Thursday, August 07, 2008

Erin Andrews, ESPN It GIrl, is no bimbo; worked with Skip Caray at Turner Sports

Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post defends ESPN's "It Girl" Erin Andrews in his August 5th it below

Commentary: Erin Andrews is no bimbo

Braves announcer Skip Caray dies, and the nation's blogosphere is consumed with a column written about the dress ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was wearing in the Cubs' clubhouse last week.

Sad and ridiculous? Absolutely.

"Skip would have been the first person to call me," Andrews said by telephone Tuesday. "He would have said, 'Give 'em hell.' "

If you want to debate about what is an appropriate hemline, fine. But it's not fair to suggest Andrews is a bimbo who is lost in a sports atmosphere.

Andrews had to earn the respect of Caray, who died Sunday at age 68, when she worked for Turner Sports. By her account, he was, like a lot of men in the world of sports, not too sure about her initially. Here was a 5-foot-10 blonde woman, a University of Florida graduate and former member of the school's Dazzlers basketball dance team. Did she know anything about sports?

"I had to prove myself to him," Andrews said. "When Turner let me go and I was hired by ESPN, he left a phone message for me in his big announcer voice, 'Now let's send it to Erin Andrews. Oh wait, Turner made a mistake. She's going to be a huge star with ESPN.' ''

Caray was right. Her star rose, particularly in cyberspace. Bloggers followed her every move. By 2007, she was voted "America's Sexiest Sportscaster" by Playboy.

The backlash arrived in the Cubs' clubhouse.

Andrews said she has gone over in her mind everything a newspaper columnist wrote about, everything that touched off the blogo-bluster. There was the print dress, described as revealing and showing a lot of leg; acting friendly toward players and touching Alfonso Soriano "suggestively" on the bicep; hearing Cubs skipper Lou Piniella say, "Hey, hey, hey! Look at this! Are you doing a baseball game today or a modeling assignment?"

"I went back and examined the whole day in my head," Andrews said. "I thought, 'No, I didn't do anything wrong,' ''

Andrews said she examined Soriano's injury scar, and was not feeling his bicep. She took Piniella's remarks as standard clubhouse joshing, which occurs every day.

ESPN executives have backed her in public statements. They should.

Look past the Web sites naming her "hottest broadcasting babe" and all that. Looks do not entirely explain her appeal. After all, sideline reporter Lisa Guerrero didn't last on Monday Night Football. There is a gawky, tomboyish quality to Andrews that offsets the supermodel aura, and gives her a different dimension, almost sisterly.

"She works very hard to prepare, and she's like one of the guys," ESPN colleague Kirk Herbstreit said at a Florida Atlantic University appearance Monday.

She laughs off a lot of things said or written about her, but the latest business really seemed to sting, Herbstreit said. It brought her professionalism into question. It went "above and beyond."

GateHouse News Service columnist Mike Nadel, who wrote the piece that stirred the pot, said later in a Web interview he had not seen enough of Andrews' work on camera to judge whether she is good at her job. He was just writing about what he saw in the clubhouse. Her work bolsters her case. She conveys respect and enthusiasm for college games, for example, not treating them like the minor leagues.

"When we come to a town, it's a big event for us," she said. "It's our Super Bowl every week."

Judging by the fuss, you'd think some terrible incident had occurred that had brought dishonor to female sports journalists everywhere. Horrors - ballplayers and male journalists noticed some leg flesh. But where's the beef? Did she climb into the lap of a player or give him a smooch? No. Her sin seemed to be she tried to get players chatting without going straight to a question about their batting average against lefties. Somehow this does not seem to rank with Janet Jackson's nipple shield.

Here's predicting Andrews will survive all this just fine. Basketball analyst Charles Barkley, no stranger to controversy, got in touch with her amid a wave of calls and text messages. He suggested at her next game, a Yankees-Rangers contest tonight, she should show up in a fur coat.

"That was funny, but I'm going to wear a dress," she said. "Are you kidding? It's 100 degrees."

To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, if you shoot at a sideline queen, you must kill her.

Andrews is alive and well.

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