By Alexa Lomberg

Playboy’s “Sexiest Sportscaster of the Year” seems to be the only sports journalism award that women have a shot at winning.

Beyond that, women are buried in the 10 percent of female sports journalists or commodified as the pretty faces with microphones on the sidelines of football and basketball games. A woman has never won accolades for the “National Sportscaster, or Sportswriter, of the Year.” When a woman sportscaster or journalist is the subject of news, it’s about her body or her personal life.

In the case of Erin Andrews, it was both.

It started with a phone call from Michael David Barrett. In 2008, he dialed the Marriott Hotel in Nashville where he knew Andrews was staying to cover a Vanderbilt football game. He asked the operator to connect to Andrews’ room, knowing her room number would appear on the hotel phone screen. With that information, Barrett requested to stay in the hotel room next to Andrews, and the Marriott complied — jeopardizing her privacy and safety.

Barrett removed a portion of the outer peephole from Andrews’ door, and waited for his “opportunity,” as he said in court nearly two years later. Filming through the exposed peephole, he recorded a four-and-a-half minute video of Andrews nude in her hotel room with the intention of selling the footage. The video leaked and got 17 million views.

Illustration by Owen Thomas
Illustration by Owen Thomas

In 2009, Barrett was sentenced to 30 months in prison for multiple stalking incidents, but the case recently hit the news again over Andrews seeking $75 million in damages. On Monday she was awarded $55 million — $26 million from the Marriott owner and management company, and $28 million from Barrett, who is not only now out of custody, but also in no way able to pay the settlement.

While Andrews’ eight-year legal battle is closing, her case — the accusations, testimonies and legal arguments — highlight the sexism suffocating women in sports media.

When the clip of Andrews nude in her hotel room went viral, media coverage blew up. Barrett hadn’t been arrested and rumors swirled that the video was a publicity stunt. The same sentiment came up in court on multiple occasions. Defense lawyers tried to correlate Andrews’ success (a more lucrative contract with Fox Sports and big-name endorsements) with the notoriety gained from the peeping scandal.

“Your income has gone up substantially since this occurred,” one of the defense lawyers posed, prompting a quick objection from a prosecutor. The insinuation that Andrews had anything to do with the video to benefit her career is despicable and unjustified.

Andrews testified that ESPN, her employer at the time of the stalking, demanded she give an on-air interview in response to the allegations before she was allowed back to work. Andrews cried backstage at the Oprah show, and said, “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this. I just want to go back to college football. I don’t want to talk about what happened to me, why can’t I just be normal?”

ESPN made Andrews relive her trauma and mockery by forcing an interview. The company was acting in its own interest by making her prove to viewers that this wasn’t a publicity stunt and didn’t respect her boundaries when she definitively expressed her discomfort with the idea of speaking publicly.

If women sportscasters weren’t sexualized for the male-dominated audiences in an already male-dominated field, ESPN would have supported Andrews in whatever way she felt appropriate. The channel would have let her return to work on her terms instead of using her trauma to promote its own agenda. ESPN could have used its platform to support its women journalists, but failed to do so.

Andrews became a household name by dedicating her life to sports journalism. She grew up watching sports with her father, an award-winning investigative journalist, and held jobs at newspapers and networks covering professional hockey and baseball before joining ESPN in 2004. A year later, she was sidelining the biggest college football games of the year. Her prominence in the field makes ESPN’s response its own publicity stunt.

In a recent Sports Illustrated article — written, of course, by a man — women’s sports reporters recount safety measures while traveling for games. The list of precautions, many in response to Andrews’ stalking, was lengthy. Placing Band-Aids over peepholes, not eating alone, avoiding rooms on the first floor or near elevators, reserving rooms under fake names, removing luggage ID tags, never saying their room number out loud, asking for a different room if the receptionist says their room out loud, walking along the inside of the hotel room wall when changing — all while not wanting to look “high maintenance” as one journalist put it, but simply to feel safe while doing their job.

“Doing your job” in sports media is more complicated for women than it is for men. For Andrews, it means “not only worrying about the questions I was asking, but then I had men on these blogs critiquing what I was wearing. It wasn’t about my reporting, it was, ‘What is she wearing, who is she dating?’”

A woman sports reporter has her knowledge questioned, her personal life scrutinized, her appearance ridiculed, her body sexualized. Andrews rose above that and still does.

That’s why the most heartbreaking part of watching Andrews’ trial was listening to her speak about the budding women sports journalists who look up to her.

“[What] really hits home for me and hurts me the worst is when girls [in] high school, college … tweet me and they say I want to be Erin Andrews except for the Marriott stalker thing,” she said in court. “And I can’t control that, and that’s every day. It doesn’t get better.”