Erin Andrews And Guilt, Imagined And OtherwiseS

The first time I ever wrote about Erin Andrews on Deadspin was August 22, 2006. The site was nearly a year old by then.

In the wake of the awful video that hit the Web over the weekend — actually, it had been hanging around for months, apparently, but no one had seen it — everyone is pointing fingers. It's blogs' fault for objectifying her. It's fans' fault for often caring more about what happens off the field than on. It's ESPN's fault for not strangling this story in the crib when they had the chance. (And they did.) It's her fault. It's our sports culture's fault. It's the fault of the thin walls of a lousy hotel.

None of these things are true, of course, and all of them are. Obviously, the fault lies in the assbag who shot the video in the first place, something this person has made a habit of, ultimately stumbling on someone in the public arena. (Let there be no doubt, though: This could happen to you, your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter. These slugs exist because it's impossible to find a way to kill them all.)

But it's more than that, obviously. That's the reason we're all here and talking about it, aren't we? This is not just any sideline reporter snoop video. It's Erin Andrews. If this is Holly Rowe, or Jill Arrington, or Michele Tafoya, this story is over in a day, if it even goes that far. But it wasn't. It was Erin Andrews. She was not called America's Sideline Sex Object: She was called America's Sideline Princess. Lisa Guerrero posed for Playboy. Jamie Little models when she's not updating us on NASCAR. Andrews was never like that. She was a sideline reporter, and a busy one, sloughing through West Lafayette and regularly traveling with Brent Musburger. It would have been shocking to see her do so much as a photo shoot.

But that doesn't really matter, does it? It's not like Jamie Little or Lisa Guerrero would deserve a snoop cam video any more than Erin Andrews did. No, the reason the video has gained such traction, and the reason everyone is so upset — and I can assure you, I've yet to talk to a single person, blogger, blog reader, ESPN employee, sideline reporter, upright walking normal human being, who wasn't profoundly disturbed by this — is because we all felt somewhat complicit with Andrews. Everyone felt like they knew her. They didn't, of course. But everyone with an interest in the world of sports was present for her rise. When the stills from the video hit the New York Post this morning, it is very likely that 95 percent of their readership were seeing her name for the first time. (Suddenly, Nick Denton cares about sports!) It's all out of everybody's hands now. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

That's the thing: This is awful for anyone who has ever written or said anything about Erin Andrews, ever. Everything seemed innocent before, which is why everybody did it. Sports Media Watch has an excellent long post detailing what brought us to this point, pointing out comments about Andrews made by newspaper folk, bloggers, broadcasters and whatever Bruce Pearl is. But Sports Media Watch overstates it: It somehow tries to tie all that to the video, saying the Andrews talk created a "hostile environment." From my experience, the environment was anything but "hostile." Its lack of hostility always seemed like the point.

But it's all just kind of dissembling now, isn't it? People who took photos of themselves smiling with Andrews on the sideline feel guilty, ESPN feels guilty, bloggers feel guilty, everybody feels guilty except the scumbag who shot the video in the first place. (I am ascribing this person with the inability to feel empathy.) The whole thing went wrong, very wrong. I do not think there is direct causality here ... at all. But it's not so wakka-wakka all-in-fun anymore, isn't it? Even if we all feel comfortable that we were above board, if we scoffed at those other sites who were cruder and uglier, that part is over. No one feels good about it.

Just to check myself on this, I went back and read every post I ever wrote about Andrews. The first was about a reader chiming in to say Eric Karros had made a strange comment about Andrews — it turned out to be Orel Hershiser — and contained the line "we still have sympathy for the Erin Andrews of the world, if just because no matter what they do, no matter where they are, no matter how much work they might put in ... to their male colleagues, they're pretty much still just a skirt," which is something I still think is probably true. Later, an interview with her from CSTV, Andrews' tips on where to eat in Atlanta, Pat White saying he "almost fainted" when she walked up to him and her relenting to a blog interview in which she called Deadspin "hysterical," swoon swoon, blah blah, god it all feels so gross now. I dunno: It felt like she was in on the joke, you know? Maybe she was. Doesn't matter now. (Make sure to read the comments on that story, by the way. When commenters learned that Andrews might read Deadspin, they were downright respectful. One commenter even joked about having to comb his hair and put on a tie.)

Was I ever over the line? Was Bruce Pearl when he hugged her? Was Rick Sutcliffe when he constantly commented on her dress? Was ESPN, and sports media in general, when they realized that attractive women on the sideline helped ratings? Did I contribute to this awful thing that happened? Did all of us? I don't think so. I really don't.

But. I have never met Erin Andrews. If I ran into her on the street today ... I'm not sure I could look her in the eye. I'm not sure anybody could.