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Spotlight Turns to the Sideline

August 29, 2003|LARRY STEWART

Viewers who tune in to CBS Saturday at 3 p.m. to watch USC's season opener at Auburn will be looking for answers to important questions.

Such as: What will sideline reporter Jill Arrington be wearing?

"That's hilarious," Arrington said with a laugh in a phone interview shortly after arriving in Auburn, Ala., Thursday.

Arrington said she didn't really know what she would be wearing.

"CBS has a deal with Brooks Brothers to supply our clothing," she said. "Since that's not a sexy clothing line, I'm sure I will be wearing something pretty conservative."

Arrington is entering her fourth season with the broadcast team that includes play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist and commentator Todd Blackledge.

One of the first games Arrington worked as a college football sideline reporter for CBS three years ago was Virginia Tech at Miami. It was hot and humid that day, so she took her sweater off. Underneath was what Arrington describes as a sleeveless top.

It was a tight, black sleeveless top. USA Today TV columnist Rudy Martzke called it a tank top, and blasted Arrington for wearing it.

She also has been ripped for some of her magazine photo layouts, even though none have been very revealing.

Two years ago, Arrington won a "Sexiest Sportscaster in America" poll. It wasn't a contest she entered. With the title came a $1-million offer to pose nude for Playboy. She turned it down.

She posed for FHM (For Him Magazine) last year with clothes on and didn't get a dime. She did it because her employer, CBS, thought it would be good publicity.

Again she was criticized.

A case can be made that serious journalists, male or female, should not be doing sexy photo shoots, that they should keep their shirts buttoned for photographers.

But this is sideline reporting for football, where scantily clad cheerleaders and song girls have long been an accepted tradition.

Lisa Guerrero posing in lingerie, as she did for next month's FHM, is going too far. But she did the shoot before she was hired by ABC, when she was trying to reestablish herself as an actress.

Whatever, it's amazing the attention female football sideline reporters are getting these days. It's a hot topic on sports talk radio and in newspapers.

Guerrero's hiring by ABC for "Monday Night Football" has gotten almost as much media coverage as John Madden's hiring did last year. And it has caused such anger.

One Los Angeles media critic declared on local radio that he was boycotting "Monday Night Football" because it had become "unwatchable."

As for Arrington, she is happy that Guerrero got the job.

"I'd say to Lisa, 'That's great, that's awesome. Good for you,' " Arrington said. "You can be attractive and still know what you're talking about. There are attractive women who are CEOs running big businesses.

"To say that just because you have long blond hair you don't know what you're talking about is ridiculous.

"I think it is unfair to judge the quality of one's work on what they look like. That's like saying all football players are dumb and could never be successful in business.

"What I am supposed to do? Not dress a certain way, tone down my look, not cut my hair? This is me."

Arrington, 31, is married and lives in Los Angeles. Her husband of two years -- and her boyfriend since her freshman year at the University of Miami -- Dean Panaro, is a Hollywood talent agent.

She had two majors at Miami -- broadcast journalism and political science -- with a minor in drama. She thought about being a lawyer or actress. She went into television and worked as a producer on an entertainment show for five years before Fox recruited her. She was hired as a reporter for its NFL pregame show and host of the weekly "Under the Helmet" show.

She has played tennis since she was 3 and her father, Rick, was a quarterback for Georgia and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Arrington points out that after she was criticized in USA Today last year for her photo layout in FHM, the newspaper ran a poll asking: Do such things diminish the credibility of female sports journalists?

She recalls most readers said no. A check showed, of the more than 16,000 who voted, 81.4% said no.

"All I can do is work hard and try to please the viewers and CBS," she said. "If there are people who don't like me because of the way I look, there's not much I can do about that."

A Historical Look

HBO's Jim Lampley knows something about being a college football sideline reporter. In 1974, he and Don Tollefson were the first. At the time, Lampley was a 25-year-old graduate student at North Carolina. Tollefson was an undergraduate at Stanford.

Two young ABC Sports executives who worked under Roone Arledge, Terry O'Neil and Dick Ebersol, came up with the idea of hiring a college student as a sideline reporter. Wireless microphones, first used at the 1972 Munich Olympics, made such a thing as a sideline reporter possible.

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