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What Britt McHenry’s Drop From ESPN Teaches Us About Ourselves


Britt McHenry is no stranger to scrutiny. Mostly that’s due to an episode a few years ago in which she lost her cool with a tow company employee, which promptly caused the Internet to explode into a cacophony of calls for her head. Thankfully, the Internet did not prevail. She kept her job with ESPN, and went on with her life.

In December 2016, McHenry discussed how the incident affected her and her family in an article at Marie Claire. She describes the whirlwind she experienced as threats and taunts began rolling in, the remorse over her behavior, even ruminating upon how she’ll cover the incident with her future children. The Internet was a tad nicer about that, but still mostly would have none of it.

Now she’s back again, still with the temerity to offer opinions. This time, she insinuated her conservative leanings were the reason ESPN laid her off in April. Now, I wasn’t involved in ESPN’s decision and I don’t know whether the claim is valid. I’d even go so far as to claim that only a handful of people know if that was a factor in the decision, and that handful is likely not discussing it. There’s also the compelling argument that ESPN’s leftward drift is a symptom more than a cause.

So we don’t know. McHenry deleted the original tweet and isn’t publicly discussing the issue right now. I sent a query tweet that’s also now been deleted and which drew no response, and called her talent agent. The agent’s assistant informed me that McHenry isn’t publicly discussing the issue right now, which is why I feel fairly confident making that claim.

It’s Mostly That She Continues to Exist

Could her layoff have come because of her politics? Maybe. Was it maybe a purely financial decision? Possibly. Or perhaps it was just part and parcel of the same occult decision-making that clouds virtually everything ESPN does these days. We can make educated guesses, but, given the aforementioned occult decision-making, it’s possible we’ll never figure out if our guesses were accurate.

It would matter if true. If she were fired for her political ideology, that’s ridiculous and I will never watch the Ocho again. If she were fired another reason, that’d be great because it’s not like I could ever truly give up the Ocho. In either case, McHenry’s deleted tweet doesn’t prove much besides her ability to throw a jab while smiling.

But it also proves that she’s herself and a certain segment of the population will never be happy so long as she insists on continuing to exist. Any suggestion that it was politics, and remember that ESPN is totally not moving left, will meet at least some skepticism.

A segment of the population remembers how close they got in 2015, how they almost claimed her head during a half-informed digital riot. Those wounds aren’t healed, and now there’s a chance they can become victorious battle scars. So people hang on every word, even if they’ve learned to exercise some caution when reporting on this latest development.

We Demand a Sacrifice

In fact, most of the articles have been downright circumspect, focusing on that one time at the tow company. Obviously what’s important here is an incident from several years ago, one for which ESPN did not fire her, and that has really only caused long-term harm to McHenry. She acknowledges this in her Marie Claire article. She’s the crazy, awful person who yelled at that lady that one time. No matter what she does, at least for the next few years, that’s going to be the first thing people go to when discussing her.

That’s what her tweet really told us. It wasn’t a pronouncement on if she was fired for being a conservative, it was an opportunity to be reminded that people still want to take her down. The fervor has subsided, but a bounty on her remains. People want to believe this was a delayed reaction, that she was finally sent packing for having an extremely bad day a few years ago.

If that isn’t the case, then the gods have not been appeased. A fitting sacrifice wasn’t just missed, but also wronged. We can’t have that. Our lambs must not get reprieve. They exist to take our lumps for us. To suffer for publicly making mistakes that many of us have made in our darker, private moments.

That’s not McHenry’s job. Even if she’s a horrible person—and given that mostly we just talk about that one incident, it doesn’t seem likely—that’s for the people who personally interact with her to consider. In the public realm, she’s atoned for her sins, made her apologies, and attempted to move on. If only we were capable of doing the same.