Right call? ESPN fires writer of offensive Jeremy Lin headline

The Globe and Mail

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin (Adam Hunger/Reuters)

Was it a harmless phrase or an ethnic slur?

Either way, ESPN has fired an employee who wrote the headline, “Chink in the Armor,” in reference to basketball’s current media darling Jeremy Lin.

The headline was published online early Saturday morning, after the New Orleans Hornets beat the New York Knicks 89-85 on Friday night, ending the Knicks’ winning streak with Mr. Lin.

Story continues below ad

The phrase “chink in the armour” means a small but fatal flaw. The word “chink” is regarded as a racial term.

According to CNN, the headline was removed after 35 minutes, and ESPN has gone into damage control. The sports network apologized and dismissed the headline writer. It also suspended anchor Max Bretos for 30 days, who had asked earlier in the week, “ If there is a chink in the armour, where can Lin improve his game?”

CNN reports Mr. Lin, whose family is from Taiwan, acknowledged the issue at a news conference on Sunday, saying he did not believe the headline was intentional.

“I don’t think it was on purpose. At the same time, they’ve apologized. I don’t care any more,” Mr. Lin said.

For his part, Anthony Federico, the ESPN editor who was fired for the headline, told the New York Daily News that he has used the phrase “at least 100 times” over the years, and the idea that it could be interpreted as a racial slur didn’t cross his mind when he applied it to the story about Mr. Lin.

“This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny,” he said. “I’m so sorry that I offended people. I’m so sorry if I offended Jeremy.”

Mr. Bretos also said he had not intentionally meant to offend anyone and apologized via Twitter.

“My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community,” he wrote, according to the Daily News.

The ESPN headline caused an uproar after it was posted.

“Sometimes we, as a society, can be oversensitive and easily cave to political correctness. ESPN however, seems to be completely ignorant or slightly racist,” the web site Buzzfeed said. It noted ESPN had attracted some controversy when it used the same phrase in a headline during the Beijing Olympics.

“LINsulting” was how The New York Observer termed the incident. One commenter wrote on the Observer’s site: “No apology will make this right. Racism won’t stop until people lose their jobs over racist comments.”

Meanwhile, others say the controversy surrounding the use of the phrase has been an overreaction. The International Business Times, for instance, called the issue “Much Ado About Nothing.” A column in The Oracle newspaper at the University of South Florida says ESPN’s public apology and reprimand of its employees was “the most socially damaging things ESPN could have done.”

“By acknowledging this gaffe to such a degree, ESPN increased the social damage exponentially,” column said.

What do you think? Was the use of the phrase offensive, or an unfortunate slip?