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ESPN yesterday fired online editor Anthony Federico and suspended "SportsCenter" anchor Max Bretos for using an ethnic slur in reference to Knicks G Jeremy Lin. The net dismissed Federico for using "Chink in the Armor" in a headline following the Knicks' loss to the Hornets Friday. The headline was posted on ESPN's mobile website at 2:30am ET Saturday and was removed at 3:05. ESPN also suspended Bretos, who used the same phrase when discussing Lin's play on ESPNews Wednesday. The net said that a similar reference was made on ESPN Radio 1050 N.Y. Friday, but the commentator is not an ESPN employee. ESPN apologized and in a statement said, "Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future" (THE DAILY). Federico said that the "racial slur never crossed his mind -- and he was devastated when he realized his mistake." Federico: "This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny." He added that he "has used the phrase 'at least 100 times' in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story." But he said, "ESPN did what they had to do" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/20). Lin after yesterday's game against the Mavericks said, "ESPN has apologized. I don't think it was on purpose or whatever. At the same time, they've apologized, and so from my end I don't care anymore. Have to learn to forgive. And I don't even think that was intentional, or hopefully not" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/20). ESPN Senior VP/Editorial & Print Media Rob King added, "The minute everybody starts patting ourselves on the back over reaching some kind of conclusion on the issue of race, something like this happens and makes us realize how far we have to go. All we can do for now is continue to preach vigilance" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/19).
GETTING A RESPONSE: In N.Y., Mandell & Deutsch noted by Saturday morning, the headline "had created a public relations fiasco" for ESPN, "drawing criticism even from its own staff." "SportsCenter" anchor Michael Kim tweeted, "Thought I was annoyed when I was awaken from deep sleep. Then I checked text msgs/Twitter. Unacceptable. Extremely disappointed." King tweeted, "There's no defense for the indefensible. All we can offer are our apologies, sincere though incalculably inadequate." The Asian American Journalists Association in a letter to ESPN called the headline "inexcusable" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/19). In Chicago, Sean Jensen noted this "wasn’t an isolated incident for ESPN." Another "Chink in the Armor" headline appeared on ESPN during the '08 Beijing Games. Jensen: "I’m looking for ESPN to take ownership of the mistake and to spearhead an institutional change for its employees to be more sensitive, not just on matters of race. In today’s sports culture, the most outrageous and outspoken seem to be rewarded, so inevitably there will be instances when people cross the line" (SUNTIMES.com, 2/18).
INNOCENT REMARK? In N.Y., Skaar & Kennedy note Bretos was suspended for asking in reference to Lin, "If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?" The question's wording "went almost entirely unnoticed at the time," and Bretos "did not appear to be attempting to make a pun." He "tweeted his apologies Saturday, saying he meant no racial reference but would try hard to avoid making the mistake again." Bretos tweeted, "My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/20). Also in N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes if Bretos "spoke the term naturally, without malice," then "why suspend him at all?" And if "it’s not the case, don’t suspend him; fire him." Mushnick: "How can there be an in-between?" (N.Y. POST, 2/20). However, YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote, "ESPN appears intent on owning up to this incident and trying to remedy the situation. Considering the unforgivable nature of the comment and the hurt surely caused by it in the Asian-American community, you can blame Bristol for that" (THEPOSTGAME.com, 2/19).
GOING TOO FAR: In Toronto, Raju Mudhar writes Lin has become "society's latest 'Is this racist?' litmus test." Mudhar: "What's unfortunate is how many people seem to want to cross the line, be it out of ignorance, or even worse, lame attempts at humor" (TORONTO STAR, 2/20). In N.Y., David Carr writes the "over-the-top coverage" that has followed Lin's rise with the Knicks "ended over the line, exposing underlying racist tropes that still lurk in the id of American sports journalism, and by extension, the rest of us." From the beginning, Lin's run "threatened the tabloid supply of puns and superlatives." But all the "froth and fun started to curdle, first on Twitter -- the Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted a crude reference about Lin’s anatomy and the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. suggested that Lin was getting attention because of his ethnicity, not his accomplishments -- and then in the tabloid press -- on Wednesday, perhaps at a loss after several breathless days of punning, The [N.Y.] Post went with the unfortunate 'Amasian!'" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/20).
