Categorized | Women in Sports

A Cautionary Tale

Erin Andrews has come to be known for more than her sideline reporting, including an appearance on Dancing With the Stars. (Associated Press)

Erin Andrews lives a nightmare


Stephen English is like any other University of Florida graduate. He is proud to be a part of Gator Nation, he thinks Tim Tebow is God, and he is obsessed with alumna Erin Andrews. This past January, English got his chance to meet Andrews on New Year’s Day at a Sugar Bowl party in New Orleans.

“I grabbed my sister and said I got to take a picture with her, I’ll probably never see her again, and she’s gorgeous,” English said. English, 25, and his sister Lindsay, 22, come from a family of Gator fans and have followed Andrews for what seems like forever.

After getting Andrew’s attention, English politely requested to pose for a photo with her. “Thanks for actually asking,” Andrews said.

Andrews, a 32-year-old ESPN sideline reporter, has celebrity status that tops all other females in sports broadcasting. She started at ESPN five years ago, covering the NHL and, now, college basketball and football. For years the sports blogosphere had an almost cult-like fascination with her, posting picture after picture and video after video. Her online presence can’t be missed; an inadvertent shot of her posterior got half a million hits on YouTube.

In July of 2009 a different video went viral. Andrews was secretly and illegally filmed nude through a peephole in her hotel room by Michael David Barrett, a 48-year-old insurance executive from Chicago. Barrett pleaded guilty to stalking Andrews in December. He went to prison in Atlanta on May 2 to begin a 30-month sentence for interstate stalking.

Barrett’s video, in part, shows Andrews curling her blonde hair in front of a mirror, her long locks the only things covering her. The story was another blogosphere sensation, but eventually even the blogs began to soul search and ask how much their incessant coverage of Andrews may have contributed to Barrett’s obsession.

A.J. Daulerio, Editor-In-Chief of, a popular sports gossip website, said, “We were half heartedly joking about her popularity, and it ended up being the worst case scenario of what had happened.” As Deadspin did repeatedly, many sports sites and blogs often reduced Andrews to an object, focusing stories on her breasts, her body, and the novelty of a woman with looks talking about sports. Some sports blogs even devoted discussions of Andrews to non-newsworthy topics that analyzed her clothes and documented her eating habits. Regular photos of her on many of the blogs were cropped to emphasize her breasts and were accompanied by posts filled with gossip and innuendo about her personal and private life. “There are people that were saying the sports blogosphere’s obsession with her probably created this, but I think that’s pretty ridiculous,” Daulerio said.

Asked about the Andrews’ coverage, Bob Raissman, the sports media columnist for the New York Daily News, said, “With the expansion of blogs, twitter and traditional media, it lets a lot of people into the tent.” Raissman added, “Whatever idea this peeping tom got came from seeing her on ESPN, it was probably triggered by that and the blogs and all this other stuff just adds onto it.”

At Barrett’s sentencing, Andrews was angry, not to mention shaken by what had happened and what it meant for her and women in general. “I also know that I was chosen for this for some reason, no other victims names were put on the internet like mine were,” Andrews said at a press conference. “Now it’s my opportunity to work with organizations so when another victim comes out and has been embarrassed and humiliated, they’re not talking to you about a 30 month sentence, they’re talking to you about a five year sentence.”

Jennifer Pozner, the founder and Executive Director of Women in Media and News said the Andrews case is part of a large-scale problem in the male dominated sports sphere. “In this case, it’s a sports reporter, the constant discussions of their appearances and their clothing, their hair cuts and bodies. Pozner said, “The fact that those kinds of discussions don’t take place when the reporters are male is a problem.” She also said that sexualized discussions of women journalists are undermining the way their work is received.

Amy Moritz, the President of The Association for Women in Sports Media, said, “Unfortunately, we are still in a [situation] where women sports journalists are held to a higher judgment if they mess up. There’s scrutiny from readers, from other people in the fields, ‘Well you’re a women what do you know?’ Women have to prove that they have the background and that’s what Andrews must do.”

