A young Erin Andrews had been watching journalist Hannah Storm interview Charles Barkley, the great NBA player, when she turned to her father and said: “Dad, that’s what I want to do.’’
Her father, a career investigative television reporter who had instilled in Erin a love of sports and storytelling, had a realistic response: “Erin, everybody wants to do this for a living.’’
Andrews enrolled at the University of Florida and made it clear to everyone around her that she had one ambition. Her friends knew too, scrawling “See you on ESPN’’ in her college yearbook.
Andrews, now 44, is one of the most recognized faces on television. The broadcast journalist who has broken barriers in a male-dominated profession recently delivered a keynote address at evrē, UCHealth’s signature health event celebrating women.
Advice from Erin Andrews
On March 11, more than 600 women gathered at UCHealth Training Center to hear about Andrews’ high-wire career and learn how she navigated personal struggles, including cervical cancer and the loss of two babies.
Andrews offered enthusiasm for Sean Payton, the Denver Broncos new head coach, and Deion Sanders, the new coach of the University of Colorado Buffaloes. Proceeds from evrē were donated to Help and Hope, a human services organization serving people in Douglas and Elbert counties.
Andrews’ broadcasting career accelerated upon her graduation from college. She worked as a sideline reporter for the Tampa Bay Lightning, then Turner Sports before landing at ESPN. She now covers the NFL for Fox Sports. During her career, she’s covered the NHL, MLB, college football and basketball, and hosted Dancing with the Stars with Tom Bergeron and the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She recently launched her own clothing brand.
Through it all, she’s learned important life lessons along the way: Study harder than everyone else, have a thick skin, and always say ‘yes’ to opportunity.
And go to the doctor.
Andrews said her mother, a public school teacher who taught art, made sure her daughters went to the dentist to have their teeth cleaned and to the doctor for an annual physical.
Years later, Erin, who has a healthy sense of humor, jokes that one of the appointments she never misses now is to one at the salon “to have her roots done.’’
Even for a woman who is on an airplane four times a week, ping-ponging across the country to interview the greatest athletes in sport, Andrews has always found time to get to a doctor for an annual physical and a pap smear.
You must find the time to care for yourself
In 2017, week 3 of the NFL season, during a meeting with co-workers on the Saturday before the Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants game, a familiar phone number popped up on her cell phone.
“I’m sitting in the meeting with all the guys, I’m one of two females that travel with about 30 guys, and I see the gynecologist calling. On a Saturday? This isn’t good,’’ she told the evrē crowd.
Andrews stepped out of the meeting to take the call in private.
“My doctor said, ‘Your pap came out a little strange, and I am a little concerned here.’ And I said, ‘how concerned?’ And she said, ‘you need a hysterectomy,’’’ Andrews said.
But what about football? Could the Giants stop the Eagles offense? What about the Super Bowl that she would cover in February? She had to be at Dancing with the Stars on Monday.
“I don’t have time to get a hysterectomy,’’ she thought.
Andrews and her family weighed options and she opted for surgery to remove half of her cervix on a Wednesday, after Dancing with the Stars. On Thursday, her doctor called to say the surgery was not successful because cancer was found outside the margins.
After hysterically bawling on the couch with Jarret Stoll, a former NHL hockey player who would later become her husband, Andrews gathered herself: “I’ve got to get on the red eye. I’ve got to interview Randall Cobb. …I wasn’t missing the game.’’
She needed to get to Lambeau Field for a Green Bay game. Her husband, mother, father, and doctor implored her not to go. She’d deal with it by going back to work, not sitting at home. Andrews covered the game, walking up and down the sidelines, looking great as always but feeling a little awkward.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, wearing an 18-hour protection pad with wings on the field at Lambeau ain’t the best feeling, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,’’ she said, drawing laughter from the evrē crowd.
She later made an appointment with an oncologist who recommended another surgery to remove the rest of her cervix, though that doctor did not recommend a hysterectomy.
“After my second surgery, things were a little different for me. I completely learned that I had to start putting myself first. I was very, very forthcoming to a male-dominated industry about how common cervical cancer is. Cervical cancer should not kill you. It is curable, but you have to go to the doctor and get checked.
