July 14, 2024

Since Thursday afternoon, those in the sports media industry, particularly women, have been talking about one thing: that the prominent broadcaster Charissa Thompson had casually volunteered in an interview that she had made up reports while working as a sideline reporter.

Young women just beginning careers in sports journalism asked one another in group chats if the kind of practice Ms. Thompson was describing was OK. Veteran journalists who have held prominent sideline reporting roles said they carefully crafted statements to post on social media, their impulse to defend their profession overriding their reluctance to criticize another woman.

Andrea Kremer, an Emmy-winning sports journalist who has both reported from the sidelines of N.F.L. games and called them from the broadcast booth, described the damage from Thompson’s comments as “profound.” In particular, she said, it harmed those working as sideline reporters, who are relied on to provide news on things like injury updates during the game and to elicit instant reaction from coaches and players.

It is a role that centers on establishing trust with both the teams and leagues being covered and with the viewing audience. It is dismissed by some viewers, who say the questions asked of players and coaches are often banal, leading to generic answers. And for female sideline reporters, that disrespect can often be coupled with the sexist trope that the most important thing they can do on air is look good.

“The sideline role has always been questioned about its necessity, which I think I’ve explained to you is erroneous,” Ms. Kremer said in an interview on Friday morning on a landline while her cellphone pinged repeatedly in the background.

“But,” she added, “I don’t remember anybody ever wondering, ‘Did they make that up?’ Now, there is that kernel of doubt.”

Ms. Thompson was a sideline reporter for Fox for the 2008 through 2010 seasons, and now is the host of a Fox N.FL. pregame show and Amazon Prime’s “Thursday Night Football.” During a segment on Barstool Sports’s “Pardon My Take” podcast this week, Ms. Thompson said that during games in which a coach either wouldn’t talk to her at halftime or came out of the locker room too late, she would “make up the report sometimes.” She said she felt it was fine, since no coach would object to her citing boilerplate comments about the team’s performance.

On Friday morning, Ms. Thompson disavowed what she said on the podcast. “I have never lied about anything or been unethical during my time as a sports broadcaster,” she wrote on Instagram. Ms. Thompson said that when a coach did not provide information in a halftime interview, she would report her own observations and not attribute them to anyone.

Representatives for Fox and Amazon declined to comment, and would not make Ms. Thompson available for an interview.

It is not the first time Ms. Thompson has made this particular claim. In an exchange last year on the podcast she hosts with the Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews, Ms. Thompson detailed a specific instance when, she said, she made up a report during a 2008 Detroit Lions game after the team’s coach, Rod Marinelli, told her he liked her perfume instead of answering her question. Ms. Andrews chimed in, saying, “I’ve done that, too,” for “a coach that I didn’t want to throw under the bus because he was telling me all the wrong stuff!”

Jill Fritzo, a spokeswoman for Ms. Andrews, said, “For her entire career, Erin Andrews has worked very closely with coaches, players and P.R. staffs to ensure accuracy in her reporting.” She added that what Ms. Andrews meant was that she took information from earlier meetings with coaches to include in her reports, and that when she was on the air she was always “clear” about where her information comes from.

Both women hold high-profile roles with enormous reach. Perhaps because of that, the public response by many of their counterparts was widespread.

Lisa Salters, the sideline reporter for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, for the first time since March to say that Ms. Thompson’s remarks “called all sideline reporters into question.” Tracy Wolfson of CBS wrote on X that what Ms. Thompson described is “absolutely not ok, not the norm and upsetting on so many levels.”

Lesley Visser, who was the first female N.F.L. sideline reporter, said in an interview that “what I feel with that careless comment is that it’s almost like ground gained is not ground secured.” She added: “All of a sudden it’s, ‘They don’t matter, they’re eye candy.’ It is so deflating to me that ground gained is not ground secured. I thought that people wouldn’t be challenging that role in 2023.”

Neither Ms. Visser nor Laura Okmin, an N.F.L. broadcaster for Fox and on the radio for Westwood One, remembers sideline reporting being viewed as the role for women when she started out. Ms. Visser was preceded at ABC by the former player Lynn Swann. Ms. Okmin was drawn to the job in the early 2000s, because it was the chance to cover the game from an access point no other reporter had.

“Somewhere along the way, it’s turned into having to justify the value and the worth of this role,” Ms. Okmin said. “And not so coincidentally, it’s coincided with it really becoming a role of women.”

Ms. Okmin runs an organization called GALvanize to train and connect women pursuing careers in sports broadcasting, and she said she had received numerous questions about Ms. Thompson’s comments. The reactions spurred her to speak out publicly.

“When someone just goes, ‘I made it up sometimes,’ it’s a deeper cut than just a flippant comment,” she said. “It goes to the very core of us doing what we always do, which is justifying our role.”

Reporting from the sideline is a challenging assignment to do well. Veterans advise newcomers to wear sneakers, because they can expect to log at least five miles racing around the stadium. Sideline reporters must prepare all week to navigate weather, grumpy coaches, breaking news in real time and seconds-long windows in which to relay information to a television audience of millions.

And when they go back to their hotel rooms, some have had to deal with dangerous harassment from obsessive viewers.

Ms. Kremer, who spent decades reporting on sports and its major issues before five years as the sideline reporter for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” estimated that maybe 1 percent of the reporting she did leading up to the game would make it onto the air. Right before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, she reported that the Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward had received a platelet-rich plasma injection to be able to play in the game. To report that news to a live television audience, Ms. Kremer confirmed it with three different people, including Mr. Ward at the walk-through the day before the game.

She said she believed the impact of Ms. Thompson’s admission would not be fleeting. “This even transcends just sideline reporting and sports, because in the climate in which we are in today, where fake news is part of the lexicon, somebody is admitting that they made something up,” Ms. Kremer said.

She added: “It’s just so difficult for all the hard-working people out there, who now have to have this as one more obstacle. I feel like an entire position, a whole role, got devalued and it was made a mockery of.”