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Amid Andrews trial, female sports reporters open up about safety

 

Amid Andrews trial, female sports reporters open up about safety

During her years working on the broadcast teams for the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB Network, Trenni Kusnierek estimates she traveled about 150-200 days per year. That schedule meant hotel stay after hotel stay and Kusnierek recently recalled for SI.com one harrowing incident in 2008 while covering the Brewers for Fox Sports Wisconsin. After returning from dinner with friends while covering the Brewers in Philadelphia, Kusnierek noticed a stranger had followed her from outside the Hilton Penn’s Landing hotel, through the lobby, and on to her elevator. By chance, Prince Fielder and another Brewers player happened to be on the elevator with them. Kusnierek made eye contact with the then-Brewers first baseman. Her unsaid words: This guy isn’t with me and I don’t why he’s on the elevator.

“I can still remember the lighting in the lobby, the look of the elevator, and the carpeting in the hallway of the floor I got off on,” says Kusnierek, who is now an anchor and host for Comcast SportsNet in Boston. “I was scared. Why would this person get on this elevator and try to pretend he knew me? He was talking to me as though we were together. I gave Prince a look like I don’t know this guy.”

Fielder, picking up on the signal, got off on the floor Kusnierek was staying on, walked her to the room, and then got back on the elevator. Kusnierek doesn’t know what happened to the man—he disappeared into the night. “If Prince and one of his teammates had not been there, I honestly don’t know what would have happened,” she said.

Erin Andrews’s lawsuit and trial this month against the Nashville Marriott (Andrews is suing the hotel for allowing a stalker to book the room next to hers and surreptitiously film nude videos of her in 2008 while she worked for ESPN) has not gone unnoticed for front-facing women in the sports media who travel regularly for work. Last week I contacted seven women who appear on television regularly (ESPN’s Josina Anderson, SNY’s Kerith Burke, Fox Sports reporter Laura Okmin, SportsNetLA Dodgers host and reporter Alanna Rizzo, NBC Sunday Night Football reporter Michele Tafoya, YES Network’s Yankees reporter Meredith Marakovitz and Kushierek). With them, I discussed the topic of security while on the road. I was curious if what happened to Andrews changed their approach about where they stay, what they do at hotels, or produced any new travel precautions for them.

“I don’t have a lot of say in where I stay or what hotel chains my company uses,” said Burke. “I do remember feeling sad and scared after what happened to Erin. I travel with Band-Aids to put over the peepholes. I prefer to join a coworker at the hotel restaurant or bar so strangers don’t approach me as much. There’s a noticeable difference when I eat or drink alone. I don’t like hotel rooms on the first floor. I don’t like rooms by the elevators. Depending on the length of my stay, I don’t get maid service because I don’t want anyone in my room except me.”

“I am very cautious,” said Rizzo. “I never post on social media where the team is staying. I used to stay under my actual name at hotels but this year that will be changed. There have been several occurrences when savvy fans have located the team hotel and have called my room asking me for a date or for money for their fundraisers.”

“Sometimes I can be in multiple cities, up to three times a week to handle work assignments I’m given,” Anderson said. “As a result of the heavy travel, there are a number of precautions I try to take that are very common. Specifically in hotels, when possible, I try to be mindful of not having the room cleaned unless I’m in the room. Additionally, when I remember, I remove luggage identification tags on the personal items remaining in the room. I also try to minimize manual transactions and documents that leave personal information behind. Those things are just basic measures. But I do think it’s highly important to surround yourself with a trusted nucleus of individuals and to minimize any random interactions in the course of travel.”

“I make sure when I open the hotel card, no one can see it,” said Okmin. “Most people open it in the elevator to check their room number or get the key ready and anyone standing near you can read the room number.

“If I’m charging something to my room, I never say the room number aloud. I also pay attention when I’m checking in at the front desk. If there’s people around, or anyone that puts my radar up, I make sure I tell the person who’s checking me in not to say it out loud. One time they did say it and I asked if they could change it because there was a situation that made me feel uncomfortable. As a younger woman, I wouldn’t have done that. I wouldn’t have wanted to look ‘high maintenance.’ But now I listen to my gut and encourage all the young women reporters I know who travel to do the same. I’m also always aware of who I’m in an elevator with, as well. If someone makes me uncomfortable, I won’t get out on my floor. One time someone got in after me and said, ‘Hello, Laura Okmin’ and didn’t say anything else. He didn’t push a button. I got out on my floor, he followed, and I turned back before the door shut and went down to the lobby and changed rooms. It could’ve been unnecessary and paranoid but if it helps me feel safe and sleep better it’s worth it.” […]

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