Fake News? Sure. But Fake Sports?

I love sports, and I love attractive women.  I’m not alone in those beliefs, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  And whenever I’ve met one who is sincere and passionate about their fandom, it’s an immediate connection that often overrides mere physical allure.    Believe me, some of the best PEOPLE I’ve ever known just happen to have those qualities.

I’ve also had the pleasure of working with and around many such women at various stops where I had the chance to rub shoulders–and trust me, that’s all I’ve EVER rubbed–with many who were on-air personalities, as well as many who were sales and marketing executives.  A great deal of them worked for FOX Sports, and I helped to reinforce the fact that even though the name FOX was in the title of the division, despite whatever specific perception other divisions of FOX people may have held, FOX Sports’ reputation stood on its own as a place for “attitude”, as opposed to, say, some of the words used to describe FOX News, particularly by its haters.

At the turn of the century, while in the midst of crossing over from one FOX entity to another, I helped to spearhead a massive study requested by then-Chairman Peter Chernin, who was noticing that while competitors like Viacom were highly successful with unique names and nomenclatures for their array of media properties, FOX insisted on putting its name on everything from a kids’ network to a family channel to news and sports, not to mention a general entertainment network which was colloquially referenced as “big FOX”.   While there were some challenges that were identified in this study, more notably the inconsistency of the words “FOX Family”, FOX Sports emerged as practically unscathed.  On a national level, that was especially true.

But we also saw some chinks in that armor with some of the regional sports networks that were trading on the umbrella name FOX Sports Net that were making a concerted effort to buttress its telecasts of local MLB, NBA and NHL games, not to mention many colleges and high schools, with an array of sideline reporters that were cast much in the manner that FOX News Channel, and, for that matter, many local TV stations, did.  FSN management cattily referenced this as their “FOX Babe” strategy.  If they happened to have an athletic background, great, it affirmed credibility, but it also meant they were more than likely to be attractive, no, HOT, as well,    The prevailing belief meant these were women that the average “casual sports viewer”, assumed to be young and male, would be more likely to watch even less competitive teams and less compelling events as, say, an NFL telecast.

It is out of this culture that Charissa Thompson emerged, and why I for one am not surprised one whit at what and where she made this confession that emerged yesterday in an otherwise shocking fashion.  As USA TODAY’s Mike Freeman lamentingly reported:

By now, if you’re a huge sports fan, you’ve heard that former sideline reporter Charissa Thompson went on Barstool and admitted, like, publicly admitted, she flat-out made up stuff when she was a sideline reporter. She was providing viewers information, like other sideline reporters, it just turns out that some of it was lies. I had to watch the video multiple times to make sure I wasn’t being pranked. Yep. She said that.

“I’ve said this before,” Thompson said. “I haven’t been fired (for) 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.”

Indeed, as Freeman added, Thompson had previously spilled that tea, ironically on a podcast she co-hosts with perhaps the poster child of hot sideline reporters, Erin Andrews:

It was in 2022 during her “Calm Down”podcast with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews, that Thompson admitted making up sideline reports. Andrews said she has done the same thing. 

“I was like, ‘Oh coach, what adjustments are you gonna make at halftime?’ He goes, ‘That’s a great perfume you’re wearing,’” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘Oh (expletive), this isn’t gonna work.’ I’m not kidding, I made up a report.”

Thompson has never been shy about flaunting her looks for career opportunties.  I crossed paths with her early on when she was promoted from the obscurity of the still-emerging Big Ten Network to co-host a poorly executed FSN late night, THE BEST DAMN SPORTS SHOW PERIOD.  The show was conceived with Jimmy Kimmel in mind, a great white whale that FOX Sports chairman David Hill had accurately identified as a budding superstar even when he was just beginning as a local Los Angeles radio performer and a Comedy Central personality whose  resume included the bro-code embracing THE MAN SHOW.  BDSSP, as it was known, was meant to be a nightly celebration of such code, but never caught on when it was being fronted by a frat house of Kimmel wannabes such as former STUDS host Mark DeCarlo and a young Craig Robinson.  Thompson was part of a last-ditch effort to add eye candy to the show and took every opportunity to ingratitate herself to the top brass, doubling down on shorter skirts and plunging necklines when she knew there was a bigger event going on.  She was also branching out to networks such as GSN, where folks I later worked with confirmed she took a similar self-promoting approach during her brief stint as co-host of a live Saturday night series that also flopped.

