It’s always the dawn of a new season for Erin Andrews.
Aside from it being baseball season once again, the 26th season of Dancing With the Stars premiered Monday, Andrews’ ninth go-round as co-host of the show where she once finished in an impressive third place. Soon enough, college football will get under way and the 2018-19 NFL season will begin.
Not a bad life, living your passion year-round.
But while Andrews has thrived in the fiercely competitive and male-dominated world of sports broadcasting and is now one of the most recognizable faces on the Fox Sports team, none of it came easy. And that was even before the potentially crushing obstacles that threatened to derail everything she’d worked so hard for.
“Don’t listen or buy into what the naysayers are telling you,” Andrews told Shape about six years ago. “Instead, use it as bulletin board material. I think what I try to do with all the naysayers, negative comments, or even people that think you can’t do it, I’m trying very hard to use it as motivation and to add to that chip on my shoulder.
“Having thick skin is very important, being tough, and not giving up. It’s so important!”
Andrews, who’s celebrating her 40th birthday today, was sharing some hard-fought wisdom right there.
The University of Florida graduate (she was just honored as an Alumni of Distinction last month) and alumna of Fox Sports Florida and TBS was working for ESPN, covering baseball and college football and basketball, when she was surreptitiously videotaped while undressed in a Nashville hotel room in September 2008. She wouldn’t know it had happened till the video showed up online in July 2009, sending her into a battle that she hadn’t expected but knew she had to fight.
“I kept screaming: ‘I’m done. My career is over. I’m done. Get it off. Get it off the Internet,'” Andrews emotionally recalled to Oprah Winfrey in August 2009, in her first interview about what happened. She hysterically called her parents immediately after watching the video online. “They thought I was physically injured, [that’s] how bad I was screaming,” she said.
Andrews continued, “I do know that I am a victim of a stalker, because we know that this happened in at least two rooms. I was getting ready to go work a college football game in at least one of the videos I was able to identify.”
Mark David Barrett, an insurance executive from Illinois, pleaded guilty in October 2009 to interstate stalking for following Andrews to at least three locations and shooting video of her through hotel peepholes that he had manipulated to see through from the outside. He was sentenced in March 2010 to 2 1/2 years in prison, which Andrews decried as not being nearly enough for the “sexual deviant.”
“It’s my body on the Internet,” she said at the sentencing. “I’m being traumatized every single day for what he did…This will never be over for me.”
Andrews also filed a lawsuit against Barrett for intentional infliction of emotional distress and against Marriott operators West End Hotel Partners and Windsor Capital Group for negligence, alleging that lax security policies allowed a stalker to check into a room next to her and set up his unauthorized peep show.
“When someone embarrasses me publicly the way this guy did, I feel I have no choice but to fight back,” she told Marie Claire in 2011. “And at the time everything happened, I got a ton of letters from women who were stalking victims. People had set up video cameras in their homes, whether it was a neighbor or a handyman. The videos were on the Internet, and the women couldn’t get them down or get these guys arrested.
“They said, ‘First, we want to welcome you to the sorority. But we also want to tell you to please fight this—you’re our voice.’ I had to.”
Andrews left ESPN for Fox Sports in 2012, a parting of the ways that at the time she framed as a very tough decision to make.
“I think I’m most excited about the new opportunities and a chance to expand my role, and just really challenge myself and get better,” she told Shape about making the switch. “That’s the biggest reason why I decided to take the jump, the leap, make the move… which was really hard to do because I was very comfortable and very happy with where I was for the last eight years with ESPN.”
When her lawsuit went to trial in 2016, Andrews testified that ESPN had encouraged her to give an interview about the incident to fellow Disney/ABC family member Good Morning America before she returned to work. She just wanted to work and not go public yet, she told the court, but she eventually agreed and told her bosses she was willing to do The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In response to her testimony, ESPN said in a statement: “Developments in the case have been interpreted by some to mean that ESPN was unsupportive of Erin in the aftermath of her ordeal. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been and continue to be supportive of Erin.”
