ESPN, in response to a firestorm over the unfortunate use of the colloquialism “chink in the armor” in the context of the public rise of the Harvard-educated, basketball sensation of Asian descent Jeremy Lin, fired editor Anthony Frederico and suspended, on air anchor, Max Brestos. The quick move was made after the word “chink,” which in addition to referring to a weakness in armor, doubles as a deroogatory perjorative towards Chinese, appeared in an ESPN mobile website headline and was uttered on the air as Max Brestos spoke to Clyde Frazier about Lin’s weaknesses.
According to a report appearing in the Daily News both Frederico and Brestos were devastated by the revelation that the use of the language was a racist attack on Jeremy Lin and people of Asian-descent. Frederico, 28, admits that he understands why he was fired by ESPN but was staunch in his assertion that he did not think of the racial connotation of the phrase which he used “at least 100 times” in headlines. He also indicated that Lin was one of his heroes because of his connection to Lin as a openly faithful Christian. Frederico said “My faith is my life. I’d love to tell Jeremy what happened and explain that this was an honest mistake. . . I had a career that I was proud of. . . .I am devastated that I caused a firestorm.”
Bretos, who clearly without humor or jest, asked Frazier on the air, “If there was a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?” seemed equally devastated by the selected nterpretation of his comment since his wife is Asian. “My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community. Despite intention, phrase was inappropriate in this context.”
In keeping with the grace he has handled his public ascendancy, Lin accepted the explanations and apologies even stating that “I don’t even think that was intentional.”
Again Lin,through his faith, gives us an opportunity to better collectively in the face of adversity. Lin is absolutely right to forgive Frederico and Brestos based upon the facts and not to get caught up in the tide or inconsiderate public opinion. ESPN’s decision to fire Frederico was response to commercial pressure and not a true examination of the circumstances of using a term which has double meanings. The intent of the use of word with multiple meaning should carry significant weight in judging the intent of the resultant harm. While it is often difficult to determine one’s intent when certain language is used, it is not hard to give Frederico and Brestos the benefit of the doubt based upon their explanations and the fact that “chink in the armor” is a common colloquialism.
Certainly, they would have done well to understand the racial nature of the Lin phenomenon. Perhaps, just perhaps, better awareness would have encouraged them to use greater editorial focus in their language. Perhaps, they should have been aware that this is a situation where editing out words is as important as choosing to use words. In this instance, language has become even more important as writers and editors are caught up in the literary explosion of terms, nicknames and altered phrases which are a big part of “Linsanity.” However, the truth of the matter is that it is the media employer’s responsibility to make sure that it’s staff is appropriately sensitized to the pitfalls in language in racial contexts.
Is it possible, that the word “chink” subconsciously crept into the editor and anchors minds as they were writing and announcing. There is no doubt that the first thing to ocme into a wirters mind when he or she is trying to be creative is the common, obvious and overused. The good writers, or those not trapped by a deadline, fight or edit through the obvious. However, use of the first thing that comes to your mind does not in and of itself signify racism or racialism.
ESPN is right to discipline it’s writers for mistakes that are harmful to others. However, ESPN needs to balance the desire to protect its brand with its service to the worldwide community. It would be of greater service to use this as a teachable moment as opposed to escpaing the situation by casting blame on employees with no attempt to harm others and firing them to absolve the company of wrongdoing. The company may not be wrong in firing Frederico and suspending Brestos, but it is certainly wrong to not accept full responsibility for this incident and haivng an honest discussion about the matter. Don’t just sweep it under the rug by firing people unfairly.
Jeremy lin is willing to forgive them This is why I love Jeremy Lin. It might get to even forgive Floyd Merriweather who ws intentionally offensive in his poorly considered analysis.