Charissa Thompson saying she made up sideline reports is a bigger problem than you think

Charissa Thompson saying she made up sideline reports is a bigger problem than you think

There was a moment, not so long ago, when I was a covering an NFL game. From the press box, if my memory serves me right, I saw ESPN’s sideline reporter Lisa Salters hustling to talk with one of the head coaches as they walked onto the field after halftime. I don’t remember the coach but I do remember the coach not slowing down and Salters sticking to the coach’s side like a cover corner. She was like Sauce Gardner. She wasn’t messing around.

Not all sideline reporters are lame. There are really good ones, like Salters and others. It’s a thankless job, but the smart and resourceful ones always seem to find some interesting piece of information, and work hard at doing so. You can see it. Particularly if you’re in the journalism business. It never felt like any of the reporters flat out lied about what they saw or were told. It could be light and fluffy and goofy. But the good ones, the really good ones, work to give you something.

By now, if you’re a huge sports fan, you’ve heard that former sideline reporter Charissa Thompson went on Barstool and admitted, like, publicly admitted, she flat-out made up stuff when she was a sideline reporter. She was providing viewers information, like other sideline reporters, it just turns out that some of it was lies. I had to watch the video multiple times to make sure I wasn’t being pranked. Yep. She said that.

There’s no way Thompson, who has been doing this for more than a decade and knows better, should survive this. This is a firing offense. It’s not even close.

“I’ve said this before,” Thompson said. “I haven’t been fired (for) saying it, but I’ll say it again. I would make up the report sometimes, because A, the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime, or it was too late and I didn’t want to screw up the report. So I was like, ‘I’m just gonna make this up.’

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“Because first of all, no coach is gonna get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves. We need to be better on third down. We need to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of getting off the field.’ They’re not gonna correct me on that. So I’m like, it’s fine, I’ll just make up the report.”

It was in 2022 during her “Calm Down”podcast with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews, that Thompson admitted making up sideline reports. Andrews said she has done the same thing.

“I was like, ‘Oh coach, what adjustments are you gonna make at halftime?’ He goes, ‘That’s a great perfume you’re wearing,’” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘Oh (expletive), this isn’t gonna work.’ I’m not kidding, I made up a report.”

Thompson now works for Fox and is also host of Amazon’s Thursday Night Football studio coverage. Andrews, who should also know better, is one of sports television’s biggest stars. She should pay a hefty price as well.

The publicist for Andrews, Jill Fritzo, issued the following statement to USA TODAY Sports: “For her entire career, Erin Andrews has worked very closely with coaches, players, and PR staffs to ensure accuracy in her reporting. She made a comment on her CALM DOWN podcast in which she said ‘I do too’ referring to taking information from head coach meetings, which happen earlier in the week, and sometimes including that in her halftime report. She is clear when she references that the coach told her crew the information during the week in their meetings.”

Some of you may not care. Some of you will say the media lies all the time. And that is why this is a much bigger story than just Thompson admitting to something so remarkably egregious. It’s big on two separate fronts.

First, the reaction of Black television journalists on X, formerly known as Twitter, was a sight to behold. It was like Black Media Voltron had assembled. The main point being that no Black journalist could get away with this without significant, career-altering repercussions. We all make mistakes in life. I certainly have but the leeway for something like this with Black journalists is measured in millimeters. There were dozens of journalists of color, if not more, making this point.

There is a staggering amount of privilege in Thompson’s remarks.

Second, and most importantly, things like this are why conspiracy theories, lies, and insanity permeate our politics, media and culture. Let me explain.

Prime Video's Thursday Night Football announcer Charissa Thompson before a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts at Lincoln Financial Field.

Our country has become soaked in conspiracy theories and lies during the Donald Trump era. Those lies started on a smaller (but still disgusting) scale like Barack Obama and birtherism or Trump was going to build a wall and Mexico was going to pay for it.

The lies just kept growing. They acted like poison building in the country’s bloodstream. Then came Jan. 6. One big reason Trump was able to pull off so many lies and conspiracies is because he undermined the trust in the media.

Is it silly to put what Thompson said in the same sentence as Trump? It may seem like it but it’s not. What she said undermines the trust in the media and creates spaces for this ugliness to grow.

There is some question about what exactly Thompson meant. Was she saying she made up reports outright? That a coach refused to speak with her so she concocted a story that he did? Or was she more embellishing what a coach told her?

One is definitely worse but I’m not so sure it matters because both options are bad. When she said “I’m just gonna make this up” those words do remarkable damage no matter how she meant them.

“This is absolutely not ok, not the norm and upsetting on so many levels,” said CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson. “I take my job very seriously, I hold myself accountable for all I say, I build trust with coaches and never make something up. I know my fellow reporters do the same.”

“Young reporters: This is not normal or ethical,” said ESPN’s Molly McGrath, a longtime sideline reporter. “Coaches and players trust us with sensitive information, and if they know that you’re dishonest and don’t take your role seriously, you’ve lost all trust and credibility.”

The problem can even be bigger than that. Just look at the country.

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