Erin Andrews' Dream Turns to Nightmare
She sets up mock interviews with school friends, writes elaborate scripts and performs Q-and-A sessions in front of the mirror. She's blessed with stunning genes, sure, but it's clear she's more than just a pretty face with to-die-for hair. She's smart, funny, pals with most everyone and never takes herself too seriously. Eventually she leaves the Tampa home to attend the University of Florida, where she majors in telecommunications and trudges upon the path you, the father, have traveled for decades.
Like most every twenty-something maneuvering through the real world, she makes a few professional mistakes, but she's driven and determined, two qualities that elevate her beyond the Barbie doll looks. She rises fairly quickly in her chosen field, moving from freelance reporter at a local station to a reporter covering the Tampa Bay Lightning to studio host for Turner Sports. Every day is a new adventure, a new story, but she can't just know a little something about all sports -- baseball, college football, basketball, always floating wherever the job takes her -- because there are plenty of critics hanging on her every word, hoping she'll fail. She stays up late at night perusing stat charts and box scores and sports history books and practicing, constantly practicing. Eventually ESPN calls with a job offer, and for a young girl who always dreamed of this moment, it's like heaven has lowered a rope for her to grab and never let go.
Imagine how proud you were when you saw the joy on your daughter's face as she told you she now worked for ESPN, the crown jewel of the sports world.
And imagine how revolted you felt five years later, when she revealed to her family that there were pictures of her on the Internet, naked pictures taken without her knowledge by a twisted lout who secretly videotaped her through hotel room peepholes. She couldn't even get through the details, so thick were her sobs, and you wondered what kind of sicko could do this to your daughter. She said she felt ashamed, but why should she be ashamed when all she had done was her job? She said she was scared, really scared, for her career but also for her life, because nobody yet knew the pervert's identity. If he was able to easily trace her moves when she was on the road, he could be anywhere -- in her house, in the bushes, in a parking lot waiting for her to walk alone to her car.
So yes, it broke the daughter's heart when her lawyer read a letter from her father -- Steve Andrews, a six-time Emmy-winning TV news reporter in St. Petersburg, Fla. -- who couldn't be in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday because of surgery that had been previously scheduled. Maybe it's just as well, because being within a boxer's punch of the man who so willingly and callously violated his daughter would test any father's patience.
Michael Barrett, a 48-year-old divorced insurance executive from Illinois who has children of his own, was sentenced Monday to 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to interstate stalking. For nine months, ever since she discovered Barrett had trailed her in three states and taken video of her through rigged peepholes in various hotel rooms, Erin Andrews, 31, has managed to hold tight her emotions, just as the athletes she covers are trained to do. But now, as Barrett bowed his head and refused to look at her -- a coward stripped of his weapon, his only power -- she ripped into him for claiming he should receive leniency because he, too, had been publicly humiliated across the last few months.
Mix hubris with sickness and greed, and there goes Michael Barrett, a modern day boogeyman.
If Barrett had imagined Andrews as his daughter instead of some sexual fantasy he coveted and hoped to exploit for profit, he might not be whining about his own fears of jail or his dubious future. He should be relieved the judge didn't slap him with the maximum sentence of five years allowed under federal guidelines. He should be especially grateful if his own children never suffer days where they can't stop crying, where stress causes their skin to break out in hives, where they struggle to smile, zombie-like, as frat boys spew crude remarks and creeps seem to lurk in every shadow. Where the only job they've ever wanted isn't so wonderful anymore.
Imagine this warped life on a perpetual loop, and then try to tell Andrews she should stop being such a drama queen -- it's not like she was raped, goes the distorted theory -- or that she should thank Barrett for pushing her Q rating beyond the jock fiefdom. Any sane father would agree: her anger, terror and disgust are understandable; her future path is hers to decide.
"Let's talk about public humiliation, Mr. Barrett. I'm living public humiliation. The picture on the Internet is mine, it's not his. This will never be over for me, and in return I never want it to be over for you," she said in court to Barrett, while he avoided her gaze.
"Because of him I fear for my life," she continued. "Every time I check into a hotel room, I fear he's in the closet. Every time I come home alone, I'm waiting for him to jump out from behind a door."
