Only fired ESPN editor knows truth behind his offensive Lin headline

February 20, 2012 | Luke Jones

Only fired ESPN editor knows truth behind his offensive Lin headline

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.

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Bernie Says:

    Anyone who’s been around the newspaper industry in the past 25 years knows this is an example of the accidents waiting to happen when you let a bunch of unqualified people have influential roles in sports “journalism.” There was a time when the only people who worked for media outlets were trained journalists who often had to spend years doing the “dirty work” (updating box scores at 2 a.m., covering low-level high school sports, etc.) before they were even allowed to be the last set of eyes on anything that was for public consumption. Today, any kid who is willing to work for low pay can be an “editor” for one of the thousands of websites, blogs, twitter accounts, etc. that pose as modern “journalists” outlets.

    Was this a racist statement? Of course it was. But the controversy says more about the headline writer’s lack of awareness about his profession (which he apparently thought was nothing more than to make his frat brothers giggle) than his ignorance of racial sensitivity.

  2. Erich Hawbaker Says:

    Well put sir. This is another fine example of political correctness running rampant. Now, what was probably an honest mistake is still a big deal even when the guy who it was directed at doesn’t really care. The standard is no longer whether or not anybody was actually offended, but rather whether or not somebody could be. What America really doesn’t need is one more guy in the unemployment line over nonsense like this. Way to go, ESPN…

  3. Irregular Ed Says:

    Luke,

    I saw the headline “c—k In the armor” positioned above a game photo of Jeremy Lin to describe the end of the Knicks winning streak. I have also heard and read about the backlash and the resultant firings and suspensions.  

    What confuses me is, if the expression was offensive the first time it was uttered and used in print is it any less offensive when repeatedly used by those on the radio and tv damning the initial occurrences?

    It reminds me of the former Grey’s Anatomy actor Isaiah Washington’s uses of the word, “fa–ott”, in reference to a fellow actor.

    In subsequent reporting, “the F-word” or, “homophobic slur”,  was used as a descriptor. I really do not recall “fa–ott” being repeated over and over like “ch–k in the armor” is.

    Why is this being handled differently? Wrong is wrong.

    Isn’t it?

    (L.J. – The colloquialism “chink in the armor” is not offensive when it stands by itself and is a common expression used to describe a weakness. It was offensive in the context of it being used as a headline for describing Jeremy Lin and his performance. That’s the difference. If someone was simply using the first word “C—k” by itself in describing what happened, then it would be inappropriate.)

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