The Erin Andrews video controversy: Did she “deserve” it?

Erin AndrewsEven if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ve probably already heard about the video that was made of ESPN sideline sports commentator Erin Andrews while she was naked in a hotel room. It was a video done through the peephole of 2 different hotel rooms, according to reports, and without her knowledge nor consent. She and her lawyers are taking the appropriate steps towards legal action towards the despicable person(s) responsible for making and publishing the (approximately five minute) video in the first place – once investigators get a good lead on who it/they might be. There is wild speculation that the video may have been an inside job, made by someone who works with her at ESPN, since the network would know her work schedule better than anyone else.

I have to confess I had never heard of Erin Andrews before this story broke, and had only taken a mild interest in the story until yesterday and today, when reports about what a veteran female sports columnist had to say about what happened to Andrews were published, which fired up the dialogue and debate on this issue all the more:

One of America’s leading female sports writers has insinuated that Erin Andrews may have been partially responsible for cultivating a “frat house” fan base that led to a Peeping Tom video taping her in the nude and posting the video on the Internet.

“If you trade off your sex appeal, if you trade off your looks, eventually you’re going to lose those,” USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan said Wednesday on the sports radio show 850 “The Buzz.” “She doesn’t deserve what happened to her, but part of the shtick, seems to me, is being a little bit out there in a way that then are you encouraging the complete nutcase to drill a hole in a room.

“Erin [Andrews] did not deserve this. I want to make that crystal clear. But she’s got to be smarter and better,” she said.

Click here to go to the Buzz’s Web site and hear the full interview.

She later tweeted that “women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house.”

Following her comments, readers expressed their outrage with Brenna’s words online.

“Never thought I would see a woman go with the ‘she was asking for it’ take. Thought that was only for chauvinist male pigs,” one commenter wrote on the sports blog “The Big Lead.”

The USA Today’s sports blog re-posted in full what she wrote on her Twitter account about the firestorm created over her remarks:

Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house. There are tons of nuts out there.


Erin Andrews incident is bad, but to add perspective: there are 100s of women sports journalists who have never had this happen to them.

And later ….

Twitter is a great format for many things, but not for serious reflection on an important topic such as this.

When I said “play to the frat house,” it was not meant to be pointed specifically at Erin, and I’m sorry if it was taken that way. It’s a comment I use often in speeches and while talking to younger women to guide myself and all of us on how to live our lives as women in sports journalism. I don’t want us playing to the frat house; I want us talking to the 12-year-old girl on the couch watching sports with her Mom or Dad.

As the hundreds of women who work in sports media know, we often still have to be twice as good to get half the credit. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. I have fought for years for opportunities for women in sports journalism, and will continue to do so. For those who think I am against Erin, nothing could be further from the truth. What happened to her is terrible, and she will always have my full support.

Brennan is taking a lot of heat over her remarks, mostly from women (example). So far, I’ve only found one person – a male colleague – who has stepped in to defend her. He made some interesting commentary about women in sports in general later on in his article, which I’ll get to shortly.

Andrews, for those of you who – like me – never heard of her until this week, is a 31 year-old attractive blonde with long hair and a cute figure, and is someone who has developed a cult-like following over the years since she was hired by ESPN in 2004. She’s also got a fashion style which I find somewhat unique to female sports journalists, who typically wear modest suits (although admittedly I’ve not studied the fashion habits of female sports journalists – who cares when there are men on the field/court/ice to check out? :D ) and other types of outfits that don’t draw attention to them (I know there are occasionally exceptions to this). Women in and of themselves draw attention in the sports world, regardless of whether or not they are fashionistas.

Anyway, from what I’ve read and seen, Andrews is trendy, hip, and in touch with what young women are wearing today. Looking at photos, I can see where some people would view what she wore to work on the sidelines sometimes as provocative (tight pants and v-neck tops, form-fitting sweater dresses, very high heels, etc), while other times she looks just like a fan at a sports game, blending in about as much as a woman blessed with her looks can. I admit, if I was in her line of work, I wouldn’t wear about 75% of what she does – I would tone it down quite a bit. She’s working in a male-dominated business, and in that situation – whether we’re talking about a sports-related field or in corporate America, the idea – at least in my view – is to try to blend in so as almost to be viewed as “one of the guys” while still maintaining your femininity and individuality. Ideally, you want to be recognized for your ability and talent first and foremost, not your sex – although sometimes that is unavoidable. That is why I frown on women who don’t know how to dress in a corporate environment (scroll), who wear outfits that are barely suitable for a club environment, let alone an 8-5 on the 35th floor of a major banking company. You can almost never go wrong by dressing professionally.

