The worldwide leader in sports cans the editor responsible for a controversial headline, even as he claims that it was all an "honest mistake"
At 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, hours after the New York Knicks' loss to the New Orleans Hornets broke a seven-game winning streak by the Knicks' new Asian-American superstar Jeremy Lin, ESPN editor Anthony Federico wrote a "racist," career-ending headline: "Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin's 9 turnovers cost Knicks..." The headline, which ran on the mobile version of ESPN's website, was yanked after 35 minutes, and ESPN quickly fired Federico. The sports news giant also doled out a 30-day suspension to anchor Max Bretos, who had used the same racially insensitive phrase on the air. Federico apologized for his "honest mistake," saying he wasn't trying to be "cute or punny," and had used the same phrase "at least 100 times" in headlines, and simply didn't notice that "chink" is a racial slur for Chinese people. Lin accepted the apology. Is this a case of "political correctness run amok," or did ESPN make the right call?
ESPN overreacted: I really doubt Bretos or Federico "meant to denigrate or degrade Lin in any way," says Palash R. Ghosh at International Business Times. They are guilty of carelessness, not "malicious racial hatred" of the sort aimed at black baseball stars Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron many decades ago. ESPN's crackdown "disguises and trivializes acts of real, authentic racism against Asian-Americans and others." If ESPN had simply apologized, "I think most everyone would be satisfied."
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Federico deserved to be fired: Of course, it's easier to see Federico simply making a late-night mistake than "carefully plotting out surefire career suicide" by trying to "slip a horribly offensive racial pun into a headline," says Joe Eskenazi at SF Weekly. But regardless, Federico still committed a firable offense for a professional editor. In that way, Federico's flame-out makes him similar to the athletes he wrote about: "Nobody is ever going to hear your name unless you screw something up."
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ESPN still needs to do more: The reprehensible "chink in the armor" headline was only "the most appalling mistake in a regrettable week" of Linsanity-themed racism, says Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times. But ESPN didn't just use that horrible phrase twice this week; it also used it in a headline during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After firing Federico, ESPN must once and for all "eradicate that phrase" from its sports coverage. Hopefully, the rest of the sports world will follow suit.
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- Jeremy Lin