Andrews is a former University of Florida basketball dance team member and member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, whose popularity has always been unbelievably high among the majority-male sports audience. Now, however, she is a household name. “I actually don’t tie that into sports, I tie that into celebrity,” said Dr. Cory Armstrong, of the University of Florida’s journalism school.

It wasn’t long after the Barrett controversy that Andrew’s celebrity led her to the 10th season of ABC’s primetime show, Dancing With the Stars. Andrews, with her past history on the dance squad at Florida, became a competitor, moving from a news reporter to a news story herself. Controversy broke out again over whether this was a smart move for Andrews. Toronto Star columnist, Rosie DiManno wrote, “I’m appalled by the damage she is doing to her profession and her own reputation as a journalist — a term albeit used lightly in the realm of sports.” Other columnists made similar points, even insinuating that she was exploiting the situation. Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive senior vice president of production said to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, “My role is to put people in the best possible positions to succeed and to protect ESPN and to serve sports fans. Her appearance on Dancing With the Stars has not inhibited her ability to be a reporter one bit, whether it’s her professionalism or her ability to ask tough questions. She worked on our NFL draft coverage, in and around the show. It has not affected her at all.”

Barry Snyder, has worked with Andrews at Desire Street Academy, a Christian urban ministry based out of Baton Rouge, La, with locations in Florida, as well. Snyder supports Andrews appearing on Dancing with the Stars: “It is a different platform, it doesn’t take anything away from her being a serious reporter, it doesn’t detract from that part of their life, it just brings another element in a different light.” Snyder said Andrews is having fun with it and is a competitor and always has been, “It’s a competition and it’s good to see the competitive nature in all the stars that come out.”

Ellen Staurowsky, a Ph.D. in Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College agrees with Snyder. “I give her a lot of credit for that, we could see it as a very assertive move on her part to take back space that had been taken from her. Because she gets to control this, the decision to participate on this show that millions of people see.”

Others don’t agree. “I wouldn’t have basically decided that my reaction to that scandal would be to trivialize myself on a dancing show in spangled dresses,” said Pozner. Daulerio, who never toned down his coverage of Andrews on Deadspin, and may have even ramped it up after she had been on the show, did not expect it. “I’m a little surprised in some ways, it seems a little counterproductive,” he said. “For a while she was trying to present herself as a victim for so long and that she got really beaten down by all the exposure. I don’t know if jumping around in provocative outfits is the best way to keep the lunatics away from you.”

“As a feminist, Dancing With the Stars is intellectually bankrupt and not going to get a women taken more seriously as a journalist,” said Dr. Bonnie Morris, professor of women’s studies and women’s participation in sports and war at The George Washington University. “But, if it makes her feel better and it brings her into public attention in a different way, it’s possible that it’s what she needs. If she’s already being exposed then maybe do it in a way where she has, what some say, control.”

The fascination with Andrews will continue. Michael Hiestand, a sports media columnist at USA Today, said, “Erin Andrews is not the exception, she is the normal. She plays a visual role on ESPN, none of them do anything [sideline reporters], they’re all hired for the image they present.”

Staurowsky says the media coverage of Andrews won’t change. “With very, very successful women, when they are taken down a peg, then they become more interesting,” she says, “It’s not even that they had to fight to the pinnacle, but if they get taken down a peg, now society finds them interesting.”

Hiestand said Andrews is gaining popularity with Dancing With the Stars and has expressed desire to leave the sports world. He said ESPN will most likely not promote her to a game analyst or a play-by-play announcer.

Even with the nickname “Erin Pageviews” because of the web attention she drives through videos and pictures, Andrews’s future is unknown, but, one thing Heistand said is for sure, “Fame can evaporate just as quickly. In a year or two, you’re sort of a has been or your opportunity has come and gone, so you have to capitalize on it now.”

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