"SNL" GETS INTO THE ACTION: This weekend’s edition of NBC’s “SNL” led with a skit about a local N.Y. sports program called “New York Sports Now” in which they discussed Lin's rise and how the talk has been in part about Lin being Asian-American. Cast members Bill Hader, Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam played sportscasters sitting at the broadcast desk discussing and joking about Lin in stereotypical and borderline racist ways, but then getting upset and offended when Killam made similar comments about African-American players. Hader asked, “Do you have Linsanity?” Pharoah: “You better lock me up. I am criminally Linsane.” Killam: “My feelings are Lintense.” Thompson: “It’s Lindescriable.” Hader added, “I’ll agree, we’ll never get tired of Lin puns.” Hader: “Some of the discussion has gotten racially charged. We’ve seen derogatory comments from Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock and ESPN.com. The bottom line is, the kid’s a great basketball player and race has nothing to do with it. As the New York Post says, he’s ‘Amasian.’” Thompson held up an image of a fortune cookie with Lin’s face on it and said, “He’s like that sign said at Wednesday’s game. Lin is the Knicks' good fortune.” Pharoah: “He’s sweet, not sour.” Thompson said Lin “turned Kobe into Kobe beef.” Killam replied, “And Kobe’s like, ‘Hey, I ordered fried chicken.’” The co-hosts all said, “What’s up with that?” and took offense to the comment. Hader added, “Leave race out of this.” Thompson said against the Lakers, “Lin goes to the corner and ‘me love you long time’ sinks a three!” Pharoah said of Lin hitting a game-winning three-point shot against the Raptors, “Wax on, wax off Mr. Miyagi, game-winning shot.” After airing a video for Black History Month about Jackie Robinson persevering, which is “why today the sports world is tolerant,” back in the studio, the co-hosts were making karate chop motions and banging a gong. Hader said of the return of Knicks F Carmelo Anthony, “I hope he likes Chinese in his MSG” (“SNL,” NBC, 2/18).
Time Warner Cable and MSG have settled their 48-day carriage dispute, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged Knicks fans’ clamoring to see Jeremy Lin play "'heightened the pressure' on MSG and Time Warner Cable to reach an agreement," according to Beck & Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Cuomo said on WOR-AM Friday, "It is not good to annoy consumers." Execs from the companies had "not talked since December until a meeting Monday at Time Warner’s offices" between Knicks Owner and MSG Exec Chair James Dolan and TWC President, Chair & CEO Glenn Britt. Cuomo on Wednesday "called both men." A source said that Cuomo told Britt, "The team is hot ... and it’s in your best interests to make a deal." Dolan and Britt "met again Friday at the Garden headquarters." Their tentative, oral deal "came in time for Time Warner customers to see the Knicks play the Hornets" at 8:00pm ET Friday on MSG and for the Devils’ 7:00pm game against the Ducks on MSG Plus. Beck & Sandomir noted financial terms of the agreement were not announced. LHB Sports Entertainment & Media President & CEO Lee Berke said, "Time Warner lost control of the story when Chinatown couldn’t see Jeremy Lin. The single greatest investment MSG ever made was picking up Jeremy Lin’s contract" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/18). In N.Y., Nina Mandell cited sources as saying that Cuomo "got involved by phone in the deal over the past few days, which helped give the deal a final push through." New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also "been involved over the past few weeks." After weeks of silence "towards each other, the two sides said they began talking again" last week. One industry exec said, "I'm not surprised if politicians got involved that it got done. I'm more surprised that it went so many weeks without any conversations. And then this kid Lin comes along and he really is the catalyst to all this because it's never about terms of these deals it's only about the money and you would have thought they would have figured out a way to get it done sooner" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/18).
CONSUMER DEMAND: MSG said Friday that it had "reached a tentative deal to put Knicks games back on television for some" 2 million TWC subscribers in the N.Y. area. A state official said that Lin's "phenomenal run forced the deal, along with the recent play of the Rangers." A source said that NBA Commissioner David Stern also "stepped in over the last two days" (AP, 2/17). In N.Y., Atkinson & Soltis noted since MSG was taken off TWC on Jan. 1, the cable company’s 2.8 million subscribers "missed a total of 149 Knicks, Devils, Rangers and Islanders games." Sources said that TWC was "overwhelmed with phone calls" Friday from subscribers "demanding a rebate for the lost MSG games" (N.Y. POST, 2/18). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's William Launder noted Nielsen figures indicated that the average number of households "watching Knicks games nearly doubled last week to 227,360 from 114,019." Ratings are "up more than" 130% compared with the "same point of last season" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/18).
The N.Y. Times' Richard Sandomir and CNBC's Darren Rovell Friday engaged in an extensive back and forth on Twitter that "exploded into a ferocious battle," according to Matt Yoder of AWFUL ANNOUNCING. The dispute began after Sandomir broke the news of the MSG/Time Warner agreement on Twitter and Rovell confirmed the report. Below are a few of the tweets sent by the two sports business reporters.
Rovell: "Confirmed @RichSandomir's report on MSG-TWC deal."
Sandomir: "@darrenrovell Gee, thanks! You confirmed a solid story that didn't need your confirming. You're so keen."
Rovell: "@RichSandomir how much credit are u looking for? I was driving in my car and [WFAN-AM's Mike] Francesa didn't have the courtesy to credit u."
Sandomir: "@darrenrovell When you say 'confirmed,' it sounds as if it's not official until you say it. Can't you just RT?"
