Photo: Tim Lundin

Slam Dunk: Q&A with Britt McHenry

Britt McHenry is a rising star in Washington’s corps of sports journalists.  After covering high-profile national events such as the Super Bowl and the Men’s NCAA Tournament, she made the D.C. market her home in the summer of 2010. Britt is a Florida native who practically grew up with a Dan Marino jersey on her back, she can talk sports all day and recently sat down for an interview with On Tap.

On Tap: Could you walk us through a week in the life of Britt McHenry?
Britt McHenry: Well, my schedule isn’t exactly ideal for a 25-year-old’s lifestyle. I’m off Monday and Tuesday, and I do my reporting on Wednesday and Thursday, which makes for a relatively normal workday. Weekends are another thing entirely: we produce the High School Sports Final on Fridays, and I anchor on Saturdays and Sundays. But even on my days off, I often find myself around sports, either going to a game or watching one on TV. I was off the night of the Wizards’ season opener, but my producer called and asked if I wanted to cover it, and do a live shot at Verizon Center; of course, I wanted to do it!

OT: Do you have a favorite memory of covering sports?
Britt: I covered Super Bowl XLII while I was in graduate school, so I saw round one of the Giants / Patriots saga. But my best memory is still when I covered the Final Four in San Antonio. The excitement and energy inside that stadium – and the volume! – are beyond anything else I’ve ever seen. As a bonus, I can confirm that the weather in Texas was much, much warmer than in Chicago.

OT: What is to become of the NFL’s man of the hour, Peyton Manning?
Britt: At this point, I think all of the Post’s columnists have written about him. There’s plenty of chatter, but I think Miami’s a leading contender to get him; since Reggie Bush got his form back this year, and you have guys like Brian Hartline, I see a real opportunity there. Wherever he goes, though, I have to say that I’m in the Peyton camp – I watched him at Tennessee, and of course in Indy, he’s always been one of my favorite quarterbacks to watch. And it’s not just his skill that’s impressive – with so many naysayers around the league saying he can’t do it, that he’s better off throwing in the towel – I think his competitive nature will drive him to make it happen and prove each of them wrong.

OT: Are you looking forward to March Madness?
Britt: I’m excited about Georgetown’s chances this year! They’re such a young team, but they have tremendous depth. I mean, when they beat St John’s, there were five Hoyas in double digits! Plus, they have so many freshmen on their roster; everyone thought this would be a re-building year, but throughout this season, especially the Syracuse game, they have showed they’re a major threat. There’s something magical about college basketball; because upsets are more common here than in most sports, with March Madness, it’s anybody’s ball game. The game brings together an amazing variety of people, compared to other playoff scenarios: teams, fans, and alumni from every corner of the country, and each of them are playing their hearts out.

OT: As you get to know some of the top athletic and coaching talents in the world, does their star power ever overwhelm you?
Britt: That doesn’t usually happen with athletes, but I can remember two times when I definitely got tongue-tied: Don Shula (I grew up a Dolphins fan, after all!). Also, considering how long I’d played soccer, when I met Mia Hamm…I’ll admit it, I got a little star-struck.

OT: Who are some of the best interviews you’ve had since coming to Washington?
Britt: The first one that comes to mind is [Nationals prospect] Bryce Harper. He’s only 19, and came into the league with a ton of hype (and plenty of talent to back it up) – but he’s so approachable and open. Also, Tim Hightower has been really supportive, just a great guy to work with.

OT: How did you break into broadcast journalism?
Britt: I grew up playing soccer all around Florida, and played soccer for Stetson University’s Division I program. I also did some modeling in Miami while I was in college, and interned at ABC Network News in Washington. I still managed to graduate early in winter 2008. I’d also been accepted at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, which was a bit of a dream for me – so I headed to Chicago, where I would soon see snow for the first time. After an intense year at Medill, I jumped at the chance to come to DC.

OT: Once you were in town, how did you move into covering sports?
Britt: I started out anchoring morning shows on NewsChannel8, and found out I could also do sports stories – the only catch was, I had to pitch, shoot, and produce them myself. It just so happened that the Nationals’ spring training facilities are near my hometown in Florida. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I loaded up my camera, shot the camp on my own, and found myself reporting on Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen’s first camp. Back in DC, I was working non-stop; whenever I could, I’d anchor on my days off, in addition to doing my regular shows. I filled in at the anchor desk on Easter Sunday, which happened to be when Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins. Obviously, that turned into a much busier day than I’d expected.

OT: Obviously, you could hold your own playing soccer – do you play any other sports?
Britt: Growing up, I played some basketball and softball; I wanted to keep playing basketball, but in FL you have to choose, and soccer won out. I had an amazing trainer, Scott Armstrong, who loved to focus on footwork – he had so much skill, it was almost like he was a dancer!

OT: Playing soccer in school, and then in Division I – did it burn you out?
Britt: Oh, definitely – by my senior year, I was definitely getting burned out. Not everyone knows, playing D-1 sports is almost like a mini-career, with the intensity, the sacrifice, and the long hours – all before you even become an adult! For a while, I admit I didn’t want to play, but now I’m easing back into it. It’s not always easy finding a game, but whenever I do play, it’s fun again.

OT Sports is a male-dominated field, to say the least; does being a woman ever present you with obstacles in the workplace?
Britt: Sure, there are challenges, being a woman – but I tend to enjoy proving that I know what I’m talking about, and showing that I actually enjoy it. I guess I work better when people underestimate me; I use that as a kind of fuel. That said, I’m mindful that sometimes I have to take a different, more professional approach. I always try to dress professionally, and keep my interactions official. Also, I couldn’t necessarily get a beer with a male athlete like a male reporter could, without running the risk of rumors that could hurt both of our careers. It’s a reality I have to deal with, but I don’t let it bother me.

OT: Do you see yourself as a role model for girls?
Britt: I’m only 25, and I do plenty of unglamorous work in television: a lot of times I still have to shoot my own video, cut my own footage, etc. so I don’t necessarily feel that far removed from where they are. The idea of being a role model is weird, but I tell girls the same thing [I tell] myself: if you love what you do, and give it your all, you can go places in this business.

OT: If you weren’t a sports reporter, what else would you cover?
Britt: I love what I’m doing, but I can see myself expanding someday into different beats. Maybe it’s the variety of sports we cover, or the level of comfort we develop with ad-libbing on camera, but I think it’s easier for someone who’s done sports to transition to regular news, than the other way around. Along those lines, I work to stay proficient in other media, I also keep up a blog, and I’m constantly on Twitter and Facebook. Like most professions, journalists in this market need to have a varied portfolio of skills, and the flexibility to adapt to whatever’s next.

Follow Britt McHenry on Twitter at @brittmchenry, or catch her on High School Sports Final at 11:30 every Friday on NewsChannel8, behind the weekend anchor desk at ABC7/WJLA-TV.