ESPN has fired a reporter who used the unfortunate term “Chink in the armor” in reference to New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese-American who has captured the hearts and minds of millions of sports fans around the world.
The inflammatory phrase was used by one of ESPN's mobile staff in the wake of the Knicks' loss on Friday to the New Orleans Hornets and apparently referred to Lin's problem with frequent turnovers.
“Chink in the armor” refers to something defective in one's personality or skills, while “chink” is considered a racial slur against Asians, especially Chinese.
ESPN employee Max Bretos, who was suspended over the affair, had stated: If there is a chink in the armor, where can Lin improve his game?
The ESPN employee who was fired was the person who posted the offending headline.
Bretos himself apologized and defended himself on Twitter by declaring: My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community.”
In its mea culpa, ESPN stated: “We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future.”
Although I am neither Chinese nor Taiwanese, I am an Asian-American, and I am not the least bit “offended” by what ESPN did. We need to make a distinction between intentional, malicious racial hatred and something like this – they are light years apart.
Lin himself heard far worse from fans when he played for Harvard in the Ivy League. I sincerely doubt that Bretos or the fired ESPN employee meant to denigrate or degrade Lin in any way.
Compare this incident with the vile, visceral hatred that Jackie Robinson faced when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947; or the hundreds of hateful letters Hank Aaron received in 1973-74 as he closed in on Babe Ruth's home run record.
Is there even a shred of similarity here?
Jeremy Lin is the most exciting phenomenon in U.S. sports in my lifetime – he has inspired people across all racial and ethnic groups, including people who never cared a whit about basketball.
The worst aspect to ESPN's actions is that it disguises and trivializes acts of real, authentic racism against Asian-Americans and others.
After Sunday's thrilling victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Lin himself addressed the controversy this way: I don't think it was on purpose or whatever, but (at) the same time they have apologized. And so from my end I don't care anymore. Have to learn to forgive, and I don't even think that was intentional. Or hopefully not.
Thus, had ESPN issued a simple apology (and not fired or suspended its employees), I think most everyone would be satisfied.