Last week, Charissa Thompson opened up her yap on the podcast Pardon My Take and, for reasons still largely unknown to the rest of us, thought it was super cute to admit that she’s made up sideline reports in the past . How cute!
“I’ve said it before, so I’m not fired for saying it, but I’ll say it again. Sometimes I made up the report because A, the coach didn’t come out at halftime, or it was too late and I was like, ‘I didn’t want to mess up the report, so I was like, ‘I’m just going to make it up ,”” Thompson said on the podcast.
“First of all, no coach is going to get mad when I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to stop hurting ourselves, we’ve got to be better on third down, we’ve got to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of downs climb. the field.’ Like, they’re not going to correct me on that,” she explained. “So I’m like fine, I’m just going to make up the report.”
After a significant amount of backlash on social media from journalists who A, take their work seriously and B, find it offensive to lie to the public, Thompson issued a statement half-heartedly walked back her comment, but the damage had already been done.
“When I was on a podcast this week, I said I would make up reports early in my career when I worked as a sideline reporter before transitioning to my current hosting role,” Thompson said. “Working in the media, I understand how important words are and I chose the wrong words to describe the situation. I am sorry. I have never lied or been unethical about anything during my time as a sports broadcaster,” she wrote.
So where to even begin with this?
First, what’s Charissa Thompson doing on a Barstool affiliate podcast, considering Barstool has largely downplayed their name misogyny, harass women, and assuring the “cool girls” that they are, in fact, cool, and it’s the people who point out their record of sexism who are actually the problem? Thompson calls other sideline reporters “some of her best friends,” but Tracy Wolfson was previously targeted by Barstool. So did Sam Ponder. So are dozens of other women who work in sports media. (Full disclosure: I was too targeted by Barstool for years.)
Throw one out for the sisterhood, I guess.
But second, there are so many things ethically wrong with Thompson admitting to making up reports that she then distributed to a mass audience. Your job as a journalist is not to find something, anything, to say, but to report what is actually going on. Look at reporting as filling airtime or having to say something when the camera is on, you are not the job. The job is to get information to the viewers, and veteran sideline reporter Laura Okmin beautifully explained how to handle coaches who won’t talk or be interviewed during the game, while Thompson’s “Sometimes they won’t talk to me !” defense right out of the water.
Okmin has told me in the past that she, and most sideline reporters, do as much preparation during the week for the game as the team in the broadcast booth. She pours over the same stat sheets, sits in the same meetings, conducts the same interviews. Still, she has to figure out how to get vast amounts of information about, not just the game, but the team and its players, to an audience in less than a minute in an easily digestible format. It is a job that requires real skill, dedication and pressure. By way of exposition, please enjoy this video of ESPN’s Molly McGrath absolutely dragging ass (in heels) to get the post-game interview:
“But so what? We never get any information from sideline reporters anyway. Who cares?” Such was the reticence of a certain faction of the fanbase after Thompson’s comments. I’m not sure how to explain to people that reporters lying to the public is something they should care about, but here are we.. Second, you only have to think back to Kaylie Hartung’s coverage of Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury Thursday night or Lisa Salters on the field during Damar Hamlin’s collapse on national television to know that’s not true.
Thompson justifying her fake reporting by claiming that “no one will get mad at me” because it’s so revealing of how she views sports journalism that she should probably lose her job over it. How can anyone trust any information she relays back to the audience? A journalist’s job is not to stay in the good graces of those she covers, especially not NFL head coaches and players, although I will admit the bloody disgraceful relationship between pro sports and broadcast “partners” these days. But the fact that Thompson seems to think the primary problem with making up fake reports is that a coach is mad at her is revealing.
I’m not going to take us down the road of “announcers” versus “journalists”. We all know that sports media long ago calculated that women on the airwaves needed to be attractive as well as twice as loud as their male counterparts in order to be taken seriously, and that determination has led to many people not necessarily caring about the ethics. from reporting to getting into the field. It is clear that women in sports media still have to work harder than their male counterparts to even get a foot in the door, much less a starring role in an NFL broadcast. Thompson coming out and admitting how frivolously she takes her job, a job that thousands of women would kill to have, feels like a slap in the face to every single woman who works in sports media — from high school sports to the pros, no matter what medium they work in.
There is a war on journalists going on across our country and around the world. So far in 2023, 60 journalists were killed on the job. T-shirts which advocates the killing of journalists is in mainstream circulation and available for purchase as we speak Elon Musk, the owner of X, has frequently disparaged actual journalists and promoted “citizen journalism,” which is not fact-checked, sourced, edited, or verified. A large portion of the American public thinks journalists lie and make up information, even though anyone who has worked for a legitimate outlet will tell you that’s not true. Yes, the media gets stories wrong now and then. But failure and fabrication are not the same things. Charissa Thompson just gave everyone who believes that journalists are liars and fabulists an entire podcast to hang their hats on.
So here’s to the Laura Okmins, Suzy Kolbers and Tracy Wolfsons. Here’s to the Pam Olivers and Andrea Kremers and Lesley Vissers. Here’s to the Lisa Salters and Kristina Pinks and Molly McGraths, the Kaylee Hartungs, Karthryn Tappens and Melissa Starks. To all the women working in sports media who do their (too often thankless) jobs with integrity and tenacity and perseverance — thank you.