Life has been a roller-coaster these past two months for 28-year-old Anthony Federico. The former ESPN editor was fired back in February after writing a headline entitled, “Chink in the Armor” for an article about Asian NBA star Jeremy Lin. Federico, who has been open and honest about the fact that the terminology was merely an unintended mistake, promptly apologized. But the damage was already done, as the young journalist quickly became what he calls “public enemy number one.”
On Tuesday, he opened up to The Blaze about how the scenario has impacted his life. He also spoke about how the power of his Christian faith has restored him, while teaching him valuable life lessons.
“I WENT TO THE BATHROOM AND VOMITED”
Almost immediately after the controversial headline was published in the middle of the night on Feb. 18 (Federico worked the evening shift) it went viral, and his life subsequently changed dramatically. ESPN promptly fired the editor who had devoted nearly six years to the company and who was a well-liked and hardworking fixture there.
Federico told The Blaze that it took only about a half hour for him to realize the headline had caught fire that fateful evening.
“[As I was] going through nightly patrolling of social media to look for stories and trends, I started seeing what I wrote trending,” he explained.
Obviously, he was stunned and saddened over the error — and over the fact that people were assuming the worst of him. He says he was “distraught and shaken up” in the hours following the incident.
His first thought once it was evident that the story was going to be widely-reported? I worked too hard for my career to end this way. He initially hoped that the dust would settle and that his career would be safe. Clearly, he was wrong, as it all got progressively worse once his name was released.
“I thought that the body of work that I had put together working primarily nights, weekends and holidays with an excellent track record with bosses and co-workers…the way I had success there, I was just very distraught,” he said.
In fact, he was so distraught he became physically ill.
“I went to the bathroom and vomited several times because I was so devastated,” he said of the minutes following the article’s publication. “I composed myself and I went back out into the newsroom and I called my boss.”
Federico quickly called his boss, whom he said he had an excellent relationship with, and woke him up to explain what had happened and how the inadvertent error was quickly making the rounds in social media and the blogosphere.
“I explained to him what happened and the first thing he told me was, ‘I know you didn’t mean it.’ That set the tone for people close to me,” he explained.
In the end, though, that wasn’t enough to save his job, as the decision to let him go was made at higher levels within ESPN.
“I MADE A MISTAKE AND I OWNED UP TO IT”
Despite losing his dream job, Federico said that his friends and family rallied around him and provided a support system. People, he explained, knew his character and were certain that any ethnic undertones in his headline were an unintended mistake. But that support didn’t stop the deluge of negative attacks against Federico in social media on television and through e-mails that were sent directly to him. It took its toll on his family.
“My family was very upset — my parents who are such wonderful people — it was very difficult for them to sit back and listen to all the negative, evil things people saying without being able to respond,” he said. “The parental instinct was to defend their child and they weren’t able to do that while the whole world was coming down on me.”
But the family “retreated into each other.” He leaned more on his parents and siblings than he ever had before. When asked about his seemingly calculated media handling of the situation (Federico has been very careful which media outlets he speaks with, and his family hasn’t gone running to speak to cameras and reporters), Federico said that he didn’t rely on expert advice. His intent in the weeks following the event was to show people that he wasn’t (and isn’t) a villain.
“You don’t need an adviser to tell the truth — to tell you common sense,” he said. “One of my most comforting things was that I didn’t have to remember any lies…in every interview I’ve given, I’ve told the same story. I didn’t do anything maliciously wrong. I made a mistake and I owned up to it.”
Despite his good intentions, Federico details the sometimes horrific and violent hate e-mails he received on the internet following the incident.
“I had a lot of people just saying pure ugliness. People threatening my family [and] saying I’m a disgrace to the Christian religion [and that] Jesus would never tolerate racism,” he said. “I didn’t believe them for a second. I actually responded to all of the emails that I got that were ripping me. I sent them a response thanking them for contacting me.”
But not all of the messages he received were negative. In fact, in the middle of the disarray, some of the e-mails were uplifting.
“Some of the positive e-mails I got were just like little joys in a lot of dreariness and ugliness — messages from people all over the world, from all walks of life ranging from general positivity to ‘you got a raw deal’ to very ardent, active Christians,” he explained. “[I thought] ‘I’m not worthy of all these prayers, but I’ll take them.'”
One of the e-mails he received was from a father who told Federico that he had two small children who could learn a great deal from the former ESPN staffer’s handling of the crisis.
“He said when his kids get older, he’s going to have them read how I handled myself in the media to show what real accountability looks like,” Federico claims. “I got choked up.”
SO, WHAT’S HIS NEW JOB?
In the middle of the positive and negative messages, Federico also said that several people felt so badly over his ESPN firing that he got other job offers. One company, a technology firm in Connecticut, ended up offering him a position as a sports consultant in the weeks following the incident.
“They reached out and created this position for me,” Federico said. “It’s a match made in heaven.”
Federico also detailed his meeting with Lin, who reached out to the former editor following the incident. The journalist-turned-consultant called the hour-long lunch gathering, which was held in Manhattan, “fantastic, wonderful and refreshing.”
“I can’t tell you enough how gracious and humble he was…We talked for about an hour,” Federico said. “[Lin] basically waved [the ESPN fiasco] off — he believed me and knew there was no intention behind it. He was totally on my side from the get-go.”
HIS “BATTLE CRY”
Over the past two months, Federico said that the journey hasn’t been easy. Having his name plastered in the media has been challenging, but it is his faith that has guided him through the storm.
“The first thing I did after the initial wave of devastation — I composed myself and offered the entire situation to God. I know and strongly believe that He’s sovereign in all situations, good and bad,” he said. “My emotions and body were telling me to hide, cover, defend — but my faith told me, [it was] an opportunity to really practice what I’m all about.”
Federico went on to say that he believes the situation was permitted by God for either his or someone else’s good. Each day that goes by, he said he gets new assurances from God and others that this situation was, indeed, supposed to happen to him.
“This was not a defect. It was meant to happen.”
“I tried my very best to say a prayer for every person who ripped me,” he explained. “It’s Jesus’ command to bless those who curse you and to turn the other cheek. It’s easy to talk about as a concept but to truly do it is difficult.”
Citing Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”), Federico said that God has used the situation for good. The verse, he explained, tells Christians that God uses “all things” — both good and bad — to work for the good of those who love Him.
“I’ve been using that as my battle cry,” he shared. “I’m here to let God use what happened to me as a platform for His glory.”
When it comes to managing difficult situations, Federico is now a pro. During our discussion, he encouraged individuals — particularly Christians — to “cultivate” what they believe in the good and tranquil times, so they they are prepared to handle themselves if and when disaster befalls them.
“It’s important to strengthen our faith in good times to prepare for the bumps and bruises of life,” he said. “It’s one thing to discuss Christianity as an intellectual concept and it’s another to live out those principles and concepts. I would encourage people to embrace what we believe and live it out.”