“I get it, in 2020, everyone was afraid to go to the doctor (because of COVID-19), but you’ve got to get back in. You’ve got to take care of yourself,’’ she said.
Cancer free and onto the next challenge
Andrews is so grateful to be cancer-free and at the pinnacle of her career, interviewing the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and covering the NFL’s premier games. She and her husband are also trying to have a baby, she told the crowd at evrē.
“I have had a tough time getting pregnant,’’ she said. “I have gone through eight rounds of IVF (in vitro fertilization). You want to talk about a time on your body? Really fun,’’ she said, using humor to deflect the hardship of her struggle.
“Want to talk about doing it (injections) when you’re doing the Brown’s game and it is coming down to the wire? And you’ve got to take a shot on time, and you have your big security guard running you in (to a locker room) and all of the fans are like ‘Erin Andrews!’ and- you’re like ‘yup, hold on.’’’
She has resorted to playing Disney music to help her relax before giving herself an injection, but “when you’ve got to do it in the middle of a football game, I just laugh, because humor is the only way to get through it.’’
And then, in a moment void of frivolity, Andrews shared that she and her husband had lost two babies. In the fog of grief, her initial instinct was to do as she always had done, drown herself in work.
While her husband grieved immediately, throwing himself on the bed and bawling, Andrews said she turned on the NFL Network to see what was going on in pro football.
“That’s how I cope,’’ she said.
Andrews, who makes a living being articulate and accurate in her reporting, realized two weeks later that she had lost her ability to form sentences.
“I was just missing words. I was out with my girlfriends, crying, trying to talk, trying to be funny, trying to be myself, and probably about a month after, I had one of my managers, who is also one of my best friends, say: ‘You are not OK. And you need to go get help.’’’
Realizing when you need to seek help
The babies died in the summertime, and the crutch that she has always leaned on wasn’t in season.
“I didn’t have the Denver Broncos, didn’t have the Green Bay Packers, didn’t have the Dallas Cowboys to kind of get my mind off it,’’ she said.
The woman who had broken barriers in broadcasting was now broken herself. She turned to a therapist to help her express pain of extraordinary loss.
“I think that was one of the very best things I could do for myself and for my husband and for my fertility journey, to try to get better for my job and for everything. I have realized that I have got to take a step back. If I’m not good, my husband’s not good, my home’s not good, and my job is not good.
“You can’t hold it in. … You have got to talk to people, whether you talk to someone online, whether you talk to friends, whether you talk to your parents.’’
Andrews has always been a person who loves exercising, but in grief, it became mandatory along with meditation, listening to soothing music and setting daily intentions.
Of Sean Payton, the Broncos new coach, she said: “Do I have any predictions about Sean Payton? I have one prediction: Denver is going to love him. They are absolutely going to adore him. I worked countless games at the New Orleans Saints with Sean Payton on the sidelines. Talking to him in our conference calls, talking to him on the sidelines, talking to him coming out of the half, whether he was up or down in the game, he is one of the most candid, passionate, real coaches out there and he is going to turn things around here.
“I was really bummed out to lose him as a teammate on Fox, but I am so excited to work with him again on the sidelines during games. So I can’t wait to see him.’’
And on Coach Prime, she had this to say: “I think, first of all, the buzz is huge right now for Prime, as it should be. He’s one of the coolest cats out there. He is as real as they come. I am so excited for what this fan base – and almost jealous – about what this fan base is going to experience. You see the reaction, not only from the fans but the kids in my world. The day that it was announced that Prime was going to Colorado, I was on the sidelines working a football game, and all the coaches were talking about it saying: ‘This is going to be big, this is going to be huge, this is going to be massive.
“It’s so what college football, D-1 college football, needed. I am just jealous that he is not in the SEC. I wanted him in the SEC, so Colorado, look out because I am going to be saying, ‘Come to the SEC, Prime.’ But he is the best. I love him, and I am so proud of him and proud to call him a friend. And he has turned this Gator fan into a Buffs fan pretty quick.’
“He’s just magic. … You can’t not cheer for the guy. The smile is infectious, the style is infectious, he’s so real. I used to say for the longest time that I was giving my kid to Nick Saban, but he may be going to Prime whenever I have my kid.
“So, we’ll see.’’