Erin Andrews wanted to be “the girl next door who loved sports,” she said.
“And now I’m the girl with a hotel scandal,” the Fox sportscaster tearfully told a Tennessee courtroom on Monday.
The testimony came amid Andrew’s ongoing $US75 million ($104 million) lawsuit against the Marriott Hotel in Nashville, where she was secretly filmed while undressing in 2008, when she worked for ESPN. The videos were posted online a year later and widely shared – a trauma that Andrews still hasn’t been able to put behind her.
“This happens every day of my life, either I get a tweet or somebody makes a comment in the paper or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter or someone screams it at me in the stands and I’m right back to this,” Andrews testified, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I feel so embarrassed and I am so ashamed.”
The video incident was the worst offence in a litany of sexist affronts to Andrews during her career as a sideline reporter: endless commentary on her appearance, dismissive remarks by other sports reporters. After the video came out, she said on Monday, according to Deadspin, she was pressured to do an interview about the video just to prove that it wasn’t a publicity stunt.
Her story shows how hard it is to be just “a girl who loves sports” on national television.
That’s clear from a taped deposition that was shown in court on Monday, in which the man behind the videos – Michael David Barrett, who served 2 1/2 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to interstate stalking – said he chose to target her because she was popular and trending on Yahoo, according to the Associated Press.
Barrett, then a 46-year-old Illinois insurance executive, had followed Andrews to Nashville and at least two other cities. In each place, he would call the hotel, ask where Andrews was staying, and then book the room next to hers, the Tennessean reported. He then rigged a peephole in her door to give himself a clear view through it. When he heard the sound of Andrews showering, he held his mobile phone up to the peephole and filmed as she undressed inside.
Barrett was in a “financial bind,” he testified, and he thought that if he could get naked footage of Erin Andrews, he’d have no trouble finding someone willing to buy it.
He had reason to believe this: By 2008, Andrews was already the subject of a good deal of online ogling. Then working as a sideline reporter for ESPN – a job that critics say attractive female sportscasters get pigeonholed into (speaking to The Washington Post in 2014, a sports media expert called it the “pink collar ghetto”) – images of Andrews were a staple of message boards and sports blogs. An athlete was once filmed performing a suggestive dance behind her. She was nicknamed “Erin Pageviews” because her mere presence in a sports story generated so much traffic.
Some charged that ESPN took advantage of this – camera shots occasionally lingered on Anderson’s body, male ESPN commentators discussed her sex appeal on air.
Asked whether the network played up Andrews’s looks, vice president for communications Josh Krulewitz told CNN, “Anyone who’s watched our coverage would know otherwise.”
All the focus on her appearance made it harder for Andrews to do her job, she told the Hollywood Reporter. People didn’t take her seriously, or if they did, it was to talk about her appearance.
“I was baptised into this world where these sports blogs dubbed me the ‘Sideline Barbie,’ the ‘Sideline Princess.’ And I was not only worrying about the questions I was asking, but then I had men on these blogs critiquing what I was wearing,” she said in 2013. “It wasn’t about my reporting, it was, ‘What is she wearing, who is she dating?'”
The end result was “a climate where Andrews is prominent more because of her looks than because of her talent. A climate where it’s okay to make lewd jokes about her and turn her into what amounts to a sexual object,” the blog Sports Media Watch wrote in July 2009, just after the videos came out.
Longtime sports reporter Lesley Visser, who was elected last year to the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame, also blamed the sports media’s exploitation of women’s appearances.
“I think all of us in the media have fostered this culture, in the hopes of driving more people to our networks, our columns and our radio shows,” she told the Tampa Bay Times in 2009. “Every woman in this business has dealt with unwanted attention, but this culture makes it more difficult. . . . Erin’s America is the merger of a beautiful woman and a lawless Internet.”
For Andrews, it was a toxic combination.
Speaking in court on Monday, she recalled the day seven years ago when she first heard from a friend that she’d been filmed naked – and that, somehow, the footage was now online. She grabbed her laptop, flipped it open and watched in horror at the scene unfolding onscreen.
“You know your body,” she said, according to CBS News. “And I saw it for two seconds and was like, ‘Oh my god,'”
“I called my parents,” she continued. “I was just screaming, that I was naked all over the internet. And I didn’t know what it was.”
