* Welcome to the 98th installment of The Quaz Q&A. This feature—a question-and-answer session with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever—will appear every week on jeffpearlman.com. If you have any suggestions/ideas for people to speak with, hit me up at email@example.com. I’m listening.
As I write this, I am sitting in a Starbucks, waiting for Dave Fleming.
Back in the summer of 1992, Fleming—who grew up about 1/4 mile away from my house in Mahopac, N.Y.—won 17 games as a rookie for the Seattle Mariners. It was THE news in town; a guy from our little nowhere haven making it to the big time.
So why, two decades later, am I here? Because I’m eternally fascinated with the Whatever Happened To; with finding out where people go after they’ve exploded onto the scene. Nearly everyone, ultimately, settles into the real world. When that happens, it’s a riveting adjustment.
Eight years ago, thanks in part to a horny Brent Musburger, Jenn Sterger burst onto the scene. At the time, she was merely yet another pretty, scantily dressed Florida State student student attending a football game between the Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes. Then the cameras (and Musburger) noticed her, and—BAM!—this happened.
What ensued was, well, odd craziness. Sterger—beautiful face, glowing smile, large breasts—emerged as a national sex symbol. She did photo shoots for Maxim and Playboy; served as a spokesperson for Dr. Pepper and Sprint; was featured on the E! Network’s Byte Me: 20 Hottest Women of the Web; worked for Sports Illustrated and the New York Jets’ “gameday host.” She went along for the ride, enjoyed the fame and perks …
Until October 2010.
That’s when the world learned that a certain geriatric quarterback had allegedly Texted her photos of his, eh, junk. The story exploded on Deadspin, then exploded everywhere else. Brett Favre became a national laughingstock. Jenn Sterger, regrettably, was dragged along for the ride.
And here we are. The year is 2013. Sterger now lives in Los Angeles, where she is—like so many—a struggling actress working her tail off. The breast implants are gone. So is the cowboy hat. She is a person; one whose past lingers, but doesn’t seem to overwhelm what, at age 29, she has become.
Jenn Sterger, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: Jenn, I found the recent New York Times piece on you fascinating, in that I sort of thought of your breast implants in the way Lance Armstrong described PED. On other words, he basically said, “I wouldn’t have won seven Tours without drugs” and you—I think—kinda admitted, “Had I not had implants at 19, you’re not talking to me right now.” A. Is that sorta correct? B. Does that make your career at all, well, less than it seems? Fraudulent? Or—to hell with it—if people want to open doors for someone because she has large breasts (real or implanted), why not walk through it? (I ask this with all due respect, Jenn)
JENN STERGER: Funny, because whenever I say “with all due respect” it means I’m about to respond with something really f*cked up, so I’m pre-apologizing for it. But no, I’m not delusional to think that any of this would have happened had it not been for my implants, or dressing like an idiot in public. When I had the large implants I used to always liken them to wearing a superhero costume. I felt invincible. I think we all feel that when something gives us a boost of confidence. You get caught up in the extra attention (and, in my case, the spotlight) and I don’t think I was ready for the responsibility that came from that. I think it was 2008 when I realized that as much as they had served their purpose in my discovery, my implants really were more of a hindrance than a help. They were a distraction of the worst kind and brought the wrong kind of attention. Believe me when I say, there is such a thing. However, I think the Lance Armstrong comparison is a bit flawed. His success depended on PEDs. Without them, he would’ve been just another guy stuck in the middle of the middle of the race. I didn’t go through my whole career using my boobs as a crutch over being talented. In fact, the reason I got rid of them was to forward my career in the direction I wanted. It was a gamble, and it worked. Two months after I removed them I booked my show on Versus.
