For ESPN's Erin Andrews, Spotlight Is a Double-Edged Sword

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2009 9:56 AM

Inside the Grand Hyatt Washington on Wednesday afternoon, adolescents with name tags and pens and notebooks scurried about. The opening rounds of the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee were underway. There was no time to dally.

One floor below lobby level, men and women with uniforms and badges and grim expressions huddled in groups of two or three. A security conference was about to begin. There was no time for wandering gazes.

And riding down the escalator amid the bustle was a woman far too used to being recognized. No one stopped. No one stared. No one introduced themselves or asked for a picture.

"No one has a clue who I am," said ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, who is in town to cover the spelling bee for the network. "It's kind of nice."

Earlier Wednesday morning, as Andrews stood in line at a security checkpoint at the Atlanta airport, one of the guards couldn't resist the urge to ask: You're Erin Andrews, right? Where are you going this week?

Andrews has traveled across the United States since joining ESPN's NHL coverage in 2004. Since then, she's covered college basketball, college baseball and professional baseball, but she is known most prominently for her work with the network's Saturday night college football broadcasts.

Or at least, she'd like to be most prominently known for her work. Instead, Andrews has become a recognizable figure to many American sports viewers because she is an attractive, confident young woman. She understands her appeal, says it has brought her abundant opportunities she wouldn't otherwise have had and hopes it will bring her even more in the future.

But Andrews also thinks her appeal is sad. And funny. But mostly sad. The native of Gainesville, Fla., who grew up idolizing female sportscasters such as Hannah Storm, Jill Arrington and Melissa Stark wishes more of her audience would appreciate her ability to gather information about their favorite teams or to dispense knowledge of their coveted games.

Instead, attention is paid to her clothes and makeup, both of which had better be perfect at all times, lest the message boards get lit up after the game.

"I think it's funny," Andrews said in an interview over lunch. "I honestly think it's comical. I tell everyone I'm not a girl who wears makeup. I wear my hair in a ponytail. Wear a baseball cap. I don't really see myself that way.

"On the other end of it, there's been so much made of, 'Oh, she looks like this and she looks like that,' and then there's been people who have said, 'She really needs to concentrate on being a sports reporter.' But sometimes I like to bring up the comparison of, 'Well, how come you can't look nice and be both?' "

This has become her conundrum over the past two years, one that intensified last summer when Mike Nadel, a Chicago area sports columnist, wrote about Andrews's attire and behavior in the Chicago Cubs' clubhouse rather than about anything baseball-related.

Andrews said Nadel's column -- and the national attention it garnered -- "kind of opened Pandora's box for everybody else to start taking their shots."

What confounds Andrews is that many of her attractive, well-dressed male co-workers do not engender the same attention.

"Keyshawn Johnson is one of the best dressers at ESPN and I think Jesse Palmer dresses really well and Merril Hoge does, too," Andrews said. "No one says: 'Hey guys, don't dress nice. Don't worry about your looks.' I think it is kind of funny that there is so much attention on a female that wants to stay in shape and wants to wear makeup when we've got some good-looking guys at ESPN and no one wants to take shots at them for caring about the way they dress."

Andrews said the fanatical attention drawn by her appearance doesn't bother her much, though it can sometimes be a hassle. An ESPN publicist mistakenly gave Andrews the wrong number at which to reach him, and when she tried to call him earlier in the day, she instead spoke with "some random guy" who seemed thrilled to possess her cellphone number.

"If my phone number ends up on a message board later tonight," Andrews later told the publicist with a grin, "you're going out to find me a new iPhone."

But for all times when her fame can become somewhat annoying, Andrews has taken advantage of its perks, as well. She took part in a GQ photo shoot that will be published in the magazine's August edition. And she hopes one day to be a contestant on the television show "Dancing With the Stars."

Andrews said she likes working with Tom Bergeron, who hosts the spelling bee for ESPN. In front of an audience more primed to recognize Bergeron from his duties hosting "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "Dancing With the Stars" than to know Andrews from any event she has ever covered, her spotlight slightly dims. She doesn't mind at all.

But as Andrews gets up from the table and exits a restaurant an intersection away from the hotel that temporarily houses all the kids with the name tags and pens and notebooks, she is reminded that her safe haven extends only so far.

"Excuse me, Erin," a stranger said as Andrews was about to step outside. "Do you mind if I get a picture?"

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