Though the video of Andrews undressing was filmed in 2008, it didn’t become public until the following summer. Barrett testified that he tried to sell the videos to celebrity gossip website TMZ but posted them online after the site refused, according to the AP.
According to a computer scientist who also presented evidence on Monday, the video was viewed by some 17 million people. That number increases every day – authorities have been unsuccessful in getting the video removed from every site where it’s been posted.
“It happens, it continues to happen, it happens today, it will never stop,” Andrews’ attorney Randall Kinnard said at the trial last week. Andrews’ resulting pain, he continued, “is not like a broken arm that heals.”
Andrews is now suing Barrett as well as the owner and manager of the hotel where the video was filmed, alleging that the hotel was negligent in allowing Barrett to game the reservation system in order to repeatedly request rooms next to hers.
The incident transformed Andrews, her father Steve Andrews said. The confident sports reporter became “a very, very changed person,” he testified last week, according to the Tennessean.
“She’s mad,” he said. “She’s scared. She’s terrified. She’s depressed. She cries. She’s full of anxiety. . . . She’s not the girl that we used to know at all.”
Steve Andrews, a television reporter in Tampa, Florida, told the jury that Andrews had wanted to be a sports journalist since she was a child. He recalled watching NBC sportscaster Hannah Storm interview basketball star Charles Barkley with her:
“She just looked at me and said, ‘Dad, that’s what I want to do,'” he said.
But Andrews’s treatment in the sports world also fuelled speculation that she’d brought the illicit filming on herself, or even staged the whole thing to gain greater celebrity.
“I had to deal with a lot of people who said I deserved it, that I had played to a certain audience,” she told the AP in 2010, when Barrett was sentenced to prison.
Her bosses at ESPN told her she needed to give a sit-down interview to dispel that notion before she’d be allowed back on air, Andrews testified Monday. ESPN declined to comment on Andrews’s testimony to both Entertainment Tonight and Deadspin.
The network wanted her to go on Good Morning America, but Andrews said she insisted on doing the interview with Oprah Winfrey, who is a sexual abuse survivor.
“I didn’t want to do it, but this was the only way I was going to be put back on air,” she said.
Andrews eventually returned to work, appeared on Dancing with the Stars and attempted to put the incident behind her, with mixed success.
Psychotherapist Loren Comstock testified at the Nashville trial that Andrews’s parents forced her to seek treatment in 2012, after Barrett was released, because she remained anxious and depressed about the videos.
“She told me that she had aspired to be a sportscaster from the time she was little girl and that she had worked hard to establish herself, and that she was concerned that this incident made a mockery of her and it would impact people being able to take her seriously,” the therapist said, according to the AP.
Though the videos were largely subsumed by other scandals, Andrews’s looks were – and still are – a subject of scrutiny, gossip and insult. In 2013, Florida radio host Dan Sileo tweeted a series of sexist insults toward her, including “Love Erin Andrews either naked or in a porn. Not at a sports desk” (he was eventually fired for that and other offences). A year later Kirk Minihane of Boston radio station WEEI called Andrews a “gutless b–” because he felt she asked easy questions during an interview.
“Seriously, go away. Drop dead. I mean seriously, what the hell is wrong with her?” he said, according to the Boston Globe.
Co-host Gerry Callahan also called her a “bubblehead.”
When pushed to apologise, Minihane’s mea culpa included an accusation that Andrews’s success was based only on her looks, and that if she “weighed 15 pounds more she would be a waitress at Perkins.”
Minihane was suspended for a week without pay.
Others have said, and Andrews has acknowledged, that her looks may also help her career. When Fox hired Andrews to replace longtime NFL sideline reporter Pam Oliver – who is 17 years Andrews’s senior and less often the subject of blurry paparazzi photos showing her in a bikini – many said it was an example of the sports media’s sexism, this time working in Andrews’s favour.
But at the end of the day, Andrews says she’s tired of what she called sports’ “double standard.” Asked last year for advice to aspiring sportscasters, she told Elle:
“The biggest thing to do – especially if you’re a woman trying to succeed in a male-dominated industry – is to just study as much you can and get ready for negativity, backlash, and comments. There’s going to be a ton of it.”