Ball Don't Lie

Apparently unintentional, ESPN’s since-deleted headline about Jeremy Lin was distressing

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

In these early stages, we can't tell you if ESPN copy editors using "chink in the armor" as a way to describe Asian-American Jeremy Lin and his New York Knicks losing their first game in 13 days on Friday night is on par with what Jason Whitlock pulled off a week before. Whitlock obviously, and admittedly, made an awful (and worse, to me, unfunny) joke at Lin's heritage's expense. The copy editors that OK'd this headline:

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A since-deleted ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile screenshot, sadly. (Courtesy Gothamist)

… and the on-air copy whose work you'll hear on video after the jump could have just been making a pair of mortifying, awful mistakes. Endless amounts of writers from all fields still use that phrase, and for those of us that only think about Lin's ethnic background about once-in-whenever someone does something stupid, we have to go easy until we find out just who put the mistakes together. Knowing ESPN, though, we'll never know, we'll never find out its real intentions, and this will "go away" quicker than rumors of a potential human relations violation regarding the preparation of the gruel in 1930s Siberia.

[Related: Reality: No Linsanity if he didn't play in New York City]

Here's the video, from ESPNews on Wednesday. And while we can't excuse this sort of phrase going through, think of the endless times you've heard it used on either 24-hour radio or 24-cable shows like these to describe a mitigating factor. Again, no excuse for someone on the floor not to raise a hackle and ask the anchor to switch his copy, but it could be an innocent, mortifying mistake:

As a writer, I'm not picking my poison in trying to be safe in failing to deliver some third-hand slamming of what happened in Bristol on Friday night. If the editor in question pulled this as a joke, then he or she should be fired in an instant; and this is coming from someone that wasn't at all in favor of Jason Whitlock's firing (though I did get one Fox News joke out of it on Twitter).

Whitlock's was an unfortunate attempt at humor. This play on words was more of a play on an ethnic slur, if it was intended to reference "chink" as "Asian," even if it was a smarmy joke from someone who is too dumb to know better.

It's an ugly word that happens to double as a type of fissure that would serve as an Achilles heel of sorts in a knight's suit of armor. I'm not being overly cautious when I tell you without looking that, honestly, I wouldn't be shocked if I used that phrase in my breakdown of New York's acquisition of J.R. Smith from Friday, or any other post that or any other day. It's a go-to sports cliché. If it was meant as a joke, by someone who doesn't think the word is "that bad," then this is a fireable offense. If this was meant with malice, then this is a fireable offense.

[ Related: Jeremy Lin named part of experimental Rising Stars Challenge ]

If this really was someone using yet another sports cliché that he or she has to fit into about 20 characters or less? Then that's different. A terrible, awful, oversight. A learning experience, no doubt, and a nice reminder that -- holy crap, this Asian-American kid is amazing at pro basketball, and we happily have a whole new set of double-entendres that we have to watch out for as writers.

To have that oversight -- using a phrase that would go unnoticed most other nights regarding just about any other NBA storyline that details a potential weakness to be exploited regarding a sports team -- possibly paired in a post that mentions Jeremy Lin? That would be mortifying.

To serve as a headline directly below a picture of the most noted Asian-American basketball player in NBA history? I can see why you're either up in arms at your angriest, or dubious at your most patient. You're well within your rights to be both. If you want to be angry and assume the worst, believe me, you have more than enough reason to, and my own blessing. There's a very good chance this was deliberate, and that's astonishing in its insensitivity and tactlessness. Especially in describing someone who never wanted to identify himself with anything more than as "Jeremy Lin, NBA point guard."

Until we find out more, which is doubtful considering ESPN's history, I'm going to ease off a bit. Uneasy with the knowledge that it, honestly, could happen to anyone (especially on an understaffed Friday night) with nobody looking over their shoulder, with no malice intended. That's just my take until I'm proven wrong or the creator, personally, apologizes. Even ESPN's quick statement of apology, issued on Saturday morning, feels unsatisfying:

"The headline was removed [35 minutes after it appeared]. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake."

You, sick of this, are more than welcome to demand a swifter, and more transparent and public reaction from ESPN.

UPDATE:

For whatever reason, we're assuming it's because ESPN found out that the person in charge of the headline was attempting a lame joke, the axe has hit. Here's an extended response from ESPN:

Saturday we apologized for two references. We have since learned of a similar reference Friday on ESPN Radio New York. The incidents were separate and different. We have engaged in a thorough review of all three and have taken the following action:

• The ESPN employee responsible for our Mobile headline has been dismissed.

• The ESPNEWS anchor has been suspended for 30 days.

• The radio commentator is not an ESPN employee.

So there you go. Nothing any of us should be happy about. It seems as if the "chink" comment had more to do with a racial slur than an oft-used part of a cliche referencing medieval armor. That saddens not only because of the racial implications ... but because someone would actually think a headline like that as clever or funny. Do these people have Twitter accounts? Can't they compare their output with anyone else's?

SECOND UPDATE:

Apparently this isn't the case at all. Link coming.

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