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Racism and sexism come into play over Pam Oliver’s hair

Racism and sexism come into play over Pam Oliver’s hair

When FOX Sports sideline reporter and analyst Pam Oliver appeared on screen during the NFC Championship game, she immediately drew a reaction from sports fans. No, she didn’t get hit with another football, and no, there were no verbal slips or wardrobe malfunctions. There was, however, a very obvious malfunction, her hairstyle.

Pam Oliver’s hair did not look good at all. In fact I was taken aback by it. Given the nature of social media I was not surprised by some of the comments made. While some were outright mean and racist, the majority of the comments, mostly from African-American women, seemed to express concern for a woman who has accomplished so much and is a role model for other women in sports media.

Pam Oliver is an accomplished sports journalist. She attended Florida A&M University and was by all accounts a very good athlete. Oliver has earned her spot on the sideline interviewing the biggest and best in the sports industry. Her achievements cannot be denied. She is a true trailblazer.

So what’s the problem?

This immediately becomes an issue of race and sex. In fact, whenever the appearance of African-Americans gets called into question, age-old stereotypes and deep-seeded racism gets stirred up. Given the fact that Oliver is a woman, sexism comes into play as well. Most of the comments about her hair came from African-American women, and this is no surprise. Hair has been a long-standing issue in the black community. African-Americans have been taught to be better –all the time. No matter what it was or is, the standard that being “good” just isn”t good enough, so the standard of excellence was established. Those great expectations dawned great achievements in every area including education, politics, business, the arts and yes, sports.  There was, an in some cases, still is an explicit understanding that whatever we did or do represents the entire black community and everything, down to our appearance had to be excellent–including our hair. Women had even more of a struggle battling the racism and inherent sexism of the day. Be it straight, permed, natural, wig or weave, the truth is for women of any color, hair is more than an accessory–it’s a power tool.

But there’s more to this.

Many women came to Oliver’s defense touting her accomplishments and sports resume as a defense to her bad hair day. Many were saying that her looks should take a back seat and that her skills on the field should be the focus. Those defending Oliver said talking about her hair is childish and offensive. While that is certainly a good argument with valid points,  there are some other glaring points missed. Why isn’t Pam at the desk with the FOX Sports team? Why hasn’t she been given the opportunity to do hard-hitting sports journalism? Why aren’t these points being argued?

But I digress…

The truth is that how a woman looks, especially when she’s on camera is important. We expect all TV personalities to look good. Pretty or handsome is in the eye of the beholder, but there is a basic level of decency that must, and should be maintained.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling out Oliver’s bad hair day. Truth be told, she’s had a bad hair day for a few years now. No, it’s not that she’s black, or that she’s female, but if we’re going to elevate her accomplishments and call her a trailblazer, then all we’ve done is raise the standard. The proverb, “to whom much is given, much is required comes to mind”. In fact, her position only further underscores the notion that who she is and what she represents should be done well.

I think the monkey and animal comparisons are down-right racist, and women in sports media have enough challenges in that we almost have to be attractive first to be taken seriously. Pam Oliver has succeeded in doing both. The fact that she has reached a certain level in the sports media game shouldn’t lower our expectations; it should raise them.

We should always speak the truth in love, but sometimes that truth can be difficult to hear and receive. In today’s society of “my-right-to-do-anything” we have watered down our expectations. No one can be called out, held accountable, told they are wrong, set straight or God forbid, they have to meet a standard. I don’t think there is anything wrong with expecting the best, from the best, on all levels. Yes, even how he/she looks. In fact, we do her a disservice by not doing so. 

As an African-American woman in sports media I understand the challenges and the scrutiny that comes with being the face in front of the camera. On this day, as we celebrate the legacy of the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this topic reminds us of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.

 I certainly don’t have Pam Oliver’s track record or accomplishments–yet, but I plan on continuing to  keep the fire burning in the trail she’s blazed. 

Looking good all the way.

Your Jersey Girlfriend,

~Angela Davis

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