The worst fears about the worst fear have come true, and ESPN responded in the worst possible way. According to since-fired ESPN online editor Anthony Federico, the "Chink in the armor" headline he posted early Saturday morning was an unfortunate mix of an oft-used (and, nationality aside, appropriate) sports cliché, and not some awful way to mix in a double-entendre that includes a racial slur used to denigrate people of Asian heritage. Like New York's Jeremy Lin.
Here's what Federico told the New York Daily News on Sunday, following his dismissal:
"This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny," Anthony Federico told the Daily News.
"I'm so sorry that I offended people. I'm so sorry if I offended Jeremy."
Come ON, ESPN.
We chided the company on Saturday for not coming through with more transparency following a weak initial response, but to fire a guy when there was no apparent malice involved? What's so hard to understand about this? You don't just apologize and keep everything quiet and in-house, but then you don't go the extreme other route following criticism and fire the guy.
What's wrong with making Federico's name public, letting him tell the world exactly what he told the Daily News, and using this as a teachable situation? You really don't have to look out for that unfortunate double-entendre in the NBA as much, frankly because there aren't many players of Asian descent in the league. So why not learn and go from there?
Now you fire the guy, extend a story that people were going to forget anyway within two weeks, and now this person is out of a job for doing something that just didn't click to him as wrong because nobody was around to say, "Hey, you know what people are going to think that means, right?"
"What? Oh. Ohhhhh. My bad. Good catch."
I wrote as much on Saturday, in a post that received a fair bit of attention on the front of Yahoo.com (which I feel awful about, despite my measured tone, as it was part of the reaction that likely led to his dismissal), and I meant it. If this was an unfortunate oversight, it has to be treated as such. This isn't an unfortunate oversight by someone driving a school bus or operating a crane in a busy construction site. He's an online editor. And not, like Jason Whitlock (who I didn't want to be fired, either) someone purposely making a bad joke.
We have to be diligent about this, but we don't have to go nuts. And the same goes for the 30-day suspension of ESPN News anchor Max Bretos, who is married to an Asian-American woman, for using the same phrase last Wednesday.
Can't we find a middle ground, here, while continuing to learn?
And can I stop having to write about this?