I liken them more to Mark McGwire … there was more to his career than steroids. Not that many people remember it. It’s proof that society will take a person’s entire career, all of your success and chalk it up to … some saltwater-filled bags? Psh. I don’t think so. They were the VIP pass that got me in the door to this crazy industry, but they’re not why I’m here. I took them out, thanked them for their loyal service and said, “We can handle it from here, girls.” And much like McGwire … “I’m not here to talk about the past.” (In fact, last year at spring training, I randomly sat down next to McGwire on a picnic bench in between my shoots (not that he would have the slightest clue who I was). I debated whether or not I should Instagram it but thought better of it. I was afraid the interwebs sports commentary sections would explode. I don’t like feeding the trolls, unless it’s milk.)
J.P.: 2005—Florida-State vs Miami. Your odyssey begins when Brent Musburger says, “1,500 red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State.” I’m wondering—when you first hear about this … about his words … are you psyched? Embarrassed? Creeped out? And when did you first realize the impact those words would have?
J.S.: I was flattered. Honestly. I knew I had been on TV, but I didn’t know the extent of it or what had been said. I just knew that they had gone to our live shot because almost immediately I started getting texts from people back home … telling me to “put my clothes back on” because it was so unlike me to be dressed that way. If you have never been to Florida in August, you try sitting on some aluminum bleachers with no breeze and 90 percent humidity. Then we’ll talk.
I never really thought about what impact those words had. I’m not even sure what you mean by “impact.” Do I think it actually impacted enrollment? Pshhhhfft. FSU is an amazing institution with a stellar law program, among other things. If anything is bringing the boys to the yard it’s that … or our kick-ass athletics program. I just think Musburger is brilliant at his job and he happens to be quick and clever when it comes to his commentary. So thanks for the tagline, Brent.
J.P.: Jenn, I know you’re 29, I know you were born and Miami and attended Florida State. But how, exactly, did you get here? Like, what was your path to Florida State? Why did you go there? And were you always known as one of “the pretty girls” in junior high? High school? Etc …
J.S.: Whew. Thank you for not posting my parents’ address. That would have gotten awkward. You’ve definitely done your research. Growing up I was never considered one of the prettier girls. Hell, it took me 29 years to grow into my ears (Well played, God. Well played.). I was the kid getting shoved into lockers and eating lunch in the classroom to avoid being bullied. The only place I ever found any sanctuary was with music. I was drum major of my marching band for two years. I play flute, piccolo, guitar, piano. You name it. I gave up marching band in college because the practice hours are so time-consuming and I think I was just scared about having to start at the bottom of the pecking order again. That, and, if I had been in the Marching Chiefs then maybe none of this craziness would’ve even happened, unless Brent had a thing for freshman flute players in polyester uniforms. I was a total Gleek before Gleek was even in pop culture vocabulary, and certainly way before it was publicly acceptable to admit it. Hell, I was doing the LeBron James chalk toss before most people had even heard of LeBron James … only I was in band. And the chalk was glitter. Whatever. I see you, LeBron!
I actually went to USF for my first two years of college. My parents didn’t want me to get swallowed up by the whole college party scene, so I agreed to stay close to home and have free room and board at their house. I worked part time at a boutique optical shop as an optician’s assistant and nannied part time for a boy who had some early learning disabilities. My life was very normal. I didn’t go out or even party much, until I started seeing this one guy, who would become my college sweetheart. About a year or so into my relationship with him I made the decision to transfer to Florida State. And anyone that has ever relocated for young love will tell you how that one worked out. A year after transferring I was single, alone and very lost because my identity at FSU had been so wrapped up in him, and my social circle was nearly all of his friends.
So after about a month or so of drowning my sorrows (and my recently removed tonsils) in Ben and Jerry’s and the entire Star Wars collection, including the crappy Jar Jar Binks ones … I was ready to go back to school. I was incredibly susceptible to peer pressure, and really wanted to fit in—and in doing so I definitely got mixed up with the wrong crowd of people. While college is a confusing time for anyone, I think it is even more so when you feel like you’re perpetually in an identity crisis. I was a real life Goonie. I’d morph to fit in with whatever surroundings/groups I needed to, even when that meant making bad decisions. Which is really unfortunate, but not necessarily regrettable. Because as I am finding out in Hollywood, your past experiences really mold you into who you are and who you are meant to become, so you can’t look back and judge them too harshly.
