The fact that an ESPN editor was fired over the weekend for a reckless and potentially offensive headline highlights two big problems:
• First, that the need for speed in today’s media is fraught with peril. Our society has fallen so in love with instant technology – we’ve practically linked Twitter to our brains, so we broadcast the first thing that comes to our heads – that any sense of journalistic standards or even common sense go out the window.
• Second, that we’ve about taken sensitivity to an absurd level in this country.
The ESPN headline, about a sub-par game Friday night by New York Knicks mega-sensation Jeremy Lin, used a common expression – “A chink in the armor” – but at the absolutely wrong time. Lin is the first American-born man of Chinese ancestry to play in the National Basketball Association. And, of course, the term in question has been a racial epithet.
Again, a careful journalist with a moment or two to contemplate matters most likely doesn’t send that headline out.
On the other hand, to borrow an ESPN catch phrase: C’mon man! Does anybody really think the network meant anything by that headline? Why would they rain on Lin’s parade? ESPN has reveled in it as much as anyone.
Here’s a young Harvard graduate, a castoff from other teams and a mere role player until injuries put him in the spotlight, where he has shone. His energy, youth and production have revitalized a moribund New York Knicks team. And his ethnicity is only a matter for pride, particularly in New York’s Chinatown, where broadcasters have gone knocking to get giddy reaction from fans.
Another ESPN anchor was suspended for using the same phrase on air.
The anchor has an Asian wife.
So, really? Someone thinks he was being racist too?
The fired editor, Anthony Federico, is said to have been devastated, and has apologized.
A grown-up response would be to accept the apology, suspend him and move on. But America is having a hard time growing up, particularly with regard to race. Real incidents of racism need to be punished, certainly. But was this one of them?
It’d be nice, and even healing, if Lin himself asked that Federico be reinstated.
And if we really did have a little armor on our thin skin.