Women sportscasters are heartened by the jury verdict this week that awarded their colleague Erin Andrews $55 million.
Andrews was secretly videotaped while naked by a stalker through the peephole in her hotel room door. Both the stalker and the hotel owner were found liable.
The case highlights the security risks that are especially pronounced for female journalists covering sports, who, working in a male-dominated field surrounded by passionate male fans, often travel alone.
Among them is Laura Okmin, a sideline reporter covering the NFL on Fox Sports. In an interview with Melissa Block, Okmin talks about the precautions she’s taken to protect herself on the road, and whether she feels Andrews’ verdict will change the approach to security in the profession.
Okmin says an overall awareness is necessary for all women to have, not just for those working in sports journalism. When taking safety measures into consideration, she says, “Now, I think more than ever, I just feel that I’d rather sound a little crazy and sound a little paranoid and still feel safe.”
On the safety precautions she takes when traveling to games. (SportsNet New York’s Kerith Burke said she travels with Band-Aids to put over hotel door peepholes.)
I think it’s just being very aware when you’re on the road. And it can be as simple as when I travel if I’m checking in when I go to the front desk, I don’t say my last name. I’ll say it very quietly if there are people around. And I ask them as they’re handing me something, not to say my name and also not to say the room number, more importantly. I’m very aware of that. If there’s people standing around, and again, this isn’t just for women on air or women who are known publicly, this is just for women, period. If there’s a lot of people standing there, and the room is said out loud, I think that’s something nowadays that we’re a little bit more aware of. When I walk into an elevator, I never open the envelope that holds the card … when I’m charging something, I never say my room number. …
One time I was in the elevator, someone walked in, real close before it was shutting, and kind of jumped in with me and didn’t press a button and said, “Hello, Laura Okmin.” And it could be as simple as just someone who happened to recognize me and happened to be going to the same floor, but I think my antenna was raised enough to just stand there and then I walked out, he walked out, I walked back in and went downstairs to the lobby and I switched my room.
On whether she’s at risk, being a woman covering sports in a male-dominated field
I don’t know if I would say “at risk.” I would say where I do feel that, though, and I’ve talked to enough of my female peers to know we all feel this … when you’re on a court, when you’re on a field — for me now, a football field — it amazes me the things men will yell at you and will say to you. I tend to never, unless it’s somebody who’s yelling for me, says something that I know they know me, I won’t look into a crowd. I used to just have one IFB, the earpiece in one ear so I could hear the telecast going on. I now get two. Part of that’s ’cause it’s loud at a stadium and I want to hear better, but also a big part of it is to tune that out. And it gets ugly, and I would say lately, more than 15 years ago, the ugliness and the venom that I hear is a lot more vulgar and is a lot scarier than it used to be. But I also do think that there’s part of that attached to the social media and the anonymity people now feel kind of blanketed from.
So I don’t feel that with my safety, my physical safety when I travel. But I feel that on the field just feeling that in terms of sports fans. And you know, it’s a bunch of drinking, depending on how your team’s feeling you might be feeling real good about yourself or really bad about yourself … And I always think, and I’ve said it before, “Boy, how would you feel if this was your mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend, wife, and you knew that men were yelling that kind of thing at her,” and usually that shuts them up kind of quickly.
On whether the Erin Andrews lawsuit changes things in terms of women traveling and security
I hope so. And I really hope so in terms of women being more aware. I have a company that I do boot camps and workshops for young women who are going into sports and this will be a big topic at the next boot camp … I think so many of us going into sports, you want to prove that you’re one of the guys. And I think that’s the younger me talking, but I know that any time, when I’m younger and I didn’t feel safe and I did have a stalk situation very early on in my career — I was almost embarrassed by it because I didn’t want anyone to treat me differently, I didn’t want to look like I needed extra care, extra hand-holding. So I probably dismissed that and I’m very fortunate, especially with the stalking situation, I had a boss who did not, who took it very seriously.
But I think what this does is, absolutely makes any woman who, again travel, period – not just through sports, but just travel – think about their awareness, think about is there any way they’re vulnerable and what can they do, what extra steps can they take to make sure that they feel safe and even more importantly again, not to be embarrassed or not to dismiss something by going, “I don’t want to look paranoid. I don’t want to look high maintenance.” I just think that feeling safe and feeling secure and being able to sleep at night is much, much more important.
On whether the level of vitriol she’s exposed to makes her love her job less
… I’ve come to accept that that’s part of it and I hate that answer, as I’m thinking, how do I help the next generation of young women growing? And I hate to think that I would say to them, “Hey it’s part of the job, just accept it.” Because we shouldn’t. We absolutely shouldn’t. there’s absolutely no context in any part of our world that it’s OK for a woman to be doing her job and sit here and hear those kind of ugly things being thrown at them, so it hasn’t made me love my job any less, but I guess it’s just made me a little bit sadder in terms of how comfortable people are or how accepting those people are in saying those kinds of things. And also I think about, too, the people that are sitting around them, to think that it’s OK or it’s funny to be standing and yelling at a woman doing her job – you know, stinks. So no, it hasn’t made me love my job any less, it’s just made me a little bit sadder it terms of what women have to deal with these days. We’re just trying to do our jobs.