on that. So I’m like, it’s fine, I’ll just make up the report.”
Which is something that veteran, polished, professional sideline reporter Molly McGrath of ESPN has taken great umbrage with:
Two professionals. Two different approaches to the profession. And who is anyone to say which is right and which is wrong? The closest I've ever come to their job is doing comedy relief on the Patriots pre- and postgame show on NBC Sports Boston, where they'd toss it to me at a desk and I'd read the most ridiculous Tweets I could find. And since this was the Patriots, Boston, and Twitter, I never had to make up a word of it.
But if I had to pick a side - and I've sort of painted myself in a verbal corner here and have no choice, I'm going with Thompson. Not just because she said it on one of Barstool's flagship properties. But because there are some things you just can't get too worked up about. And without a doubt, sideline reporting is on the short list.
I can appreciate McGrath's desire to see the job done well. But look at the language she uses. "Ethical." "Sensitive information." "Dishonest." "Trust." "Credibility." And to use one of her own words, but sarcastically and make it a question, "Seriously"? These ladies are the third person on an NFL broadcast team, not surgeons at a pediatric hospital. They're asking angry, sweaty, often middle aged men how they feel about the previous 30 minutes of football, not investing people's life's savings. I think they can fudge the truth a bit. I mean, every reporter at every Pats game for the past 24 years has repeated the same phrase out of Bill Belichick about how he has to coach it better, play it better, and take care of the football. He probably printed it on a business card in 2000 and just hands it to her on his way to the locker room. That is, if he's ever once even come within 10 yards of someone coming toward him with a mic in hand.
There's that one person on every job you have who takes the work way too seriously. The Dwight Shrutes who are all rules and regulations, spit and polish, always out to impress the suits, and who don't hesitate to call out anyone who doesn't straighten up and fly right. That's Molly McGrath. On the other end of the spectrum, are the total goof offs with zero ethics or professionalism at all. You don't want to be at either of those extremes. My professional advice to anyone in any line of work is to be the Charissa Thompson.
Care, but just don't care so much that it prevents you from doing the job the right way.