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Navigating the Challenges of Sideline Reporting in the 2020 NFL Season


We knew heading into the 2020 NFL season that COVID-19 was going to change many logistical aspects of the game.

One of those changes has been in regard to sideline reporting.

Over the first two weeks of Playmakers, I spoke with Chargers radio sideline reporter Shannon Farren as well as CBS Sports' lead NFL reporter Tracy Wolfson to get their take on navigating the challenges to the position in this unprecedented season.

Sideline reporters for both television as well as radio aren't allowed on the field this year per NFL rules. Instead, they're positioned in the first row of stands aka a section dubbed "the moat." They're free to pace the elevated "sideline" and they can make the trek to the opposite sideline's moat as well, although getting there isn't always the easiest, as Wolfson learned in Week 1 at Gillette Stadium.

"One side is basically open ended, the other side you're going up and around and over and down," Wolfson described. "The seats are tarped for the first eight rows so it's really cumbersome to try and get there in a quick manner."

With play-by-play and color analysts high up in a booth, sideline reporters are known for being the eyes and ears for what happens on the field; however, what they're seeing and hearing in 2020 is a bit of an adjustment.

Wolfson cited coaches wearing masks and a lack of vision of different angles of the bench as two distinct changes to how a reporter hears and sees different aspects of the game.

Farren concurred.

"Sometimes you get to be privy to the discussions between coaches and their player groups and that's not gonna happen," Farren said. "So it really changes the entire role of sideline reporter. Obviously, we have our storylines heading into each week; what happened in practice, who's out for the week, who's gonna have to step up. All those things will remain the same. But in terms of getting injury updates and being able to run over to the action and see exactly what happened and how somebody's doing, it's gonna be completely different. But we get to be in the arena. We get to be there which is saying something."

Wolfson has said while her preparation for a game has stayed the same, she's leaning hard into that prep this year since she can't have gameday conversations with players and coaches on the field like she would in a normal season.

Farren is also relying on her prep noting she'll "dig more into those storylines and player profiles, interesting things about these guys that maybe you don't know about that I can bring to you."

But in a year with so much uncertainty, Wolfson admits she's excited for the challenge that she's taking on in 2020 and that while sideline reporters are integral in any year, that role is especially important in telling the story of this season.

"It's exciting to take the challenge on," Wolfson said. "It is going to be a challenge. It's going to be difficult; it's going to be different. I think you kind of have to think outside the box a lot of times and find new ways to bring information to fans and new stories. But I think the reporter role right now is as important as ever with all the stories. Whether it's football and Xs-and-Os to COVID and social justice, I think there's really a lot to talk about and be able to bring those to the forefront."

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