J.S.: We all have dreams about what we want to be when we “grow up.” I’ve always wanted to be a performer. I didn’t care what it was—music, acting, singing. You name it. I think I’m a “glitch” honestly. I really don’t know how any of this happened.
As far as I see it, fame is incredibly overrated. It’s human nature to want to be recognized for something. Hell, once people told me I would “never make it in the entertainment industry,” I was crushed. Because I thought that was the only way I could make a difference. It’s always been my belief that when you’re presented with a platform, it’s your civic duty to use it for the good of others. Whether using it to raise awareness or help those in need or just by setting a positive example, you just do your part. I’m not sure that at 21 I was ready for that kind of responsibility or even knew where to begin. I was just caught up in the moment of it all. But I think with age and experience I’ve learned there is a lot more I can do to help people than just attending fancy charity dinners and red carpets. I feel much more productive working among the people I’m trying to help. I hardly Tweet about it or publicize it, just because I don’t feel the need to pat myself on the back over things that were my social responsibility in the first place.
When I was younger, people would ask me “What do you want to do with your life?” I would just respond, “I want to matter.” When you spend the first 20 years of your life feeling relatively invisible, you just want to know you’re here for a purpose. I think that’s probably why I haven’t succumbed to reality TV even though I had several offers. I don’t want to see my name in lights unless I have done something to achieve it. And I’m certainly not going to toot my own horn about it. Simply selling out my personal life and subjecting the people in my life to that kind of scrutiny is not something I am interested in. And I think certain events over the last few years have really taught me the importance of privacy.
J.P.: You’re living in Los Angeles, working to become an actress. How is that going? How hard is it? Do you have a side job as a waitress or bartender or runner? Do you use your background—Playboy, Maxim, etc—as a part of your resume? And, being serious, do you have to explain your physical changes when you audition? Are you asked?
J.S.: I moved to Los Angeles to get away from the nonstop media circus. While California may have more tabloid nonsense going on, they have real celebrities to worry about. New York, for as big of a city as it is, is incredibly too small, especially in the industry I worked in. I think it was definitely easier to get work there. Why? I’m not quite sure. My guess is the pool was marginally smaller, and I had a fairly recognizable name if you read any of the New York papers. But I couldn’t help feeling like every time I walked into an audition room, I walked in with my invisible pet elephant on a leash. And I hated picking up his big imaginary shit. So I needed a breather.
L.A. has been an … adjustment. But I hear most people say that. I’m a Southern girl with a big heart, and a New York-infused attitude. And that is often misunderstood out here. I don’t have a second job because I’ve been fairly responsible over the years with my finances. That’s all part of the game with this industry. It can be nerve-racking at times, because we get paid like Rocky—big sums, but they only last so long if you’re going out and buying Adrienne two fur coats and a Rolex and her own zoo. So I live a fairly minimalist lifestyle with the exception of my car. It was the first car I ever bought for myself so she has a lot of sentimental value. But even she is on her way out simply because I can’t take her to the grocery store without hitting every pothole and steep-ass driveway imaginable. It’s just not practical. So if anyone wants her, she’s looking for a good home.
When I go into auditions now, I feel like I’m back in high school auditioning for the school play. Only now, the stakes always feel high because I’m an unknown just like everyone else. Sometimes people may think I look familiar, but the majority of them can never place me. I’ve never had to explain my physical changes, just because I have so much more anonymity out here. That, and I’m much more self-aware than I used to be, be that a good or bad thing. I know how to play down my boobs, play up my face, tweak my make up … really become whatever the role I am auditioning for. Because, as I have learned out here, I’m not in the business of “acting.” My job is strictly auditioning. Getting the role is the sweet payoff.
J.P.: I always, always, always tell teenagers—DO NOT get tattoos at your age. You had implants at 19. Why? How did your family feel about it? Were you nervous? And did you ever regret it? And why did you decide, in 2009, to have them removed?
