I don’t know Anthony Federico.
Nor am I going to tell you what was going through his mind late Friday night during what would be his last shift as an editor for ESPN.com.
What we do know is he wrote the offensive “chink in the armor” headline in reference to New York Knicks phenomenon Jeremy Lin and his turnover-laden performance in a loss to the New Orleans Hornets. And it resulted in Federico’s termination on Sunday as ESPN scrambled to defuse a firestorm questioning the sports media empire’s integrity and sensitivity in describing the NBA’s first American-born point guard of Taiwanese descent who has taken the sports world by storm over the last two weeks.
The choice of headline was at best a negligent colloquialism and at worst a blatantly racist construction with no place in media or society.
Wherever the truth may lie, ESPN had to act definitively to protect its brand. Federico is unemployed as a result.
The 28-year-old offered an apology in an interview with the New York Daily News published Monday morning, saying the headline choice was “just an honest mistake” and one he had used “at least 100 times” in his career. Federico went on to say he completely understood his former employer’s decision to fire him and made no appeal for ESPN to reconsider it decision.
Do we believe him?
And before answering the question, how many times have you used the expression “chink in the armor” over the course of your life?
You can put your hand down. I just did.
We’re not talking about one of the many contrived puns — rumor has it Lin-sanity, Lin-spiration, and Lin-teresting are already on the docket for Merriam-Webster approval — seen as an attempt to be clever on social media. This isn’t an antiquated expression in the same sense of a headline writer hypothetically using the word “gay” in reference to a homosexual athlete being “lighthearted and carefree.”
In using the phrase “chink in the armor” in total ambiguity, I have a difficult time believing the thought of the offensive slur for a Chinese person would enter most minds at first blush.
Of course, Federico doesn’t have that luxury. Regardless of his true intent and whether Lin’s ethnicity even entered his mind, he was paid as an editor to hold a mastery of the English language and be fully aware of the nuances and context of the phrase in reference to Lin and the Knicks. And, on that alone, Federico was negligent and deserved to be disciplined.
Federico told the New York Daily News it was the last headline he wrote that night before heading home at 2:30 a.m. The distasteful headline appeared on ESPN’s mobile website at 2:30 before being removed at roughly 3:05 Saturday morning.
Valid excuse or not, how many of us have found ourselves exhausted and not thinking clearly at the end of a long shift? And has that fatigue ever resulted in a mistake, big or small?
Again, hands down.