SBD/February 20, 2012/Media

ESPN Fires Editor, Suspends Anchor For Using Slur In Reference To Jeremy Lin

Racially insensitive headline was pulled from mobile site after about 30 minutes
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).

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