As Fox Sports’ new No. 1 sideline reporter for the NFL, this “blonde bombshell” is out to prove that she’s so much more
Author Emma Carmichael Illustration Evgeny Parfenov
The year of Erin Andrews began last October, with a Gatorade bath meant for then–Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who’d just tied up the American League Championship Series with a walk-off single. Salty dodged it, and Andrews, who was conducting the postgame interview with the newly minted Beantown hero, got the brunt of the bath on national television. It was a coronation of sorts for the banner year that would follow, in which Andrews covered an emotional World Series win by a city still reeling from the Boston Marathon bombing; reported what might be the most discussed postgame interview of all time, with an agitated and emotional Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks after his team won a spot in the Super Bowl; watched her boyfriend, Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll, win his second Stanley Cup; and was named Fox Sports’ No. 1 NFL sideline reporter—arguably the most high-profile job to be held by a woman in sports broadcasting.
The appointment caused a stir among media observers who saw it as a cynical ploy by Fox Sports to skew younger and blonder. Andrews, who is 36 years old, was replacing Pam Oliver, who is 53 and African-American. But Andrews is used to people obsessing over her physical appearance: After starting her national television career 10 years ago at ESPN, as a sideline reporter for college football and basketball, she quickly developed a dedicated legion of fanboys in certain corners of the Internet; the editors at Deadspin, a site I used to work for, had a habit of referring to her as “Erin Pageviews” behind the scenes; in 2008, a sports columnist referred to her as a “blonde bombshell” in a headline and bluntly accused her of “playing the sexpot”; and that same year, a man filmed Andrews through her hotel room peephole (the video later leaked, and the man served time in jail).
Just before the start of the 2014 NFL season, I spoke to Andrews about, among other things, her new gig hosting “Dancing with the Stars,” the problem with wearing heels on a professional football field and, when it comes to sports broadcasting, still feeling like she needs to prove herself more than a man would.
Hemispheres: I used to work at Deadspin with all dudes, and before that in other sports jobs with all dudes. I wanted to ask you a question that I got tired of answering about a year into sportswriting, and then about the question itself.
Erin Andrews: OK.
Hemispheres: The question is: “How did you get into sports?”
Andrews: I got into sports through my dad. My dad is from New England. He’s a big sports fan; he lives and breathes the Red Sox and the Celtics. I was the first-born, and I just did what daddy’s girls do. And I learned that the Red Sox broke my dad’s heart a lot.
Hemispheres: And what do you think about that question? Do you really think women need some sort of designated entry point into caring about sports in 2014? Are you surprised you still have to answer that question?
Andrews: You bring up a good point. I’ve never really thought about that before. I guess that question isn’t odd for me to answer, because I never played organized sports growing up. I was always in dance. But there’s a lot of things [I hear] that people are still saying about women in sports, where you go, “Are we still doing this? This is still happening?”
Hemispheres: I read that the night before you started your first TV gig, in 2000, doing hockey in Tampa, you were up reading Hockey for Dummies.
Andrews: [laughs] I was.
Hemispheres: That brings up the idea of the “impostor syndrome” for women, and it’s not just in sports media. There’s a pressure or a sense of a requirement to prove yourself more than a man would.
Andrews: Oh, I know I have to.
Hemispheres: At what point did you feel as if you’d gotten past that?
Andrews: I still feel like I have to prove myself—and, honestly, I don’t want that feeling to go away. That’s what pushes me to get up and read more articles and turn NFL Network on while I’m doing laundry. I haven’t really allowed myself a life since probably a year and a half ago. I’ve been married to my job. You need that drive and that competitive nature to make it. I still live out of a suitcase to get on TV maybe four times a game, if I’m lucky, for 15 seconds. It’s a lot to do for so little exposure. But I love it.
Hemispheres: Early in your career the attention you were getting had a different kind of tenor to it. Like maybe a little bit more … not necessarily vicious, but certainly leering. I saw one old Deadspin post with the headline, “Erin Andrews Yakkity Blah Blah You’ve Already Stopped Reading This Post.” The idea was that it didn’t matter at that point. The attention was so immediate among this subset of sports media. Were you ready for that kind of attention early on?
Andrews: I’m still not ready for it. [My family and I] never thought this would [happen] the way it did. I came around when the Internet and the sports blogs were blowing up, so I was kind of their first experiment.
Hemispheres: There was a guinea pig element to it—where you had to go through it so that other women don’t have to.
Andrews: There are always blogs saying, “It’s the Next Erin Andrews.” I’m ready for someone to take that role on the Internet, so I kind of … don’t have to anymore. I don’t think anyone could’ve told me that this was the way it was gonna happen. Nobody put this in the Journalism 101 manual [in college]. It’s not part of the lesson plan.
Hemispheres: Do you feel you have to defend the sideline gig at this point?
Andrews: Anyone that doesn’t understand why there’s a need for sideline reporters doesn’t understand the game. Anyone that doesn’t understand it, come stand next to me during a game, and I’ll show you why you need one.
