CBS Sets Women in Sports Reporting Back About Fifty Years

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Allie LaForce sideline reporting includes "hi-tech" oxygen tanks and beauty pageants

CBS reporter Allie LaForce has impressive credentials. She is a sideline reporter for CBS, studied broadcast journalism at Ohio University and was a college athlete.

During the University of Georgia vs. Alabama game, however, none of her accomplishments or skills were remotely evident. Instead, she came across as a blonde ditz of the "math is hard" ilk, a common and unfortunate trope that reinforces stereotypes that women are less intelligent, tech savvy, and competent than men.

The reporting in question? In a twenty-second segment, LaForce reported:

Alabama is always on top of the new sports technology, and this is one I have never seen before. Right behind me are two oxygen tanks that the team traveled with.

She went on to describe the newsworthy scene, players using this technology to catch their breath on the sidelines while receiving instructions from their coach. "They are actually taking in oxygen," she said, "so they can be more efficient the next time out."

The consensus about this report?  

Warren Sharp of Sharp Football posted a picture of the Green Bay Packers using oxygen tanks on the sidelines in 1968.

Some fans don't really care what Allie Force has to say, objectifying her as eye candy during the game.

 

Moments later, LaForce reported on beauty pageants. She couldn't come up with 20 seconds of intelligent commentary on technology, but felt very comfortable discussing the crowning of Miss Georgia at halftime. An unfortunate juxtaposition.

Instead of a competent, informative sideline reporter, which Allie LaForce certainly has the potential to be, CBS has instead positioned her as both uninformed and uninsightful. Attractiveness and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, but LaForce's absurd reporting on oxygen tanks as a never-before-seen technology on the sidelines reinforces that stereotype and reduces her role to that of an object, something nice to look at.

Female sports reporters often struggle to be taken seriously and are frequently the target of sexism and marginalization. In September, Jessica McCloughan, wife of Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, insinuated that ESPN reporter Dianna Russini received an inside scoop on the Redskins by providing oral sex to her sources.

The Star Tribune's Amelia Rayno shared her unpleasant experience with Norwood Teague, the athletic director of the University of Minnesota who recently resigned from his position after allegations of sexual harassment. Rayno wrote:

The switch flipped. Suddenly, in a public and crowded bar, Teague tried to throw his arm around me. He poked my side. He pinched my hip. He grabbed at me. Stunned and mortified, I swatted his advances and firmly told him to stop. He didn't.

"Don't deny," he said, "our chemistry."

I told him that he was drastically off base, that my only intention in being there was as a reporter - to which he replied: "You're all strictly business? Nothing else?"

I walked out. He followed me. I hailed a cab. He followed me in, grabbing at my arm and scooting closer and closer in the dark back cabin until I was pressed against the door. I told him to stop. I told him it was not OK. He laughed. When I reached my apartment, I vomited.

Later that night he texted: "Night strictly bitness.''

Other reporters have shared their stories under the protection of anonymity. That most women don't even feel comfortable airing complaints also speaks volumes. There are numerous stories about players flashing female reporters in the locker room, attempting to procure dates, and even touching them inappropriately.

Allowing Allie LaForce to stand on the sidelines and report on oxygen tanks as cutting-edge technology and speak on beauty pageants sends the wrong message. Whether she marginalized herself of her own volition or was fed that script by her producers at CBS, viewers deserve more out of a sideline reporter. And, female sports reporters should be leveraged as more than a rain-drenched babe, ignorant about technology, and knowledgeable about pageants.

Perhaps that approach is good for ratings. Maybe women appear more attractive, feminine, and accessible to a certain segment of the population if they appear stupid. After all, when you Google female sports reporters, the top hits are slideshows of the hottest in the business.  Or, perhaps CBS is attempting to pander to female viewers whom they erroneously assume are more interested in quips about beauty pageants than analysis of on-field play.

Allie LaForce's inane reporting on Saturday undermines women's efforts to be taken seriously as sports journalists and feeds harmful perceptions that female reporters have less to offer than their male counterparts when it comes to insight and analysis.