J.S.: I honestly can’t commit to tattoos. I’ve had laser hair removal, which is similar to a tattoo removal process. And anyone who that tells you it is relatively painless is full of crap. Having experienced that, there’s not one thing I could think would have the lasting power that I would want it on my body the rest of my life. What? Pick something out of a coloring book that everyone else has at some place along Venice Beach where I risk getting some crazy kind of infection. No. I am a pansy when it comes to needles. And if I can’t justify the pain long term, I just won’t do it.
Breast implants were something I always thought I wanted. I saw other girls around me getting them, and told myself that they would make me more desirable. At the time I was young and while far from dumb, I think in college I wanted so desperately to reinvent myself that I just went with what society dictated was “sexy.”
Fast forward five years, and a capsular contracture/replacement later, I was in a totally different place in life. The one piece of advice that really resonated with me was that no matter how talented I may be, the cleavage was just too distracting and no one would ever take me seriously unless I was auditioning for Girls Next Door. So I decided to have them removed that summer after I finished filming an Indie film I was working on. The results were less than desirable, but that’s the gamble you get with breast reductions. It really messed with my head for a long time afterward. It’s tough going from a Playmate to the Phantom of the Opera boobs. I was like the guy that got in the swimming pool with his shirt on—or just avoided those situations all together. Nowadays, I can still MacGyver them up with some scotch tape, fishing line and a coat hanger and make them look just as obnoxious as before. But it’s really not the look I’m going for. I’m much more of a jock than I used to be, so I find the placement of women’s breasts in general to be a nuisance. Have you ever tried wearing a seatbelt across 32DDs? Try that … and get back to me.
J.S.: I don’t think the greatest moment has happened yet … but when it does I’ll let you know. I think the worst is fairly Googleable. I don’t like reiterating its crappiness, because when you talk about something over and over again … it certainly doesn’t help people see you differently. Moving along here …
J.P.: Being serious, I thought you were quite excellent on TV, yet also (public perception-wise) never fully able to escape the “She’s the Florida State hottie” shadow. Did you enjoy working in television? Why or why not? And am I wrong about the perception shadow?
J.S.: A lot of people in the limelight end up with a “shadow.” The real you gets eclipsed by the media-created caricature. I saw the “Cowgirl” persona as the SheRa to my Princess Aurora. She was an alter ego, and definitely nothing to be taken seriously. And now, that role just doesn’t seem to fit in with my life’s goals. In the last year or so, I don’t think I was really aware of mine until I was literally asked by an executive to “shut the f*ck up” while I was on camera. That, “I knew why I was hired, I had accomplished what they wanted, and now to just be a good Barbie and take orders and smile.” I think that’s the exact moment it hit me.
Look, there were a lot of things I was asked to do on certain shows that I was not on board with. One was to take a personal jab at another female television personality. And having previously been read the riot act about what my “role” was, and having been told that non-compliance would mean I wasn’t a “team player”… well, I did it. I’m incredibly ashamed I wasn’t strong enough or savvy enough to know better, or to understand the repercussions. Unfortunately I may never get to apologize to her, but I would sincerely like to.
All bullshit aside, I love TV. I love film. I love being able to creatively express myself. And I’m sure one day I will find the perfect outlet for me to do so.
J.P.: I’m sure you don’t want to delve into the whole Favre affair, and neither, to be honest, do I. I am wondering, however, how embarrassing it was to be in the spotlight for such a thing, especially when you did nothing wrong. Did you have to, like, explain it to your folks? Did you go into hiding? I genuinely felt awful for you, as a person.
J.S.: I was given about 24 hours notice my life was going to turn to crap. I guess that is what some people would call courtesy. I’ve said all I want to say on this subject, and people can find various clips of it on ABC’s website if they’d like to rehash it. But I don’t want to keep talking about it. I understand it’s an obligatory question I’ll be asked until I do something that overshadows it, and I really look forward to the day that happens. I’m tired of being asked to talk about it. And, quite frankly, I think most people are sick of hearing about it.
