Thursday, January 04, 2001

Sexiest sportscaster poll reflects reality

        America's Sexiest Sportscaster is a contest in need of clarification. How can we presume to pick a winner when the contestants refuse to appear in swimsuits and stiletto heels? How much heat can a sportscaster convey when she's bundled up like Nanook of the North, discussing defensive deployment with Dennis Green?

        I ask you: Is this a fair test of feminine pulchritude? Shouldn't America's Drooling Spectators be allowed to make an informed choice in an election of such significance? Shouldn't “Playboy” have arranged more provocative preliminaries?

        If we're going to make a mockery of the work these women do, why settle for half-measures? Why not resolve the issue with wet T-shirts and mud wrestling? A matter of such compelling national interest deserves closure and demands cleavage.

        “Playboy” intends to announce its winner Jan.12 and will offer its Playmate of the Mike $1 million to shed her clothes for the camera. While some journalists are appalled by this prurient proposition, it is the logical extension of the networks' hiring practices.

Men stay tuned
        Television executives long ago realized that testosterone tube junkies do not crave information so much as stimulation. We're not nearly so interested in the complexities of the salary cap as we are in the simple pleasure of a pretty face. On the most fundamental level — ratings — Bonnie Bernstein and Inga Hammond perform brilliantly if they do nothing else but prevent viewers from reaching for the remote control.

        Similarly, Dennis Miller was not hired by “Monday Night Football” for his expertise but for his entertainment value. As live sports command an ever-shrinking share of the viewing audience, network programmers are prone to panic and to pander. Having distorted the natural length of games to accommodate more commercials, they seek to truss our overtaxed attention spans with glitz and gimmickry and girls.

        Today's trend makes yesterday's look timid. Commercials promoting the XFL — the new football league formulated by wrestling promoter Vince McMahon and underwritten by NBC — dwell almost exclusively on gratuitous violence and sideline sexuality. Its vamping cheerleaders promise to make the cast of “Baywatch” look like nuns.

Looks equal longevity
        Women who pursue sports broadcasting careers do so with the understanding that they will last only as long as their looks. Those who achieve authentic expertise are inevitably replaced by less qualified younger women.

        “I know I only have 10-15, maybe 20 years of doing this,” said Kathrine Nero, of Cincinnati's WCPO-TV. “You're hired and fired on things you can't control — age and weight and hair color. You'll send a tape to a news director, and if they don't like what they see, you're out in 10 seconds.”

        Playboy's poll merely formalizes television's unspoken priority, and the results thus far portend a promising career for CBS' Jill Arrington. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, Arrington led the field of 10 finalists with a 24 percent share of the nearly 169,000 votes cast. “Monday Night Football's” Melissa Stark was second at 21 percent.

        A CBS spokeswoman said Wednesday that Arrington had no comment on the competition. Perhaps she didn't have anything worth saying. She sure looks great, though.



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- SULLIVAN: Sexiest sportscaster poll reflects reality
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