One of the more curious aspects of sports media is how much emphasis is placed on the appearances of media members, athletes and fans. ESPN's Dana O'Neil explored the media side of this (and particularly how it applies to female sports journalists) in a piece published at Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism Tuesday, but the latter two are omnipresent elements of our sports media scene as well. The upcoming Olympics and ESPN The Mag's annual Body Issue both illustrate that. On the surface, if we think of sports as a completely isolated environment, appearance really shouldn't be a factor; after all, isn't it all about if you can get the story, hit the jump shot or support your team, not how great you look doing it? It's clear that sports hasn't been isolated from our desires for eye candy, though, so the key question is if the current balance is the right one, or if it should be shifted. At the moment, it looks like the sports world is a bookstore where the attractive covers are prominently displayed, while some excellent novels with less-remarkable cover art are languishing on the dusty back shelves.
On the journalism front, O'Neil makes some fascinating points in her piece. What's particularly notable is how she isn't really complaining about the high profiles of women known for their looks, including Erin Andrews and Charissa Thompson. Instead, O'Neil is arguing that those women deserve to be recognized for their reporting talents as well, and that's a laudable point. It can be easy for male sports fans to assume that Andrews, Thompson and the rest only got their jobs because of their appearance, but that isn't the whole truth; after all, there are plenty of models out there who don't work as sideline reporters. Thompson isn't just the "next Michelle Beadle" but someone that climbed through the ranks from FSN to BTN and now ESPN. Andrews in particular has shown a dedication to her craft and an ability to communicate information to viewers, and it's worth pointing out that her versatile broadcasting talents played a huge role in the deal she just received from FOX Sports. As O'Neil writes, "I know plenty of attractive women who are damn good at what they do. They do their homework. They know their sport. They care. They work hard. They also happen to look nice on camera. They shouldn’t have to apologize for that."