In February, a few eagle-eyed NBA fans spotted what turned out to be an inadvertently racially insensitive headline penned by an editor on ESPN's mobile site. The cliché "chink in the armor" was used to describe Asian-American New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin's turnover-prone growing pains, but because the first word in the headline can also be used as a racial epithet to describe Asians, the editor was eventually fired. Anthony Federico, the editor, claimed that his use of the phrase, while distressing, was unintentional. And we believed him.
On Tuesday, Lin had lunch with the editor, in an attempt to show that there were no hard feelings. Outside of ESPN re-hiring Federico, this is as good as these stories usually end. From Newsday:
"The fact that he reached out to me," Federico said. "The fact that he took the time to meet with me in his insanely busy schedule ... He's just a wonderful, humble person. He didn't have to do that, especially after everything had kind of died down for the most part.
"We talked more about matters of faith [and] reconciliation. We talked about our shared Christian values and what we're both trying do with this situation .. . We didn't talk about the headline for more than three minutes."
Newsday's Anthony Riebar reports that it was Lin's family that got in touch with the editor via email, after Federico's apology following his dismissal. The only reason it took this long for the two to meet is because, as you may have read, Jeremy Lin is the starting point guard on an NBA team that is playing a slapdash 66-game schedule.
A Knicks spokesman and Jeremy Lin's representatives both told Newsday that Lin would like to decline comment on the lunch. Bummer. The least he could have done was take some Instagram pictures of his club sandwich to post on Twitter.
From the outset, we were dubious that Federico's headline was some lame attempt at frat boy humor. It's always possible to use a phrase with racial implications — as Steve Kerr, Rick Kamla and I have found out in our time in media — and be unaware that the phrase was that bad, on a level with other words we won't even reprint. But because the phrase that Federico used is such a go-to move for those of us in the business of churning out endless amounts of copy, it makes sense that he was the victim of two significant factors (the fact that Lin's turnover issues were a mitigating influence on his game, and his Asian-American heritage) aligning in an unfortunate way.
ESPN's defense, and it is a fair one, is that Federico should have given the headline the once-over, known that some would construe it as a reference to the racial epithet, and gotten rid of it. And yes, you are supposed to spend your time working at a computer coming up with headlines for ESPN's mobile phone application in the first few hours of a Saturday morning as if you're dreaming up front-page ledes for the Washington Post at the height of the Watergate scandal, so pointing out that relatively few people actually saw the headline isn't much of a defense. The relative obscurity of Federico's output is no excuse for the misstep.
It was a mistake, regardless of the intent, and Federico claims that it was unintentional. We take his word on that, and whatever the intent, Lin has forgiven his slip-up. And though Federico would probably like his job back, his class and tact in this whole affair is to be commended.
He also got to have lunch with the starting point guard of the New York Knicks. Not a bad capper, if you ask me.
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