Erin Andrews at the trial on her civil lawsuit in Nashville.
* Monday afternoon update: A Nashville jury has awarded Erin Andrews $55 million in damages.
With Los Angeles-area TV sports reporter Erin Andrews still engaged in her Nashville lawsuit against the Marriott hotel there over the 2007 nude video of her inside her room, Sports Illustrated spoke with several other women who cover sports for TV about life for them on the road. It's depressing. All said they take some pretty careful steps to protect themselves from stalkers, creeps and invasions of their privacy at hotels. Keeping the name of their hotels off social media is one thing; some of these women ask for a new room if the desk clerk happens to say their room number out loud, or they cover peepholes with Band-aids and keep the blinds closed, and most don't let in maids or other hotel staffers if they can help it. One of the women says she tries not to be unclothed when in the room, just to be safe. Another, Trenni Kusnierek, tells a chilling tale of when baseball player Prince Fielder helped her out with a friendly assist.
After returning from dinner with friends while covering the Brewers in Philadelphia, Kusnierek noticed a stranger had followed her from outside the Hilton Penn's Landing hotel, through the lobby, and on to her elevator. By chance, Prince Fielder and another Brewers player happened to be on the elevator with them. Kusnierek made eye contact with the then-Brewers first baseman. Her unsaid words: This guy isn’t with me and I don’t why he’s on the elevator.
“I can still remember the lighting in the lobby, the look of the elevator, and the carpeting in the hallway of the floor I got off on,” says Kusnierek, who is now an anchor and host for Comcast SportsNet in Boston. “I was scared. Why would this person get on this elevator and try to pretend he knew me? He was talking to me as though we were together. I gave Prince a look like I don’t know this guy.”
Fielder, picking up on the signal, got off on the floor Kusnierek was staying on, walked her to the room, and then got back on the elevator. Kusnierek doesn’t know what happened to the man—he disappeared into the night. “If Prince and one of his teammates had not been there, I honestly don’t know what would have happened,” she said.
Fox Sports reporter Laura Okmin also has an elevator story. "One time someone got in after me and said, 'Hello, Laura Okmin' and didn't say anything else." she says. "He didn't push a button. I got out on my floor, he followed, and I turned back before the door shut and went down to the lobby and changed rooms. It could've been unnecessary and paranoid but if it helps me feel safe and sleep better it's worth it."
Says Alanna Rizzo, who travels with the Dodgers for SportsNet LA: "I am very cautious. I never post on social media where the team is staying. I used to stay under my actual name at hotels but this year that will be changed. There have been several occurrences when savvy fans have located the team hotel and have called my room asking me for a date or for money for their fundraisers.”
Andrews, a sideline reporter with Fox Sports now and host of "Dancing with the Stars," is suing the Marriott near Vanderbilt University for allowing a stalker to deliberately book the room next to hers then surreptitiously film her. Andrews has asked for $75 million in damages; the case has gone to the jury. Andrews says she remains affected emotionally by the invasion and the ongoing repercussions.
Andrews testified that she now has hotel rooms swept for bugs or recording devices during long business trips, she is taunted about the videos daily, and she worries she will have children who will come home and say other kids have seen her nude.
“I feel so ashamed,” Andrews testified. “This happens every day of my life. Either I get a tweet, or somebody makes a comment in the paper, or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter, or somebody screams it at me in the stands. And I’m right back to this.”
The stalker, Michael David Barrett, posted the videos online and they have been widely circulated. He plead guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Here in the Los Angeles area, harassment of TV reporters on location, especially women, seems to be on the rise. As well as at venues where Donald Trump is speaking and his supporters are gathered, but that's a separate story. I could see the issue of reporter safety at those pointless 11 p.m. stand-up shots becoming a bigger issue for the stations.