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Columns

September 18, 2010

TV networks should focus on hiring for substance, not looks

There's a lot to be said for most of those talking heads you see on television these days.

What can be said is that a lot of those heads are attached to sleek bodies honed to speak volumes to the male viewing public.

Not that I ever notice that sort of thing, of course. My attention _ like yours, I'm sure _ is riveted on what is being said rather than whether the person saying it is incredibly attractive. Oh, and we buy Playboy just to read the articles.

I'm sure it's just sheer coincidence that virtually every sideline reporter called upon for keen insight at college and professional football games looks like a refugee from the Miss America pageant.

Absolutely, these folks are hired for their expertise.

I mean, there's no way some grizzled, old retired coach or a 50-ish male or female with _ say _ 25 years' or so experience covering sports could provide anywhere near the insight of those young, pert, expensively coiffured sideline vixens.

Through what I assure you has been utterly professional and innocent-minded research (that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it), I have discovered that there are entire websites (for instance, sidelinehotties.com and hottiesincleats.com) devoted to the admiration of these founts of vital football information.

The main responsibility of a sideline reporter _ as I understand it _ is to stick a microphone in a coach's face at halftime and ask a probing question that usually goes something like this.

"Coach, what did you think of your team's first-half performance?"

After the coach says his team will have to work harder in the second half, the nymph will breathlessly look into the camera and "send it (whatever 'it' is) back to the booth."

You can't teach that kind of talent. Either you're born with it, or you're not. It also helps if you're born with long, blond hair and slender legs that go all the way to the ground.

What brings all this to mind is the raging kerfuffle concerning whether members of the New York Jets football team made leering faces and objectionable remarks toward Ines Sainz, a sideline reporter for a Mexican television network.

Defenders of the Jets are eager to absolve them of any culpability. This is based on two factors.

1.) Sainz was dressed in jeans so tight that if she had a nickel in her pocket, you could tell whether heads or tails was facing outward, and besides, she has posed in several magazines in various stages of undress.

2.) Boys will be boys, and that being the case, dumb jocks will be dumb jocks.

Both reasons are nonsense, of course. How a woman dresses should have no bearing on how she's treated.

Plus, most football players are intelligent, courteous and decent. As for the other players, a yahoo is a yahoo whether he's in a locker room or part of a sidewalk construction crew making crude remarks to women as they pass by.

Although he apologized under team pressure later, Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis is in the "boys will be boys" camp.

"I think you put women reporters in the locker room in position to see guys walking around naked," he said, "and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room. I think men are going to tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman."

Portis also said the feeling would be mutual.

"You put a woman (in the locker room) and you give her a choice of 53 athletes," he said, "somebody (sic) got to be appealing to her."

This yahoo behavior is promulgated in great part by the culture surrounding college and professional football that is encouraged by TV network geniuses, who have found blatant sexism doesn't do anything to discourage viewers.

On the contrary, they have discovered that having beautiful women report on real-world news won't hurt ratings one bit. Fox News, in particular, has turned that philosophy into an art form, with a seemingly endless stream of female commentators in short skirts.

On Tuesday night, with all the complex issues involved with the Tea Party's victories in state primaries, instead of a political pro, who was there to nod and agree with everything host Sean Hannity had to say?

Miss America, 2008, Kirsten Haglund.

C'mon, whom did you expect _ Betty White?

In the interest of fairness, I do have a confession. My favorite newscaster is a woman. When I see her on TV I just have to keep watching.

Her name is Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "State of the Union" program each Sunday. Even though she lost a lot of weight in the last year or so, she's not what those sideline websites would ever call a "babe."

What she is, is an award-winning, hard-working, effective journalist who asks intelligent, difficult questions of her guests without being a self-aggrandizing jerk or a softball-lobbing pushover.

We'd all be a whole lot better off and a whole lot better informed if the networks hired more news and sports people based on a great body of work rather than just a great body.

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star and can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.

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