Britt McHenry on going to ESPN, but staying in D.C.

(Courtesy ESPN)
(Courtesy ESPN)

The last time Britt McHenry accepted a job offer, it required her to leave the Washington sports market. She was gone about a week in 2012 before realizing that her new job – as the sideline reporter for Padres games on Fox Sports San Diego – wasn’t a perfect fit.

McHenry – a sports reporter and anchor at WJLA for the past four years – accepted another job recently, a high-profile move to ESPN. This time, though, she won’t be leaving the District. The network is calling her its Washington-based “bureau reporter;” she’ll report for “SportsCenter,” “Outside the Lines,” “NFL Live,” “Baseball Tonight” and other news programs, while remaining in her adopted home.

“I really was telling the truth about how much I loved this area and this city,” McHenry told me a few days ago, after ESPN announced her hiring. “With how exciting the sports teams here have been lately and the stars that we now have in this market, [ESPN] really expressed an interest to have a stronger presence here. And I think instead of hiring someone from the outside, or hiring me and sending me to New York or Chicago, there’s already that built-in base here, which just makes this so unique.”

That McHenry would become attached to this market was no given. She was raised in Florida (where she went to college), headed to Northwestern for journalism grad school and interned in ABC’s D.C. bureau, gathering video for general news segments.

After getting hired at NewsChannel 8 (WJLA’s sister cable station), she spent her initial months covering glamorous stories like an equestrian prison therapist in Howard County (yes, she stepped in horse poop) and a skiing Santa Claus at National Harbor.

She started covering sports during Stephen Strasburg’s first training camp in 2010, going to Viera, Fla., with her camera while home visiting her parents. Two years later, she accepted the Padres job, which required her to start the baseball season in San Diego before returning to Washington to finish off her WJLA contract. After seven games, she knew she wasn’t ready to leave this city, and wasn’t interested in being typecast as a sideline reporter.

There were barbs on blogs and jokes on Twitter; “even my parents were [upset with] me,” McHenry said. But after two more years at WJLA – years filled with RGIII hype, Mike Shanahan drama, a Nats division title and the rise of the Wizards – the 27-year old McHenry said she’s glad she followed her gut.

“It wasn’t ideal at the time, but in the end I got to see what that would be like, made a mature decision and admitted hey, I’m not perfect,” she told me. “I think it was the best decision I ever made, honestly, because it led to this point, and this is what I’ve always wanted. At the time, at 25, I wasn’t quite ready to go to ESPN. Instead of taking a different road, which might have led to some good things, [I had] the courage to kind of look at that situation and say you know what, even if it’s last minute, I really like what I have here, and I want to put in the work to get to ESPN.”

Now that she’s there, of course, she’ll join the ever-growing legion of former Washington broadcasters and residents employed in Bristol, including Lindsay Czarniak, Sara Walsh, Hakem Dermish, Bram Weinstein, Steve Weissman, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, Scott Van Pelt, Jorge Andres, Josina Anderson and others. This makes it difficult for a D.C. broadcaster to interview with ESPN in stealth; “they all knew I was up there by the end of the day,” McHenry laughed.

McHenry speculated that the rash of national sports stories coming out of Washington in recent years has helped drive the stream of talent from D.C. to Bristol. But while most of the above names have relocated north upon joining ESPN, McHenry’s beats won’t change, even after signing off WJLA for the last time this weekend.

“I’m leaving, but I’m not,” she said. “I’m going to be covering all the same teams and stories as I was before; just on a much more in-depth level, and on a bigger scale, which I think is so cool for everybody involved.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg | March 12