By Michael Rand
The upward trend of ESPN’s Erin Andrews being a newsmaker and not just a news reporter reached a new level this week when GateHouse News Service columnist Mike Nadel injected a critique of Andrews’ professionalism into a column about a Cubs/Brewers game both of them were covering. He was fairly frontal in calling out Andrews for a number of things, including her interactions with players and how she was dressed (pictured, via Deadspin). Andrews, reached Saturday by telephone, articulated her thoughts on the column and the ensuing Internet maelstrom.
“I think my overall reaction is that it’s really sad that in 2008 … I have people watching every single move I make,” Andrews said. “When there’s a big game between the Cubs and Brewers going on, it’s sad that that’s what their focus is on. … And the last thing I had heard is that when you want to do a story on someone, you contact them.”
Fair point. She says Nadel did not attempt to do that. But he did observe players checking her out and making comments about her, in addition to these details:
Still, the Brewers’ claims of being unaffected by this series’ results were as unbelievable as Erin Andrews’ work clothes. “Good for you, Rammie,” Andrews said three hours before the game, bending forward to shake Aramis Ramirez’s hand.
“Good for you.” Ramirez, who had three doubles in the Cubs’ 7-1 victory the previous night, sheepishly accepted Andrews’ congratulations. She didn’t ask him any questions because he was sitting on the players-only sofa; she seemingly just wanted to show “Rammie” her support. Weird. Moments later, the blonde reporter was chatting with Alfonso Soriano. At one point, she placed her hand suggestively on Soriano’s left bicep. “Hey, hey, hey! Look at this!” Piniella said, loudly and excitedly. “Are you doing a baseball game today or a modeling assignment?”
In a way, it confronted the elephant in the room that exists in practically every media market: the dynamic between attractive female reporters and the predominantly male sports figures they cover. Of course, I’ve only viewed it through through the lens of being a male reporter. Andrews is living it, and she had this to say:
“These players are not into me like that,” Andrews said. “If anything, I think these guys look at me like a little sister or one of the guys. … I don’t look at myself as a sex object. I’ve never carried myself in that way. I’m a girl that loves sports. I’m a tomboy. That’s the last thing on my mind when I’m in the clubhouse — worrying about players checking me out.”
Does being an attractive female help Andrews get interviews and cultivate sources? Maybe in some cases. But she is adamant that she does not flaunt anything other than her professional talent in pursuit of doing the best job possible. Though having spoken to Andrews only twice I can hardly profess to be an expert on her intentions, I have found her to be sincere and tend to believe her. Others, of course, see things differently.
Andrews also addressed, from her perspective, some of the specific incidents mentioned in the column:
*On Lou Piniella’s comment: “That did happen. But my stance is that people can say what they want. Lou Piniella looks at me like a daughter. If it was the first time I had met him, that would be one thing.”
*On Ramirez, Andrews said she walked over to the players-only area where Ramirez was sitting because pitcher Ryan Dempster called her over to show her pictures of his son from the All-Star game. She said she was not aware his nickname was “Rammie” and said she did not call him that.
*On Soriano, Andrews said she touched his hand, not his bicep, and was trying to gauge where the bone was that he broke earlier this year.
The insanity, which Andrews knows all too well, is that these details are judged by many to be newsworthy — and that any story about her, including this one, generates a huge amount of interest.
To a sports blog audience made up predominantly of males, Andrews is a bankable page view commodity. Deadspin’s initial post about the “backlash” had nearly 36,000 views by noon Saturday; the follow-up, an interview with Nadel (and a rather humorous one at that), had more than 16,000 as of the same time. A quick glance through Deadspin’s recent archives shows a typical post will normally garner between 5,000 and 8,000 views. To Deadspin’s credit, both pieces were well-reasoned and added to a meaningful debate – even though they well know that just a picture of Andrews eating a sandwich can blow up the Internet to the tune of 142,000 views and counting.
The result of all this makes Andrews wary — though not any more so than she was a few days ago, before the column was written. “I’ve known I had to be careful from the minute I saw pictures on the Internet that I didn’t know were being taken,” Andrews said.
None of this, though, is going to change her approach, Andrews said. She will not dress differently or act differently now than she did before. She has the blessing of ESPN head man Norby Williamson, who issued a statement after the column ran that read, in part: “Erin is a tremendous reporter. She’s a prepared and a hard-working journalist, who is well respected and asks excellent questions. We’re proud to have her as an important part of our coverage team.”
Concludes Andrews: “I’m no dummy. I’m conscious that every day I have to prove myself. Being a woman, I thought at some point we were all past this. I’m not going to change. I can’t change. ESPN puts me on the best games not because of the way I look, but because they trust me. … The cool thing for me is that I trust ESPN with everything I have. I think that if I was conducting myself in a wrong manner, this would have been an issue a long time ago.”