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Was Erin Andrews video born from a sexist sports journalism culture?

Internet video of ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews raises questions on how networks deploy pretty females.

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Internet video of ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews raises questions on how networks deploy pretty females.

That uproar you heard this week over a nude video of ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews isn't just fan boys salivating over explicit pictures of sports media's biggest sex symbol splashed across cyberspace.

Indeed, that blurry video, taken illegally with a peephole camera as Andrews primped herself in a hotel room, has wrenched the sports world into an uncomfortable discussion: Just what role does the industry play in the mass marketing of female journalists' sex appeal?

And as the issues percolate, a reporter with growing fame as an object of beauty has found her privacy ripped away by a creep with a camera and an Internet connection.

"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. "Erin's America is the merger of a beautiful woman and a lawless Internet."

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.

Jemele Hill, a columnist at, sees the incident as an awful intersection between the intense attraction some fans feel toward female sportscasters and the way Web sites, blogs and other outlets exploit those feelings to draw an audience.

"Everybody knows that Erin Andrews equals instant hits (from readers online) … and people who used her likeness and photos to drive Web traffic, I think a lot of them feel genuine remorse," Hill said. "That's not to say that any of the blogs which encouraged this fascination with her are to blame. But I think they see more clearly how their irresponsibility made this feasible and created a market for someone to take advantage of her."

The scandal also highlighted the controversial way some women have been used as sideline reporters in television, especially in high-profile sports such as football and basketball.

Once upon a time, ex-jock lugs like O.J. Simpson worked the sidelines chasing down interviews with guys they once played with or against. But these days, those jobs are also filled by young, pretty women, while mostly male analysts narrate the game's action in a distant broadcast booth. It allows broadcasters to stock their shows with beautiful female faces who nevertheless remain outside the core of the show.

And Andrews — a former Tampa resident and University of Florida graduate whose father, Steve Andrews, is an investigative reporter at WFLA-Ch. 8 — has emerged as one of the most lusted-after figures in this field, nicknamed "Erin Pageviews" for her ability to draw an online crowd.

"I can't think of one female sideline reporter who isn't hot, yet I can think of many male reporters for ESPN who aren't particularly good looking at all," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, the school for journalists that owns the St. Petersburg Times.

"There's always been this dynamic in pro sports where the men are center stage and they're surrounded by these adornments — these goddess cheerleaders — they're almost like decorations," McBride added. "You look at ESPN, and it's very common to have a pretty woman as the sideline reporter, which is where all the other pretty girls are."

It's a measure of today's cutthroat media culture — where professional celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have turned involuntarily released sex tapes into career boosts — that some wonder if ESPN or Andrews brought the video to light intentionally. The Post, which has been barred from ESPN shows for printing photos from the video, reported Thursday that no one knew who was in the fuzzy images until the sports network sent a letter demanding a little-known Web site take them down.

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan also seemed to reflect those carping that Andrews' sexy outfits and sex appeal may have contributed to the situation, writing on Twitter: "Women journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house." In a later statement, Brennan denounced what happened to Andrews and denied speaking specifically about her.

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 only question left — besides uncovering who made the tape in the first place — is whether sports media will learn anything from all this once the dust settles.

"They're clearly working in this world which condones blatant sexism," said Poynter's McBride. "I wonder if (ESPN) can see how women really are put in these little boxes."

Was Erin Andrews video born from a sexist sports journalism culture? 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 5:13pm]
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