Attorneys for the hotel, meanwhile, argued that the stalking incident helped, rather than hurt, her career and therefore she wasn’t entitled to any damages.
The jury sided with Andrews, however, awarding her more than $28 million from Barrett and $27 million from Windsor and West End. In April 2016, attorneys for Andrews and the Marriott owners negotiated an undisclosed settlement that closed the book on the litigation.
As she had wanted to do all along, Andrews got right back to work, which by then also included co-hosting Dancing With the Stars with Tom Bergeron. She had competed on the show just months after her traumatic stalker experience came to light in 2009 and found it a most welcoming, familial atmosphere.
Along with changing jobs in 2012, Andrews had also started dating hockey player Jarret Stoll, who won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings that year and again in 2014.
She and her athlete beau hit a patch of thin ice when he was arrested in April 2015 for alleged cocaine possession in Las Vegas and subsequently charged with a felony. Stoll pleaded down to two non-drug-related misdemeanors and was sentenced to community service; already a free agent at the time, he was not re-signed by the Kings.
In an interview published in the October 2015 issue of Redbook, Andrews said of her future with Stoll, “I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. We’re brought up thinking our lives are going to be a Taylor Swift song. Then you get older and wiser. You don’t know what is going to bring you happiness.”
Stoll started the 2015-16 NHL season with the New York Rangers and was picked up on waivers by the Minnesota Wild, where he ended up closing out his career in 2016.
With her exhausting legal battle behind her, Andrews was ready to tackle football season with a clean slate when, in October 2016 after a series of tests, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“I was a wreck. I was on the road, getting ready for Week 3 of football season. I called my husband, I called my mom and dad and I remember asking my doctor, ‘What am I supposed to tell my family?'” she told AOL Lifestyle in March.
Yet no one outside her inner circle was the wiser that anything was wrong, because she was on the sidelines working the next day.
She got the tough news in a text from her doctor on a Saturday. She did miss the DWTS tapings that Monday and Tuesday, but because she took time off to be with Stoll and his family as they grieved the loss of his 17-year-old nephew, who had been killed in a car crash.
She taped DWTS on Oct. 10 and had surgery on Oct. 11, before which she informed her oncologist that Fox had the Super Bowl in 2017 and she would not be missing it. Two days later, she was on a plane headed to Green Bay and reported from the Packers-Cowboys game a day after that.
“Should I have been standing for a full game five days after surgery? Let’s just say the doctor didn’t recommend that,” Andrews told Sports Illustrated in January 2017. “But just as I felt during my trial, sports were my escape. I needed to be with my crew.” After a second surgery (a hysterectomy was recommended, but after getting a second opinion she opted for a less invasive procedure) she found out she was cancer-free—hours before it was time for Dancing With the Stars.
Needless to say, she made it to the Super Bowl. And then a few months later, on June 24, 2017, Andrews married Stoll on a mountaintop in Montana.
Posing in a swimsuit for the cover of Health last summer, she reflected to the magazine about how Stoll had really stepped up when she needed him.
“If anything, it was a huge step for my relationship with my boyfriend at the time,” Andrews said. “Because you don’t know if a guy is going to want to sit in with an oncologist and see, ‘OK, so this is your cervix, this is your uterus, and we are cutting out this part…’ We hadn’t even been discussing marriage. We hadn’t discussed babies!”
Talking to Michael Strahanon Good Morning America in March, Andrews—cancer-free for a year and now a committed advocate for the importance of regular screenings and educating women about how to treat and prevent cervical cancer—said she was still hoping to have kids.
“I definitely want it. Even though I’m crazy on the sidelines and doing other things with Dancing with the Stars, absolutely,” she said. “I didn’t have to have a hysterectomy and so…I’m fully capable of having a baby, but that’s because I went and got tested and because we were able to treat it early, and that’s all you need to tell the women in your life.”
Inspiration, and education, for us all.