Illinois Man Pleads Guilty to Stalking ESPN's Erin Andrews
In some ways, the news is anti-climactic: Michael David Barrett, an insurance executive of Illinois, pled guilty yesterday to the interstate stalking of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews.
More specifically, Barrett admitted to buying information about Andrews over the internet; traveling to follow Andrews; staying in three hotel rooms next to hers (the hotels told him which room was hers); twice filming videos of Andrews while she was naked through the door's peephole; posting those videos online; and trying to sell the videos to TMZ.
It's just another chapter in the long, long story of the objectification of Erin Andrews.
But what stands out about yesterday's hearing is that for once, it gave the 31-year-old sportscaster the chance to speak for herself -- and what it is like for her to pursue a job she loves while navigating fierce misogyny and harassment. What follows is a collection of her statements at the hearing, gathered primarily from Sports Illustrated and ABC News.
"His actions have had a devastating impact on me and my family."
"I don't know him. I haven't met him. I hope he never sees the light of day."
(Andrews) said she plans to advocate for changes in the hotel industry that will protect female travelers. She also said she was appalled to learn that hotels gave out information about where she was staying, adding that she still calls hotels to see if they'll acknowledge she's a guest. They often do, she said.
"I have a responsibility to other women," Andrews said. "If I back down or shy away, what kind of message does that send to other women and other guys who may be doing this?"
She lamented that the videos remain online and can never be scrubbed from the Internet. She spoke candidly to the judge and reporters after the hearing about being "a little paranoid" when she checks into a hotel. She said she sometimes imagines she sees Barrett and has nightmares.
"I live in hotels because of my job, and every time I check in, I look around, constantly thinking he is there," she said.
"I have nightmares. I walk in crowds and I see him in my peripheral vision. When I'm alone in my house, I have fears he's going to come in and hurt me... My career has been ripped apart, something I've worked very hard for. I am subjected to crude comments, suggestions that I have partnered in this crime. I walk into stadiums, and fans say obscene things to me."
Andrews said she didn't consider leaving her job at ESPN. "I do what I love," she said after the hearing. "It was time for college football to begin."
"I didn't do anything wrong. If I can make a difference for more women, that's what I want to do."
"I want him to stay in jail as long as possible. "He's a threat to women everywhere. I feel like it was my duty to come here and tell this judge what he has done to me, because I don't want another family to be ripped apart by this. I don't want somebody else's career to be ruined by this."
Barrett is free pending his sentencing on February 22. He and his attorney filed a plea deal last week that agreed to a 27-month prison sentence, though the judge wil decide the ultimate time, as well as any fines and restitution that he will pay Andrews. Andrews and her attorney do not agree with the plea deal sentencing, and will address the court again before the final judgment comes down.
After the hearing, Barrett released a statement through his attorney that apologized to Andrews -- but this may only be the beginning. Andrews' attorney was on "Good Morning America" this morning and he made this chilling statement:
"We have credible, determined evidence that Mr . Barrett did the same thing, not just with Erin, not just with a few others, but with 17 other women. Most of the rest of them have no idea their images were taken."
Unfortunately, Andrews' case is only one example of the abhorrent treatment of female sportscasters. As both a feminist and sports fan, the "sidelining" of female reporters has long been a pet rant of mine. Especially for high-profile sports, it's the guys who sit in the booth doing the play-by-play, presumably because their voices have 'authority' in the game. Guys also populate the studio, arguing about their game-day predictions.
Meanwhile, female sportscasters are running around on the field, interviewing coaches and players between quarters, presumably because viewers will get to admire their attractiveness while they ask other people about their opinions, rather than offering their own point-of-view. The gender divide is a painfully evident tactic for a network to boost its 'sex appeal' without threatening the jocular boys club in the booth or the studio. When there's another opening in the booth for a sports analyst, will Erin Andrews be up for the promotion? Despite her hard work, talent, and clear love of the game, I'm skeptical. In fact, I doubt ESPN will even consider it.
Soon after the news broke of the illegal video of Andrews, Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times asked: "Just what role does the industry play in the mass marketing of female journalists' sex appeal?"
"I think all of us in the media have fostered this culture, in the hopes of driving more people to our networks, our columns and our radio shows," said CBS Sports reporter Lesley Visser, a 30-year veteran recently named No. 1 female sportscaster by the American Sportscasters Association, in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.
"Every woman in this business has dealt with unwanted attention, but this culture makes it more difficult," Visser added. ...
In the way only a juicy media scandal can, coverage of the sizzling controversy has burned some news outlets. The New York Post and CBS News in particular have taken criticism for showing images from the video, earning their own audience spikes while ruthlessly re-victimizing the sportscaster. ...
... All of this feels like an unfortunate pile on, as critics use Andrews' misfortune as an excuse to sort through issues the sports media world should have confronted long ago. She has been reduced to a symbol of the tension between the still-limited opportunities for female sports journalists and the way the sports world has responded to them.
The twisted treatment of female sportscasters extends to the general media coverage of the Andrews case. As Salon's Broadsheet points out:
How could anybody treat a woman who'd been the victim of a stalker as complicit the crime? Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that the 31-year-old Andrews is blonde and pretty, a fact that rarely goes unremarked -- or uneditorialized -- in the media coverage of her case.
Yesterday "The New York Post," ever a bastion of taste and restraint, headlined the story as "Andrews Bares Her Torment" and made sure to note Andrews's "four-inch heels." "The New York Daily News," perhaps rusty on their Greek mythology, referred to the "ESPN beauty" meanwhile as a "sportscasting siren." And we're sure she'll be thrilled to know she's in the running for "Playboy's Sexiest Sportscaster of 2009," especially after earning that top honor last year. Oh, and as Andrews noted yesterday, the videos are still out there.
But the field is not entirely riddled with journalistic peeping Toms. SI.com did a fine job yesterday of describing Andrews's emotional courtroom plea without leering at her. Between Barrett's forthcoming sentencing and Andrews's ongoing campaign for better hotel security, there will no doubt be ample further opportunities for reporters to test their ability to cover stories of voyeurism without stooping to ogle their subjects themselves.
Here's hoping. It's up to us feminists and sports fans to demand fair and respectful media treatment of Andrews, in both coverage of this particular stalking case and in general. It is the very least that she deserves ... and, as she indicates, this is our opportunity to change the trajectory of sexist treatment of female sports reporters, current and future. While the tactics of objectification don't permit it, they have a point-of-view, they have rights, and it matters.
About the Images:
First Image: ESPN's Erin Andrews with her attorney, after yesterday's hearing. (AP)Second Image: Michael David Barrett pled guilty to the interstate stalking of ESPN's Erin Andrews. (AP)
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