Hemispheres: Or they could look at the Sherman interview [in which the Seattle Seahawk gave an emotionally charged response to being snubbed by Michael Crabtree after beating his 49ers in last season’s NFC Championship Game]. Tell me about the reaction cycle. There was this immediate expectation that you’d been scared or intimidated by him.
Andrews: I actually came home every time we covered a Seahawks game and told my boyfriend, if I could come back as a football player, I would come back as Richard Sherman. He’s one of my favorite NFL players right now, and there’s nothing in my entire body that makes me afraid of him. When I saw [the reaction] getting racial, that was when I decided I had to comment. (On Fox’s “Media Buzz,” Andrews stated at the time, “I don’t think it was bizarre. I think it was great.”)
Hemispheres: And beyond all of that, it was simply good television.
Andrews: That’s the interview all of us want. I do pretty much 99 percent of my interviews where guys are saying, “We just played our kind of ball, we took it one play at a time.” We get the same stuff. This is the one that we all wanted! That’s why it got so much attention, because athletes don’t do this. It just doesn’t happen. And he made a play—a career-changing, game-changing play that sent [his team] to the Super Bowl. I mean, I’d lose my mind!
Hemispheres: After the interview, things kept happening for you: Both the “Dancing with the Stars” and the Fox announcements were made within the following six months, and both quickly turned into woman-versus-woman stories, where you were “taking” jobs from, respectively, Brooke Burke-Charvet and Pam Oliver.
Andrews: I knew that’s how it was going to be taken. But that’s not because I knew from being on the inside. It’s because I know from [past] criticism that I’m kind of a lightning rod for things. I knew it was going to be presented this way.
Hemispheres: It’s a difficult environment for women to coexist in sometimes.
Andrews: It is a very competitive industry between the men and the women and the women versus the women. That’s really the sad part. Finding friends in the industry—they’re few and far between.
Hemispheres: That competitive nature—do you think that has to do with the fact that there still are limited roles for women in sports journalism?
Andrews: Yeah, I think there are limited roles, and I think that a lot of times, maybe, we’re kind of put up against each other in certain situations—“Oh, she doesn’t like her.” It’s all very sad.
Hemispheres: So what would be the ideal advice for a young woman in the industry? To develop a thick skin?
Andrews: I’d love to know what that advice is; I’m still working on it. I would say you better have a thick skin or you’re not gonna even survive in this industry. I’m still trying to develop one, and the sad thing for me is, I know I’m a lot rougher around the edges now than I was 10 years ago. Everything was like, “Oh, great, how exciting!” And I’m tougher now. It makes you into that.
Hemispheres: It just happens over time. You learn what criticism matters and what doesn’t. But it’s a hard lesson.
Andrews: It is! It’s a really hard lesson. I’m in such awe of people that really let it roll off their backs. Derek Jeter has really been an example of that [for me]. He really doesn’t care.
Hemispheres: Having reached this point in your career, with these two new gigs that are in a lot of ways an apex, where do you see yourself going from here?
Andrews: I’m finally at the point that I wanted to be at, sports-wise, working with the top NFL crew on Fox and working on the NFL Sunday pregame show. Goodness gracious, I don’t really even know if there’s any other job right now that I would want in the sports world. I would like to keep going with sports because I would be completely bored [without it]. Entertainment-wise, Michael Strahan is a great example of how you can make both work. I’m not gonna lie, one day I hope to be sitting next to him doing the morning show. That would kind of be my end-all, be-all, entertainment-wise, to be sitting right there next to him.
Hemispheres: I imagine with television work there’s a general exhaustion that comes with putting on a public persona all the time, and with you, having two different styles between “DWTS” and sports.
Andrews: I think I come across as sarcastic on “DWTS”—some people have said witty—but with that show I have a lot more time on air, whereas on the sideline, you’re in, you’re out. I can’t really be funny when I’m talking about somebody tearing his ACL. In football it’s all men watching; you are being critiqued and looked at with the assumption that you don’t know the game as well. So you kind of have to have a different tone. One thing I really love about working with Joe Buck and with Fox is that they have a playful tone. They want you to have a good time. This isn’t brain surgery! And for “DWTS,” I’m in hair and makeup all day. I’m in gowns and jewelry. In football, I’m putting on fake eyelashes in a porta-potty and hoping I can use the restroom during halftime because I’m standing outside for four to five hours.
Hemispheres: Do you wear heels on the field?
Andrews: Oh god, no! Are you kidding? I can’t even—it’s a struggle to wear heels on “DWTS” for me. I am really a very clumsy person. I trip on my own two feet 24-7. On the sideline, we’re outside and we’re running around, we’re dodging players, we’re jumping over cords, we’re getting out of the way. So you have to be comfortable. I appreciate everybody who tries to wear a wedge out there on that field, but good god. I fall anyway, in my flats.
Hemispheres: But you did dance in heels as a contestant on “DWTS.”
Andrews: Yeah, it was awful. I hated every minute of it. And now all these people on “DWTS” are in sneakers or barefoot, and I’m like, “This is a ripoff. I was in heels!”
Emma Carmichael is the editor in chief of Jezebel. She would not wear high heels on a football field either.