December 13, 2016

ESPN's Britt McHenry speaks out on backlash from insult-laced video

An ESPN reporter and South Jersey native has finally discussed at length the details of an ugly incident that landed her in hot water when a video surfaced of her berating a parking lot attendant.

Britt McHenry, of Burlington County, New Jersey, received a one-week suspension in April 2015 for insulting a female towing company clerk's intelligence, appearance and occupation. McHenry issued an apology and returned to work but didn't speak publicly about the matter.

Until now.

In an interview with Marie Claire magazine, McHenry insisted she has put the video behind her but realizes the incident will follow her for the rest of her life. She recounted when she learned the video went public, how she handled the backlash and how the incident affected her health.

McHenry knew something was wrong immediately when a sports blogger asked her for a comment about the video. Her bosses advised her to go home, but texts from loved ones and colleagues started flooding her phone on the train ride.

"Right then on the train, a CNN breaking-news alert hit my phone—and I was the breaking news. The video took off like wildfire across the media and blogosphere," she said.

During the week she was suspended, McHenry did not leave her home and tried desparately to avoid social media.

"I remember feeling a sense of numbness, even though I had tears streaming down my face," she said. "I wanted to wake up from this bad dream. An avalanche of posts and tweets followed. With each new post, I felt like my life was imploding all over again."

The publicity allowed her to gain more than 30,000 new following, but for all the wrong reasons. The barrage of death threats and insults contributed to stress, which eventually caused blurry vision.

"I could no longer see clearly; everything was a blur," she wrote. "I went to a retinal specialist, who diagnosed me with CSR, a condition in which vision is impaired, often due to trauma or extreme stress. Neither medication nor time helped alleviate the problem. I had no choice but to start a series of injections directly into my eye to try to regain my vision and prevent further damage."

The doctor informed McHenry that the vision might never improve.

While she understands that she "brought all of this on [herself]," she remains hopeful that others can learn from her mistake.

"My goal now is to turn my experience into something positive," she concluded.