By Erin Moyer || Senior Editor
If you go on ESPN.com right now (do it!), you’ll see a lot about, you know, sports. Peyton Manning is up there — though not, as it would happen, for his recent smattering of sexual harassment accusations. There also seem to be two or three pieces about Kobe Bryant — no, not about that whole “checkered past” of mistreatment and abuse of women, or anything, just that the Lakers seem to be wearing Kobe Bryant-themed socks. So, you know, that’s cool.
But there’s something that ESPN is not showing you on its front page, and soon, you’ll probably be able to imagine why: Erin Andrews, sideline reporter for ESPN collegiate football, was filmed unknowingly and illegally by a stalker in 2008. Apparently, a man Michael David Barrett followed the reporter around the country, rented hotel rooms next to Andrews, and altered the peep-hole of her door so he could film her. Illegally. On three different occasions, in Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville, Tennessee. Andrews gave an interview on Oprah to explain the situation. Barrett then released his felony-level footage online. This story is back in the news right now — though, as I’ll soon explain, can only be found on ESPN.com via a search — because Andrews is now suing Barrett and the manager and owner of a Marriott Hotel in Nashville for $75 million.
It came out in Andrews’ testimony, though, that after the footage was released, ESPN had pushed her to give the Oprah interview. Andrews testified last Monday that, before she was allowed to return to the sidelines, ESPN directed her to give the interview. The network initially asked her to do it on ESPN.
So clearly, a lot went wrong here. We’re going to break this down step-by-step: Yes, under no circumstances should this stalker have filmed her without her consent. Under no circumstances should he have then put the video online, also without her consent. It’s difficult to argue with any of that.
But the most surprising — and perhaps, most disappointing — part of the story is what came after. It’s that ESPN, Andrews’ employer, the force in sports media, would bungle things this badly. It’s that a corporation could be so blind as to ask a victim to share their story at penalty of losing their job. We should all have the power to narrate our own stories as we so choose. Andrews should have had the power to share, or not share, her story in a way that worked for her.
And what, exactly, was Andrews meant to explain in an interview? It wasn’t as though there was any questionable conduct on her end, right? A creepy peeping tom filmed her without her consent, and the footage was released with an equally nonexistent amount of consent. Andrews was just staying in a hotel. That’s all. None. Of. This. Is. Her. Fault.
But it’s not difficult to imagine ESPN’s train of thought here. A nude video of one of their reporters wound up online. What’s more, it was a young, blonde woman who, it bears remembering, the network sexualizes a lot already. Better to get her on the air somewhere and just make sure everyone knows what a victim she was.
In short, the subtext of ESPN’s move here is: You need to explain to all these nice people that you’re not a whore. And if you don’t, we’re not saying we’re going to fire you! Of course not. We support you and all survivors. #strong. It’s just that you just won’t be able to work again until you explain. So, are you free to film this Thursday?
ESPN’s failure is yet another example of a sound bottom line coming at the expense of sound human decency. This evidences just how bad, how insensitive, how generally misinformed, institutions can be. Our powers that be have to figure out how to be supportive allies in cases of sexual assault.
To be fair, ESPN has since claimed in a statement that they have been nothing but supportive of Andrews, before and after the assault, and I really hope that is actually true. But listen: ESPN and the sports industrial complex are propped up on hypermasculinity. They rely on stars like Manning, like Bryant, to keep being a thing. No business is going to make a big show of confirming and addressing its own failures, of course. But ESPN belongs in a special camp here. This place is so entrenched within so many ugly power structures, reporters like Andrews never stood a chance.
Senior Erin Moyer is a Senior Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.