The verdict has yet to be rendered. Erin Andrews’s civil lawsuit continues against two hotel companies she accuses of disclosing her room number to and allowing close proximity for Michael David Barrett , who was convicted in 2009 of recording videos of her undressing and uploading them to the Internet.
But anyone in possession of a modicum of sympathy who has followed her often tearful testimony this week should already have arrived at a different verdict: No matter whether the 37-year-old Andrews is ultimately awarded the $75 million in damages the then-ESPN — and current Fox Sports broadcaster — is seeking, damage was done, and the damage was amplified by a cruel skepticism regarding her motives.
It has been beyond jarring to hear Andrews’s testimony, in part because it jostles memories of the creepy and terrifying invasion of privacy she endured on more than one occasion. In 2008, Andrews was covering a Vanderbilt football game for ESPN in her role as sideline reporter and checked in to the Nashville Marriott. Barrett, who had stalked her at other locales in Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee, called the hotel, asked which room she was staying in, then arranged to book the room next to her.
He altered the peephole on her door, filmed her undressing, and posted the footage on a website. It has been viewed more than 300,000 times. Barrett pleaded guilty to three counts of interstate stalking in 2009 and served 2½ years in jail.
What is also jarring, especially in retrospect, is how much skepticism — or cynicism — there was surrounding Andrews’s motives. It does not require a deep dig on Google to find accusations from various corners of the Internet suggesting she was complicit in the filming and release of the video to enhance her career.
Apparently, conspiracy theories draw many more page views than a sympathetic perspective would. According to Andrews’s father, his daughter was so shaken by the footage — which she agreed to watch per an FBI request in order to possibly discover clues before Barrett was arrested — that she vomited.
Andrews, testifying Monday in between sobs, said it felt like “everyone” believed it was a publicity stunt designed to raise her profile.
“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.”
During testimony Wednesday, Steve Andrews recalled with agonizing detail his daughter’s reaction when she learned of the video in 2009.
“She is hysterical and out of control screaming and I couldn’t understand what she was talking about,” said Steve Andrews, recalling a phone conversation with Erin that day. “She kept screaming, ‘I am on the Internet! I am on the Internet! I am naked! I am naked! Everything I worked for is gone.’ ”
Andrews said Monday that ESPN — her employer until June 2012, when she joined Fox Sports — required her to give a sit-down interview in advance of returning to the air after the video was made public.
“That was the only way I was going to be allowed back,’’ she said. “They were highly recommending it be [‘Good Morning America’], because ESPN and ABC are the same, and they wanted it on ‘GMA.’ But like my dad had said the other day, I didn’t want it to be a two-second thing where it’s like, ‘Was this a scandal or was it not?’ No, this is my life, and I feel terrible about myself, and we want to figure out how this happened. So, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
Andrews eventually agreed to do an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired on Sept. 11, 2009. Winfrey’s program released quotes from the interview several weeks in advance of its broadcast date. ESPN, whose executives believed she did need to address it before returning to the air, was fine with this approach.
“Developments in the case have been interpreted by some to mean that ESPN was unsupportive of Erin in the aftermath of her ordeal,’’ an ESPN spokesman told me Thursday. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been and continue to be supportive of Erin.”
During the trial this week, the approach of the Marriott’s attorneys has been to suggest that the nude video didn’t negatively affect Andrews’s career. One lawyer pointed out that she had picked up endorsements from Reebok, Degree deodorant, Florida orange juice, and Mountain Dew after it happened. She has also been a contestant, and host, on “Dancing with the Stars.” Andrews acknowledged that her income has increased in the years since the video came out.
The video didn’t harm her career. It did something worse. It harmed her. Steve Andrews said that despite her success, his daughter hasn’t been the same since the incident.
“She is afraid,’’ he said. “My daughter has been scared for eight years. For eight years she has been terrified that there is something else out there — that there is someone else looking for her,” he said. “She doesn’t trust anymore. She is a shell of the person she was before this happened.”
Erin Andrews said it has affected her relationships. She lives with boyfriend Jarret Stoll, an NHL player with the Minnesota Wild, and says he has been supportive. But she said he doesn’t understand why she remains paranoid and feels guilty at times.
“[Stoll] didn’t know me before this happened,’’ she said. “[It’s hard to] try to explain to someone who has questions about why I have trust issues, why I am insecure, why I am humiliated, embarrassed, obsessive about checking the Internet, he doesn’t understand.
“And he’s an athlete — he is just like, ‘You’ve got to move on, you’ve got to go to the next game, leave it alone, who cares what people think?’ It’s just not that simple.”
“I feel sad because I think he would’ve loved the girl more that was there before this happened, and I feel very guilty about that. I don’t want to talk to him about this. I want to be the easy, breezy girl. I want to be the sports girl, the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ host that he is so proud of. I don’t want him to see this.”
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.