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Erin Andrews deserves so much more credit than she's been getting.
While Kesha coming forward with allegations of sexual violence against her producer has caused a collective outcry against the entire music industry and legal system that's being seen as treating her unfairly, the start of the trial in Andrews' $75 million lawsuit against her convicted stalker and the owner of the Nashville Marriott has served as yet another reminder how difficult it is for victims to come forward—and that once they've even dared to take that step, the battle has just begun.
Because the last thing anyone should be doing is giving Erin Andrews grief. What happened to her was a nightmare scenario—and when it happened, she was accused of making it into a publicity stunt to further her career.
We'll acknowledge that Andrews, who had worked for ESPN for five years when the incident made news in July 2009, became far more well-known after the fact, and she did compete on Dancing With the Stars—which had already been courting her before the scandal—in 2010, finishing third.
But that was six years ago, and lots of people get famous for a few minutes after suffering a headline-making trauma. Andrews' already established career only skyrocketed in the years after, thanks to the talent and appeal she was already evincing in spades—because you don't climb the ladder in sports because people feel sorry for you or want someone around to kick up drama. It's reality TV, but not that kind of reality TV.
Moreover, while it's not easy to impress the more-critical-than-ever masses in general, the 37-year-old broadcaster has become one of the most famous faces in what remains a predominantly male field.
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During two emotional days of testimony that concluded yesterday, Andrews recounted how in 2008, Michael David Barrett checked into a room next to hers at the Marriott Nashville, where she was in town covering a college football game. He proceeded to shoot video of her, including footage of her without clothes on, through the peephole of her door—after he tampered with the peephole to get a better shot. She didn't know that this had happened until the video showed up online, where it has been viewed a shocking 17 million times (per testimony given by a computer expert during the trial).
Barrett was ultimately sentenced to two and a half years in prison for interstate stalking.
And while skeptics accused her at the time of orchestrating the whole thing for attention, Andrews tearfully testified this week how the scandal actually almost ruined her career.
"All I wanted to do is be respected, be the girl who loves sports, and now I'm the girl with the scandal. It's embarrassing," she said on the stand. "It was everywhere...My naked body was on the front page of the New York Post. My girlfriend said she was running around the city throwing coffee on all of the papers she felt so bad."
She said, "Probably for like three months, everybody thought it was a publicity stunt. The front page of the New York Post said 'ESPN Scandal.' To Fox News and CBS, everybody put up that I was doing it for publicity and attention, and that ripped me apart." Andrews talked about getting tweets from young girls who say that they want to be like her, "except for that Marriott stalking thing."
Andrews testified that ESPN, whom she had worked for since 2004, directed her to discuss the matter—including the publicity stunt rumor—in an on-air interview before she was allowed to return to her usual work covering games.
She recalled ESPN wanting her to go on Good Morning America because it was within the ABC family, but if she had to do it, she preferred—like so many others who'd come before—to break her silence on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
"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,'" Andrews testified. "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."
On Oprah, she called what happened "a nightmare" that she was ready to wake up from.
ESPN insisted in a statement to NBC News last night that the network was unwavering in its support of Andrews throughout.
"Developments in the case have been interpreted by some to mean that ESPN was unsupportive of Erin in the aftermath of her ordeal," ESPN said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been and continue to be supportive of Erin."
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Regardless, the Oprah interview was hardly the last word on the subject, even at the time. Andrews recalled to Marie Claire in 2011, two years after first hearing about the existence of that humiliating video, that she still got tweets from people who were stumbling upon it online.
"Despite what I do for a living, I am very insecure about my body. I don't have a complex, but for every woman—I don't care who you are—there's a part of your body you have issues with," she told the magazine. "It was my body, and I didn't have a choice of how many people got to see it. What people don't understand is that while I wasn't physically touched, I was violated.
"The day that I got the phone call that this was on the Internet, I didn't want to get undressed. I didn't change my clothes for two or three days. I was so screwed up. I was disgusted with myself; I was disgusted with my body, with being naked, and that everybody saw that it was me."
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But she went back to work, even doing DWTS the following spring to "get away from [her] life."
"I did it to get my smile back. Then Elisabeth Hasselbeck [still on The View at the time] said my stalker should have just waited and he could have seen me naked on Dancing With the Stars, referring to the costumes. That was basically throwing stalking in the face of every victim and laughing about it."
Judgment, of course, not being the purview of one sex or the other.
She joined Fox Sports in 2012 as host of Fox College Football and in 2014 she both joined DWTS as Tom Bergeron's co-host and replaced Pam Oliver as lead sideline reporter for Fox's NFL coverage. She most recently worked the 2015 World Series and Super Bowl 50.
But the fact that Andrews got on with her life and has had continued success in her career is being used against her in court as an argument that she hasn't really suffered punitively as a result of the crime—which is presumably what any lawyer defending the Marriott would be compelled to claim.
"Your income has gone up substantially since this happened," attorney Marc Dedman, who's representing Marriott, said to Andrews in court before her lawyer objected. Dedman began again: "You have done very well in your career since this happened?"
"Yes," she replied.
So crawling into a hole, unable to work, would have been a better indicator that she deserved damages? Andrews wasn't necessarily ready to return to TV or jump back into work ASAP, but it sounds as though she felt she had no choice—and not due to pressure from her bosses, but due to pressure she put on herself.
"People wanted to see how I could function. People wanted to see how I could do," she testified. "I don't want anyone to think I'm weak and I can't handle it."
There's the chance that Andrews might never completely be able to shake what happened to her, understandably so, and moving on shouldn't be mistaken for being healed. Unlike in sports, being defeated isn't the only alternative to winning. There are many ways to thrive and yet still not quite be sure how you're able to get up every day and make it happen.
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, Pool
"I'll always have to go get treatment for this," Andrews testified yesterday. "I'll always need to talk to somebody about this because this will always be on the internet. This will always be there. There will always be a reminder, every single day."
The truth of that sentiment reached peak heartbreaking irony this morning, meanwhile, when a defense witness addressed the claim by a waitress at a Nashville restaurant that he had been chatting about the case at dinner last night and showed the infamous Andrews video to his companions on his phone. (She has since deleted her tweets.)
"I was at a private dinner meeting with friends. They brought up the allegations, and they started viewing the video," Neal Peskind, a rep for the Marriott owners, said in a statement obtained by ABC 2 News in Nashville. "I asked them to stop, and while they did so, it was not as quickly as I had hoped. This incident has been blown into something it was not. I would never disrespect Ms. Andrews and what she has been through. This is a very unfortunate situation that should not be a reflection on West End Hotel Partners or to our commitment to the issues in this case surrounding what happened to her. I sincerely apologize for my participation in what happened."
Only 16,999,999 more apologies to go.