As far as dealing with the personal aspect of it, that isn’t something I have told many people about. When everything went down, and once my show was cancelled, I actually left New York for a month or so and just went back to Florida. I spent as much time as I could there, in between flying back up to cooperate with the NFL as they requested. It really didn’t hit me hard, I don’t think, until the holidays. My pet elephant apparently fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of me, because he went everywhere I did. And he brought tons of undue stress on a lot of relationships in my life, namely my family. Luckily the guy I was seeing was an amazing support system and seemed relatively unfazed by it all. So when I vacated my bunker in Florida, he and his family welcomed me with open arms in B.F.E. Pennsylvania. I only remember falling asleep while leaving LaGuardia and waking up next to a horse and buggy among the Mennonites of Lancaster. (I cannot make these types of things up.) Look, when you are going through a PR nightmare … the best piece to find peace is where people don’t use the Internet. Life suddenly becomes much simpler. The rest of the time I actually spent in Happy Valley, which is ironic considering the clusterf*ck they were secretly enveloped in. But at Penn State I could go jogging on campus, go out to dinner, pretty much resume a form of normalcy. And most kids just thought I was a college student.
While the obvious takeaway would be to be careful of those we trust, I think the bigger lesson I learned was that I have some amazing people in my life who have stood by me through everything.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you feel like so many people are actively rooting for you to fail. People can’t help that sense of Schadenfreude. But I’d like to think my life is a eucatastrophe in the works. I realize my dork is showing but it’s the idea that what seems like the worst possible situation is actually necessary for good things to happen … victory. All but hope is required to be lost … for good stuff to happen. People can call it a miracle, they can think it’s a law of the universe, whatever fits their belief system. For me, it all comes down to faith … not religion. Because believe me, those are two very different things. I have the utmost of faith that my dreams were given to me for a reason. God is not done working in my life yet. And I trust that no matter how bad things can seem at times, something truly amazing will come from it.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details: Uh. Not going there. (Holds cross necklace tightly.)
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Charlie Ward, Bill Simmons, Malcolm X, Kentucky, Starbucks, “Wayne’s World II,” wrinkles, Brent Musburger, Ellen, Joe Biden, Wayne Chrebet, Toyota Prius, fresh bagels: God, Bill Simmons, Malcolm X, Wayne’s World II, Ellen, Prius, Charlie Ward, Brent Mus berger, Wayne Chrebet, Joe Biden, Kentucky, Fresh bagels, wrinkles, Starbucks.
I’m pretty sure that was a personality test … and I just outed myself as a liberal Christian lesbian who hates coffee and loves Botox. I fixed the option you left out.
• Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay you $3 million annually to star as “Jenn Sterger, football fan” in her new Las Vegas production of “Celine Loves Football.” However, you have to work 362 nights per year, hop on one foot and repeatedly bark the line, “Does anyone here know the way to Santa Fe in the spring?”: My response: “With all due respect … f@#$ you, Canada.”
• Three pieces of advice you give to Katherine Webb: 1) Love every minute of it; 2) The block button: learn it. Love it. Own it; 3) Butter is not a carb.
• Five all-time favorite athletes you’ve dealt with: Ryan Grant, C.J. Wilson, Jason Babin, Frank Mir, Kris Jenkins. Honorable Mention: John Cena. (That counts right?)
• Five things always in your purse: a plastic pig, lip plumping lipgloss, every loyalty card I’ve ever been given, a toothbrush, Xanax (see your first rapid fire question)
• Worst pickup line you’ve ever heard: “So is mine bigger than… You know…”
Me: ::: stares blankly ::: sips drink ::: walks away.
• If, one day, your 19-year-old daughter says, “I’m getting implants,” you say …: “Hi everyone! My name is Jennifer and I’m an alcoholic.”
• Favorite off-the-top-of-your-head joke: If you haven’t heard from me in a while its because I’m in the NFL witness Protection Program.
• Who would you rather spend the day with: Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds or a random inmate from the nearby prison?: Don’t talk about my boyfriend like that, Jeff. You don’t know me!!!!!!