Jeremy Lin Story, ESPN Snafu Expose Latest Diversity Challenge for Journalists

UPDATE: ESPN issued a statement Sunday announcing that the ESPN employee responsible for the offensive headline involving Jeremy Lin has  been dismissed and the ESPNEWS anchor who used the “Chink in the Armor” reference last week is now on a 30-day suspension.

The New York Knicks’ winning streak ended Friday night with its 89-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but just beginning is an investigation into a headline that ended up on ESPN.com’s  mobile Website about 2:30 a.m.  Saturday.

Depending on how you read four words— “Chink in the Armor,” you might have thought it was a reference to Jeremy Lin, the 23-year-old Asian American Knicks point guard, who has become one of the biggest sports stories of the year so far.

At least one Yahoo blogger, Kelly Dwyer has already outlined some of the issues at play.

This screen capture COURTESY OF Gothamist.com, a New York City web log, shows the headline that was posted and then quickly removed by ESPN early Saturday morning.

“Chink in the Armor” is an old saying referring to a weakness in a structure, but the word “chink” has been used as slang in referring in a derogatory to those of Asian descent.

Not the First Time for ESPN

Sadly, this isn’t the first time the “Chink the Armor” reference has been made on an outlet that’s part of the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

Someone posted on YouTube an eight-second clip from an ESPN analyst last month who used the same reference in a question during a broadcast earlier this week.

Are the eight seconds on the air more forgivable than the 30 minutes that the headline was up on ESPN.com’s Web site?

ESPN Apologizes, Investigates

ESPN officials have posted an apology for BOTH incidents, noting that with regards to the latest incident on the mobile site they were determining “appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again.”

You would expect that.

We don’t know what will come from their internal investigation. But, regardless of what happens to the ESPN.com staffer who posted the headline, there are lessons to be learned here.

A Teachable Moment

The circumstances remind us of the importance of ensuring all of our employees are thinking clearly and are cognizant of the meaning and impact of our words.

Yes, it was 2:30 in the morning when the headline went up.  But, as one who for many years worked the overnight shift, I know how important it is even in the wee hours of the morning for employees to be on their game in reflecting the high standards of journalism no when it it is practiced in this age of the 24-hour news cycle.

With diversity as one of our core missions and sensitivity as a component of our ethics code,  the Society of Professional Journalists is always on the lookout for teachable moments from which all journalists can learn.

Beyond the lessons that we have to be careful about headlines that can have a double meaning or racial slurs like “chink,” which violate the part of our SPJ Code of Ethics that says “Minimize Harm,” there should be a newsroom/web site operational structure whereby the internal alarms go off before a headline like this ends up on any news organization’s web site.

The Larger Issue Linsanity Brings

The ESPN headline snafu raises the issue of whether most journalists are prepared to cover a story where the racial or ethnic background of the central figure in the story IS the story.

For journalists, when one’s racial or ethnic background becomes a central component of the story, we have to take the extra mile to check for words we use to describe these figures.

Sometimes our own biases and stereotypical thinking can creep into our copy.

Let ESPN.com’s blunder serve as a wake-up call to the rest of us to seed our writing with sensitivity for those from historically under-represented racial and ethnic groups.

George L. Daniels, a member of the SPJ National Board of Directors, is a former chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee and associate professor of journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.   Read more of his thoughts on BAMAPRODUCER.wordpress.com

 

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  • Nan

    Hmmmm, I would NEVER use that word for this story. Idiots.

  • Bob Stewart

    ESPN pulled the 8 second video from YouTube. Interesting.

    It is also interesting that people still harp on the ethnicity of an athlete or other notable person these days. I recall several years ago, comedians citing that the world was upside down when a white man, Eminem, was the best rapper, and a black man, