ESPN security and Indianapolis police had already been warned: keep an eye out for a certain man in his late 20s — we’ll call him Dave — who might try to approach the set of SportsNation. Filming live at Indianapolis’s Pan Am Plaza during the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, the show was far away from the confines of ESPN’s Bristol campus.
Dave had been a problem for months now, and on the Super Bowl trip, Michelle Beadle had been outfitted with a one or two-man escort to and from her hotel. She initially laughed off her new security detail as a silly precaution – she’s a transplant New Yorker, after all, and transplant New Yorkers can take care of themselves. But despite the heightened security, Dave managed to get close, sneaking up near the set before security spotted him. Beadle, blissfully unaware, continued right on hosting the show.
It wasn’t until later on — well after Dave came and went — that Beadle was even made aware of the incident. In hindsight, she was grateful for the added layer of security that she’d earlier brushed off as unnecessary. But there was a reality to face. Dave was still following her, sending packages to her, and carrying on some one-sided and delusional romantic “relationship” with her. He was still a problem, a problem that didn’t show signs of slowing down.
Here’s a story about Dave.
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Two weeks ago, we noticed a person harassing FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews on Twitter for seemingly no reason. The story, which was of particular note due to Andrews’ well-documented stalking incident, was a disturbing reminder of what Twitter can and shouldn’t be, and that sometimes being famous, especially for women in sports, isn’t always so hunky-dory.
We thought that was the end of it, a bizarre story about a sports media personality being bothered by slightly unhinged tweets. And it was, that is until NBC’s Michelle Beadle direct messaged our editor-in-chief Dan Fogarty on Twitter with something that immediately propelled our journalistic impulses into first gear. Yes, we’d have to put away those Paulina Gretzky Breathless Updates for a moment. We might have a real story on our hands.
Three hours later, Beadle and I were on the phone. I circled the fences at first, seeing how much she was willing to divulge regarding an obviously sensitive issue. The little information I had revolved around that direct message exchange: FBI, person who travels to follow her, and weekly “packages.” So we danced around it a little, poking at the topic but not wading into details. After only a few minutes of small talk, though, it became clear that Michelle Beadle, actual person, was a lot like Michelle Beadle, TV person: gregarious and open and self-aware and mostly lacking the typical boundaries that confine (and protect) other people.
So she told us, with an almost self-deprecating nonchalance, about Dave.
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The road to SportsNation was a roundabout one. Beadle hopped around from aspiring lawyer to minor league hockey intern to sideline rodeo reporter to Travel Channel host before, finally, she landed her first big gig: reporting on the Nets for YES. This was how she got on ESPN’s radar, and shortly after finding her way to SportsNation in July of 2009, she was an instant hit. She was funny, knowledgable, and attractive, all without the slightest hint of pretension. Soon, she had the “cool sports chick” game on lock, and as her popularity grew — both online and in ESPN’s corporate offices — so did the amount of attention she received.
Some of it was good, and some of it was not so good.
Beyond the extra work you have to do to gain respect, there’s something else you have to deal with if you’re the cool sports chick in a male-dominated field: creepy male fans. Thanks to Twitter, most of those natural boundaries between “weird guy writes weird message” and “object of weird affection sees message” have been obliterated. It’s as easy as pressing “Tweet,” and Beadle has run into everything from over-the-top but largely innocuous flattery to pictures that make her think, “Oh, I really didn’t want to open that…” (If you immediately thought of the worst, consider your suspicions confirmed: penis pictures.)
But much more likely than the misguided dick pic is a tweet like this:
— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) October 29, 2012
But these comparatively harmless repeat offenders hardly take up Beadle’s attention – a quick block and the guy’s gone forever (unless he comes back under another Twitter handle, which, according to Beadle, does happen). And she takes precautions, never revealing too much personal information – like, say her whereabouts at a given moment – on Twitter.
But one guy just wouldn’t go away. Beginning a year and a half ago, he concocted a delusional relationship between himself and Beadle, and treated her like a girlfriend via his Twitter account. According to Beadle, he thinks her tweets are all directed at him.
“I started to notice the name pop up a little bit more,” she told me over the phone. “And then it started to be ‘Hi my love.’ A lot of things you would say to someone you were dating.”
These increasingly alarming messages were coupled with sporadic packages. Dave, who Beadle later learned was from Cincinnati and lived with his mom, sent her “Cincinnati-type things.” Namely, chili and barbecue sauce. Many of the packages never made it to Beadle thanks to ESPN’s security staff (none were sent to her home address), but ultimately some snuck through. One especially weird box comes to mind.
“I remember one time getting this package full of papers, like little index cards, cut out pictures of either religious themes or sports,” she said. “I mean it was like one after another, it had to be a hundred cards in there. I mean, what in the hell?”
Despite security’s best efforts, the number that made it to her desk began piling up. She remained cool, chalking it up to some delusional but hardly threatening fan who had maybe taken it a step too far. As she put it, there are way more guys that want to punch Colin Cowherd in the face than there are Michelle Beadle stalkers. (He’s “not a douche,” she assured me, even though she actually thought he was a douche before meeting him.)
But after Indianapolis, when it became clear that Dave, the delusional man that had been referring to her as “my love” and sending her cutouts of religious figures, got too close for comfort, she reevaluated her indifference. Clearly this guy wasn’t willing to limit his one-sided interactions to letters and tweets and packages. He had already traveled across state lines for a face-to-face, and Beadle soon found out it would happen again.
Around Valentine’s Day, she was gearing up for a night out with girlfriends when she sent out this retweet:
— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) February 17, 2012
After the night came to a close, Beadle noticed a frightening reply from Dave that escalated the intensity of the situation ten-fold.
“I saw something he said on Twitter, where he said ‘Hey I met [SportsCenter anchor] Jay Crawford tonight in West Hartford,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ I come to find out that he was walking around West Hartford, ’cause I said I was having a girls night, and he was trying to find us.”
Beadle immediately alerted everyone she could at ESPN, because Dave had driven across the country to deliver a Valentine’s Day present. In particular, she went to an ESPN employee on the security side with whom she had spoken before, and he pulled a few strings at the FBI to have Dave handled through a more direct means: a visit to his Cincinnati house. Two FBI agents showed up at his door to frighten him into the shadows, informing him that there was no relationship between the two and all communication between himself and Beadle had to cease immediately.
“They just scared him,” Beadle said. “They were like, ‘Look, this ends now. Stop sending messages, stop tweeting, stop everything. He sent a final tweet being like, “I am no longer allowed to speak with you, best of luck.'”
Finally, peace of mind. The “break” lasted quite a while, long enough for Beadle to relax and move on. But then, earlier this May, her NBC move went public, and the next day Dave resurfaced. Even as recently as a couple weeks ago, the packages continue to come with the usual hodgepodge of strange.
“He’s like, ‘Send me a sign and I’ll come visit you,” she told us. And later: “A long-ass birthday card, Cincinnati-type things. He suggested that I was being quiet because I wanted to keep my personal life private so there’s a disposable phone. It’s just so bizarre. My first day at Access Hollywood in Los Angeles a package was there. I didn’t even open that one. It was from him, and I just handed it over to security.”
And that, unfortunately, sums up the extent of her retaliatory options at this point. Both federal and state stalking law are vague and largely unhelpful, so Beadle’s resorted to her own tactics.
“You know it’s tricky because he hasn’t done anything wrong. I haven’t ever seen him, so I don’t really know what to do. I try to make everyone aware of this person. My assistant, I’m sure, knows who he is on Twitter. I made them all aware of what his name is so that we’re all kind of on the same page so no one’s caught off guard. Honestly, I don’t really know if there’s a whole lot I can do right now. I try to treat it as if it’s not that serious, although now I should probably be a little bit more concerned…the next thing you know you get stabbed on the street (laughs). It seems so far so good. Just when I think he’s gonna go away, he comes back. So it’s like, oh, God.”
We consulted our own Dan Abrams, legal analyst for ABC, about Beadle’s options, and he agreed that sadly, in many cases like this where there has been no overt threat, it can be tricky. Here’s how the federal statute defines stalking:
“Whoever (1) travels in interstate or foreign commerce or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or leaves Indian country, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, and in the course of, or as a result of, such travel places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to, or causes substantial emotional distress to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115 [18 USCS § 115]) of that person, or the spouse or intimate partner of that person; or…uses the mail, any interactive computer service, or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that causes substantial emotional distress to that person.”
Beadle would seemingly fall into this “substantial emotional distress” category, though the lack of direct contact or intimidation of any kind could weaken her case. Indiana’s stalking statutes cast a wider net, but once again the lack of “explicit or implicit” threats proves problematic. Connecticut divides its stalking laws into three degrees of severity, though they all hinge on fearing for one’s safety. And even though Beadle does, in a sense, fear for her safety, she’s not ready to classify Dave as ill-intentioned. Still, she’s fashioned her own pseudo-defensive gameplan, keeping tabs on his whereabouts by not blocking his Twitter handle and updating NBC security when necessary.
We reached out to NBC for comment, but they wouldn’t talk about matters of security. ESPN wouldn’t either, except to say:
“While we generally do not specifically comment on security matters, the safety of all our employees is always our highest priority.”
For now, the end of the story has yet to be written. Beadle refuses to let this interfere with her day-to-day life, tweeting and hosting for NBC with her usual affable and approachable nature, and carrying on with the life she wants to lead. But with the increase in fame, unfortunately, comes more and closer exposure to a largely male fan base that sometimes crosses a line. Still, she estimates 98% of that interaction online is positive, with only one or two here and there causing an issue. And Beadle’s typical style, she’ll call them out when appropriate.
Not a Giants fan, but please wake up. I’ve got morons on my timeline that need a poop sandwich.
— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) October 28, 2012