During the FBI's investigation of Barrett, he admitted there were 16 other women on his homemade videos. Sixteen! Sixteen women he stalked, sixteen women he taped without their permission, sixteen women whose private images he hoped to make money from the way he did with Andrews when he peddled the naked footage of her to an LA-based celeb Web site, under the slimy e-mail handle, email@example.com. Barrett refuses to disclose the 16 identities, and authorities, if they know, aren't inclined to make them public.
"Instead, he's waiting for us all to figure it out. That doesn't sound like remorse at all. You are a sexual predator," Andrews said to Barrett. "You are a sexual deviant. I don't feel safe with you on the loose. They should lock you up and throw away the key."
The preoccupation with Andrews' appearance has muddied what should have been a straightforward case pitting sleaze against an individual's presumed privacy. Well before a lunatic was caught in a plot to steal her dignity, Andrews' wardrobe choices sometimes rankled those in the sports business who abide by the cliché that women must check their femininity/sexuality at the door. Before learning that Barrett had snapped her naked in Columbus, Milwaukee and Nashville hotel rooms, Andrews posed for GQ magazine in a short skirt, surrounded by mud-covered Columbia football players on a stage designed to resemble a locker room.
It wasn't the ideal career move for a woman hoping to be taken seriously in an occupation still populated mostly by men, but the ESPN target audience lapped it up. She was eye candy for the couch potatoes, a role her bosses helped define and gleefully exploited. They encouraged her to vie for a spot on sister station ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" long before Barrett's scheme became public.
Of course she benefited from her beauty in this high-def prism, but Andrews also conducted herself with grace and a self-awareness that suggested she was in on the gag, and manipulating it in her own engaging way. Beyond the lightness and charm she brought to the sideline was the inescapable fact that this girl knew her stuff.
Some of that light is gone now, crushed to pieces by a skeevy perv. You know how Native American legend has it that pictures can siphon away a person's soul? Andrews still smiles at her interview subjects and poses with drooling college boys, but she's not the same woman whose greatest worry last year at this time was learning the names of every bench jockey in the NCAA tournament.
In September, Andrews sat down with Oprah and talked about her ordeal. It was, said Andrews, the only interview she would grant, and then she planned to move on with her life and hoped others might do the same. But instead of dissipating, the reminders were everywhere: in the sound of footsteps as she walked to her car, in the eyes of fans as they checked her out up and down, in the unsigned -- more cowardice -- web site comments from folks accusing her of spinning the case into a ratings grab.
It wasn't just that the entire world (or so it seemed) had viewed the pictures. They were there in perpetuity for her future kids to see, and their kids, and the nominal fee Andrews paid Barrett to gain copyright ownership of the nude videos will never be a magical delete key. There were moments when the daughter who took pride in always being prepared, who had learned to navigate the fame that followed her dream, confided to her family and friends she wasn't sure she had the strength to continue.
In the end, the letters helped clear her vision, helped remind her she wasn't alone. There were stacks of them, detailed notes and e-mails written by stalking victims. Some encouraged her to simply wake up each day and trust it would be better than the night before; others pleaded with her to become the public voice for victims everywhere. With time they will drown the unsigned junk and anonymous Internet posts typed by jerks accusing her of inviting unwanted attention because of how she looked, as if a burqa was the solution to eradicating these trouble-making, fame-seeking chicks from a man's game.
So Steve Andrews' daughter is talking, answering questions and discovering her strong voice, hoping that what she has to say will make it more difficult for sleazebags everywhere. Tuesday morning she went on "Good Morning America" and admitted, "I had a pretty big comedown, a meltdown last night, I think, after I got back from the courtroom. It's just been a lot." There might be more interviews with Andrews on the opposite side of the microphone, and the louder she speaks about video voyeurism and the unregulated anarchy of the online world, the more some misguided fools will mutter that she deserved it, that she's capitalizing on a creep's crime the same way she used her pretty blond looks to score a coveted job.
But most of us will applaud and say, "You go girl," and hope Andrews is not scarred too deeply or chased away from her career ambitions, whatever they may be. As she stood outside the Los Angeles court Monday, she said, again and again, "I did nothing wrong," and how terribly sad and unfair she had to say that at all.
Then she also said, with a fair amount of optimism, "I want to smile. I want to live my life. I don't want to be a victim anymore. I don't want to run and hide." You can almost imagine a father stuck thousands of miles away, prepping for his own surgery, and the relief that washes over him as he feels a familial tug of pride.