Rovell: "Thats what I have to do if I don't report it."
Sandomir: "@darrenrovell I don't want ur credit if it means you 'confirmed' it; that's gauche; means my work needs your imprimatur.It doesn't."
Rovell: "Noted. Wont credit you anytime you report something before me."
The two continued their back and forth. View the entire conversation (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 2/17).
Fox earned a 4.0 overnight Nielsen rating for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night, up 3% from last year’s race. The telecast was the top-rated program of the day and gave Fox a win in primetime among all nets (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In Tampa Bay, Tom Jones writes Fox' NASCAR coverage “is so good, you can't help but watch.” It is “right up there with NBC's NFL and NHL coverage, HBO's boxing broadcasts and ABC/ESPN's college football coverage as the finest in sports broadcasting.” Fox' NASCAR analysts “are a little too pro-NASCAR,” but they are “enthusiastic, and the production is exceptional, especially if you are watching on a high-definition TV.” The camera work Saturday night “on the crash that ended Jeff Gordon's night as well as the thrilling photo finish was as good as anything you're going to see on sports TV.” Fox has added “a bunch of bells and whistles to a broadcast that was already as good as it gets” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/20). Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, Robert McGinty writes the NASCAR season “can be something of a grind,” and most of the races “are agonizingly long.” But Saturday night’s race “is a little bit different,” as it is “just 75 laps with a made-for-TV coffee break 25 laps in.” McGinty writes NASCAR “should take a closer look” at the Shootout format as fans “got everything they wanted in half the time with the dull bits saved for another race” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 2/20).
MYERS OUT FOR DAYTONA: Fox Sports VP/Communications Dan Bell announced that NASCAR studio host Chris Myers “wouldn’t be involved in the Daytona 500 coverage Sunday and would be replaced by Speed Channel studio host John Roberts.” USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand notes Myers’ 19-year-old son Christopher was “killed in a car crash in Southern California Thursday.” The memorial service will be Friday in L.A. (USA TODAY, 2/20). Myers' absence from the Budweiser Shootout coverage was addressed at the top of the broadcast, with Roberts saying, “We are all here with very heavy, heavy hearts.” Fox’ Darrell Waltrip said to Myers, “I just want you to know we’re all standing with you, we love you, we miss you, we’re praying for you. Godspeed to you and the family.” Waltrip’s condolences were followed by a brief moment of silence, and a live shot of the track fading to a picture of Christopher Myers and the words, “Christopher Myers, 1992-2012” (“Budweiser Shootout,” Fox, 2/18). Meanwhile, in Charlotte, Jim Utter noted Motor Racing Network’s Barney Hall “is recuperating from an illness and will not be calling any races at Daytona” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/18).
ABC earned a 4.8 overnight Nielsen rating for yesterday's Mavericks-Knicks game from 1:00-3:30pm ET, marking the net's third-highest non-Christmas Day NBA regular-season rating. The two games ahead of Mavericks-Lakers are Celtics-Lakers from Jan. 30, 2011 and Lakers-Cavaliers from Feb. 8, 2009, which both earned a 5.0 overnight. Mavericks-Knicks also earned a 10.3 rating in N.Y., which is the market's best local rating ever for an NBA regular-season game. In the late window from 3:30-6:00pm, ABC earned a 4.3 overnight for Magic-Heat (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
FIGHT NIGHT: Fuel TV averaged 216,000 viewers for its first-ever live UFC card last Wednesday, marking the net’s most-viewed program ever and best night of primetime yet. The net also averaged 129,000 viewers among males 18-49. The viewership figure for the event was up 1,340% from the net’s average viewership in Feb. ’11, with the average among males 18-49 up 2,050%. The network’s previous largest audiences “came from live UFC preliminary bout coverage for UFC on FX 1 on Jan. 20 and UFC on Fox 2 on Jan. 28, which averaged 148,000 and 144,000 viewers,” respectively (MULTICHANNEL.com, 2/18).
ROCKY MOUNTAIN: Recent college conference realignment likely “points to the end” for The Mtn. While the net’s co-owners Comcast and CBS declined comment, The Mtn. “has struggled to meet expectations since launching in ’06." The net has "no deal with Dish, limited distribution on Comcast and couldn’t ink deals with ops including Time Warner Cable in key markets.” The net ended ’11 with 11.3 million subscribers (CABLEFAX DAILY, 2/21).
PEOPLE & PERSONALITIES: In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman “have inked contracts to return to the Yankees WCBS-AM radio booth.” Both signed one-year deals. WCBS’ contract with the Yankees expired at the end of the ’11 season, and the station “could only get the Yankees to sign a one-year deal” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/19)....In New Jersey, John Rowe wrote ESPN’s Bob Knight “is one of the best college basketball analysts on television." Rowe: "He provides insight into the game, accompanied by a dry sense of humor” (Bergen RECORD, 2/18).