So in this particular case, I’m disappointed, but nowhere near as surprised or offended as many of her peers have been and have taken to social media to reinforce their disgust and disdain.  As Freeman’s colleague Victoria Hernandez recapped:

Award-winning reporter Andrea Kremer, who was the recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2018, took to X to explain why Thompson’s actions were offensive.

“As one of only 3 women in the @ProFootballHOF I’m sickened by the insulting mockery being made of sideline reporting,” she said, “a challenging role primarily manned by women – most of whom understand & respect the values of journalism and are integral, trusted members of a broadcast team.”

Lisa Salters, a veteran journalist who is a sideline reporter for “Monday Night Football” and has covered the Super Bowl, posted on X for the first time since March to share her thoughts on how Thompson’s admission leaves a bad mark on the industry.

“Shocked. Disappointed. Disgusted. What we heard today called all sideline reporters into question. My job is an honor, a privilege and a craft at which I have worked so hard…,” she said in two posts.

Many others, including Tracy Wolfson, Molly McGrath, Kathryn Tappen and even a lesser-known FOX Sports colleague named Laura Okmin have been equally as defensive, and rightfully so.  They’re solid journalists first and foremost, and their track records show it.  I’ve also personally known trailblazer Linda Cohn since our shared college days at SUNY Oswego, and her 30-plus year run at ESPN that’s still going strong and her inductions into multiple sports and Jewish Halls of Fame speak for themselves.

Yet none of those name appear on lists like this, which have been compiled by similarly-minded adolescents for decades, and indeed reflect the temper of the likes of Barstool’s approach.  From the top down, it’s unapologetically misoygnist and if the girls want to play, all the better.

And, candidly, many have and do.  Several of the names on that list have been romantically involved with athletes and executives.  Sometimes for hookups.  Sometimes for something more permanent.  And that’s their business.

What’s our business, or should be, is having some sort of confidence that the person we may be privately ogling is still credible enough to be there on merit.  FOX Sports shouldn’t be lumped in with its corporate cousins, particularly now, when it comes to accuracy and integrity.  A sideline reporter should have more raison d’etre than, say, a FOX Business News reporter.

Freeman, who often uses his USA TODAY pulpit to demand social justice, is particularly reviled by Thompson’s revelations:

There’s no way Thompson, who has been doing this for more than a decade and knows better, should survive this. This is a firing offense. It’s not even close. Thompson now works for Fox and is also host of Amazon’s Thursday Night Football studio coverage. Andrews, who should also know better, is one of sports television’s biggest stars. She should pay a hefty price as well.  There is a staggering amount of privilege in Thompson’s remarks.

But on the same day where all of this broke there was Thompson, the eye candy in the middle of the TNF pre and post-game show, holding court, dressed a tad less provocatively since it was outdoors in Baltimore in November. And she’ll be ubiquitous on FOX all day Sunday during its NFL coverage as she delivers highlights, hopefully with enough video to show that at least in this case she’s not lying.

And, honestly, in a culture where a Murdoch still calls the shots, which has been whittled down from the dizzying array of FOX-branded networks, including those regional sports networks where Thompson and her more forgettable fellow “babes” started, which karma and Bally mismanagement now have on life support, would it be wrong to believe that this somehow just gets glossed over?

I’d like to believe I’m wrong.  I hope I am.   I am in solidarity with anyone who believes integrity and skill sets should be first and foremost on any CV.  Even though I’m sadly reminded on a daily basis how pious a hope that may be.

Perhaps Thompson may be given some sort of dressing down.  Possibly even a three-game suspension.  That seems to be the flavor of the moment when it comes to discretionary punishment.  Isn’t that right, Tony Pettitti?

But if she and FOX and/or Amazon do part ways, don’t cry any crocodile tears for her.  Remember, Lauren Sanchez came up the exact same way she did.  And she seems to have done OK for herself since she left the sideline.

Now back to you in the booth.

Until next time…

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