By Martin Kessler, WBUR
On the night of Feb. 17, 2012, Anthony Federico was working his job at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. Federico was an editor for ESPN’s mobile website.
Around 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 18, Federico published a new headline.
“A headline that I had used myself many times before, and that sports media sites had been using for years,” he says. “And, about a half hour later, I realized that it had been going viral for the wrong reason.
“When I realized how the social media world was taking that headline, I got up from my desk, and I went to the bathroom. And I threw up several times, because I was aghast and horrified at what was going down.”
The headline was quickly changed. Federico spoke to his boss, who tried to console him. But when Federico left the office, he says he was still distraught. He drove to his parents’ house.
“And woke them up — maybe, like, 4:30 a.m. — and I told them what happened,” Federico says. “And they were like, ‘OK, this’ll blow over.’ And it did not.”
That became clear a few hours later when Federico got a call from his boss.
“He’s like, ‘Don’t turn on your phone. Don’t look at the web. Don’t look at anything. It’s bad,’ ” Federico recalls. “And I asked, ‘How bad is it?’ And he said, ‘It’s bad.’ ”
Climbing The Ranks At ESPN
Anthony Federico grew up outside New Haven, Connecticut.
“I grew up in a big Italian-American family,” he says. “I’m the oldest of five kids, and the best looking, and the smartest and the most athletic of the five kids. No, I’m just kidding. And we grew up in a very culturally Catholic family.”
Federico loved sports. He swam and played tennis, baseball and hockey. He went to Notre Dame High School. Then Providence College — a Catholic university — in Rhode Island.
“A lot of guys growing up in Connecticut that are sports fans maybe have it in the back of their mind to work for ESPN someday,” he says.
So after graduating from Providence, Federico got a job as a temp in ESPN’s tape library. He’d go to a huge warehouse to track down video tapes for the different ESPN shows.
“I would put it in a basket of a bicycle, ’cause the warehouse was so big that I would ride this bicycle around, you know, getting all the different tapes that had been requested,” he says.
Then Federico would return to the ESPN campus to deliver the tapes.
“And it was cool, ’cause I got to meet a lot of different people all over ESPN’s campus,” he says. “And I was asking questions like, ‘What do you do?’ And, ‘What is your job like?’ And I made a lot of friends that way.”
In 2007, after about six months working the tape library, 23-year-old Anthony Federico landed in that role as a content editor for ESPN’s mobile website.
“It was really cool,” he says. “My job was to watch the night of sports unfold and kind of make editorial decisions in real time about what stories we’re going to lead with, what angles we’re going to promote.”
Federico says he was responsible for writing and publishing headlines — there wasn’t someone else to check his work.
“It’s ‘everything needs to happen five minutes ago’ kind of sense of urgency,” he says. “You know, deadline culture. And that was part of the draw of it — how exciting and fast-paced my work was. And, yeah, everything happens very quickly.”
In early February 2012, a single story began dominating the news cycle.
“The talk of the sports world was Jeremy Lin,” Federico says.
Lin — an undrafted point guard out of Harvard and, at the time, the only Asian American in the NBA — led the Knicks to seven straight wins. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row.
For Anthony Federico, “Linsanity” wasn’t just a great story. The Knicks had always been his favorite team.
“It was exciting,” he says.
Then, on the night of Feb. 17, 2012, Federico was at his desk at ESPN, and Jeremy Lin and the Knicks were playing the New Orleans Hornets.
“And he played poorly,” Federico says. “And the Knicks lost.
“And at 2:30 in the morning, I wrote a headline to reflect his first display of weakness as a starter for the Knicks. And I wrote the headline ‘Chink in the Armor.’ ”
This was the headline that went viral, that sent Federico into the bathroom to throw up.
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