By Julie DiCaro–
(CBS) If you want proof that women remain second-class citizens in the world of sports media, look no further than the revelations emerging from the Erin Andrews trial.
In July 2009, a video of a naked and unsuspecting Andrews walking around her hotel room was posted online and quickly went viral. Months later, a man named Michael David Barrett was arrested for making the video without Andrews’ knowledge or consent, and he was ultimately convicted of stalking and sentenced to 30 months in prison. The video, however, remains online and accessible to this day.
If you think Andrews’ nightmare ended with the conviction of Barrett, you only had to listen to her tearful testimony in her civil lawsuit against the Nashville Marriott, which she’s suing for negligence, emotional distress and invasion of privacy, among other counts.
Among the disturbing details that Andrews’ testimony revealed this week was that Andrews’ employer at the time, ESPN, required her to give a sit-down interview to prove to their audience (and America) that the illicit video wasn’t publicity stunt on her part.
Q: So did ESPN require that you give an interview?
Yes. Because there wasn’t an arrest, because we didn’t know where this happened, my bosses at ESPN told me, “Before you go back on air for college football we need you to give a sit-down interview.” And that was the only way I was going to be allowed back.
Q: Now, you did have the right to select who that interview would be done by, right?
I did. They were highly recommending it be GMA (Good Morning America), because ESPN and ABC are the same, and they wanted it on GMA. But like my dad had said the other day, I didn’t want it to be a two second thing where it’s like, “Was this a scandal, or, was it not?” No, this is my life, and I feel terrible about myself, and we want to figure out how this happened. So, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to be a part of it, and I just said, you know what, “I know because she’s very public about it, Oprah is a crime victim.” I talked to her producers, I told her I didn’t want to do it. But this was the only way I was going to be put back on air, so we went to the Oprah show.
Andrews’ testimony only gets worse from there, as she describes being so upset she broke out in a rash in Oprah’s green room, as well as hanging up quilts on the windows of her room in her parents’ home. As troubling as Barrett’s assault on Andrews’ privacy and well-being is, ESPN’s behavior is just as odious.
If recent high-profile sexual assault and domestic violence accusations against pro athletes have taught us anything, it’s that a significant portion of American society immediately suspects the motive and credibility of those who’ve been violated and abused. By forcing Andrews to put herself on display in order to prove that she had no hand in the video, ESPN violated Andrews a second time, demanding that she bare her soul to America in order to mollify the bro culture that pervades sports media at every level. One ESPN employee, who worked at the network at the same time as Andrews, recalled coworkers laughing and joking about the video while at work.
And yet, ESPN’s actions are probably not all that different than the way many employers would behave, given the same situation. Women in sports media are generally treated much more as liabilities than assets, even ones as high profile as Andrews. Take Colleen Dominguez’s lawsuit against Fox Sports 1 for age and sex discrimination, claiming her supervisors wanted her to undergo plastic surgery in order to look … wait for it … more like Andrews. As a reminder, Fox Sports 1 employs both Jason Whitlock and Colin Cowherd, neither of whom have apparently been asked to do a damn thing about their appearances.
In 2014, Pam Oliver, an NFL reporter with decades of experience, wrote about her humiliation at losing her sideline reporting gig to Andrews, a woman 17 years her junior. And if you pay attention to sports media in any form, you’ve undoubtedly seen large groups of men discussing issues in sports that disproportionately affect women, like sexual assault and harassment, apparently without a thought to actually having a woman weigh in on the subject.
At first glance, forcing a woman who has been violated to go public with her story seems a far cry from wanting a reporter to get hair extensions and a face lift, but it all stems from the same problem: By and large, women aren’t valued in sports media beyond their physical appeal. Until that changes, employers will continue to make bad decisions involving their female talent.
At trial this week, Andrews has had to prove she was victimized all over again, as the attorney for Nashville Marriott tried to make the point that Andrews’ career profited from the video, a point that was immediately seized upon by many on Twitter as proof that Andrews “playing the victim” for monetary gain.
When it comes to women, sports media still has a long way to go.
Julie DiCJulie DiCaro is an update anchor and columnist for 670 The Score. She previously worked for 15 years as a lawyer in criminal and family court. Follow Julie on Twitter @JulieDiCaro and like here on Facebook here. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.