That said, the idea that by dressing a certain way Andrews “encouraged” some a**hole to film her through a hotel room peephole is outrageous, and as other commentators have pointed out, is reminiscent of those who would blame a woman for being raped because “her skirt was too short.” Someone wanting to dress cute and look hip and win over fans is not “asking for it” in any way. But it does bring me back to what Ed Berliner, the veteran sportscaster who defended Brennan earlier today, had to say:

There are far too many female sports journalists who believe the road to respectability is paved with push-up bras and snuggling up to athletes with more than an interview in mind. In the same breath, there are far too many TV station and network executives who force female reporters in both news and sports to accentuate their positives, and I don’t mean writing skills. I have watched from the insider’s perspective as some very good female reporters careers were derailed thanks to consultants and demographics experts who made them repeat the mantra, “Style over substance”, instead of the proper manner in which it was long taught.

Is Erin Andrews one of these types of sports journalists? I can’t say. I’ve never watched a single commentary or interview she’s done, but I have to say that if columns like this one – where the whole topic is about what type of sports guys she likes and what she finds “sexy” – are any indication, I’m not hopeful. But yet and still, that still does not mean she “encouraged” what happened to her with the video.

I can only imagine the emotions that Andrews has gone through since she found out about the video. I imagine it’s like being assaulted but without being physically touched. Someone’s watching you in some of your most private moments, moments not meant to be shared with every horndog who has scoured the I’net for copies of the video. I’ve read articles about this type of invasion of privacy, and some of the women interviewed talked about how for weeks and months – and even years – after finding out they were secretly videotaped that they didn’t feel comfortable showering, dressing, sleeping or anything having to do with showing their bodies in any way for fear that they were still being watched, becoming almost phobic about being in a state of undress (the Susan Wilson story is one of the more prominent and shocking stories out there about video voyeurism).

Andrews is on hiatus from ESPN until September (a hiatus unrelated to the video, I think). It will be interesting to see how – beyond the eventual legal proceedings – she responds to this issue, if at all. All I can say at this point is that I hope what happened to her doesn’t discourage her from returning to sports journalism. Maybe after the shock wears off, this incident will give her a fresh perspective on where she wants to go in sports journalism and how she wants to go about getting there. It would be a shame for her to stay in the shadows rather than return – that would mean that the video voyeurs, the jerk-offs who do this sort of thing for sport and profit, have won. Incidents like this one could also discourage young women from getting into sports journalism, which would also be unfortunate.

Back to Brennan, she may have been trying to say is something along the lines of what I wrote a few paragraphs ago about blending in, but it certainly came out all wrong, didn’t it? The bottom-line is that if you put your nose to the grindstone, ignore the “image consultants,” and work hard to prove your worth, you will go far and will endure over the long term. Rely solely on looks and you’ll fade into the sunset almost as quickly as you rode in on the sunrise. I don’t know if Leslie Visser is a role model for Andrews but if she’s not, she should be. She’s an example of a woman in sports journalism who has been through it all and has come out on top (no pun intended) without having to sell her soul to the image gods in TV journalism.

Women in sports have been debating the image issue for years. I remember some of the controversies over various women in sports posing nude, etc and the debates about What It All Means for women in sports. Brennan would have been better off with not suggesting that Andrews “encouraged” the peeping Tom(s). On top of that, she should have saved her remarks on style for a time when this issue had died down and could have been applied to women sports journalists in general. You can talk about your disagreements with someone’s style of dress without suggesting that they “encouraged” unwanted behavior. You can say “Look, it’s fine to be trendy, but people may take you more seriously as a professional if you do xyz instead.” It’ll still be controversial and you’ll be called on it, but it would still be a far cry from suggesting someone encouraged or deserved unwanted attention.

It’s a fine line you walk. The situation is the similar when talking about the issue of rape. No woman who dresses overtly sexy “wants” to get raped, but sometimes it happens. It should be ok to say “Watch how you dress, because you know how some people will look at you and get the wrong impression and act on it,” but that’s not politically correct and is seen as somehow “blaming” the victim, when in actuality what you’re saying to a woman about protecting herself is no different than what you’d say to a young adult being trusted to be at the mall by themselves, or with their friends. You tell them: Don’t talk to strangers, don’t walk by yourself anywhere, and don’t get in the car with anyone you don’t know. Such advice is not 100% foolproof against sexual assault or kidnapping, but it could lessen the chances of it happening.

Anyway, that’s my rambling .02. Your thoughts?

Photo credit.–

Comments are closed.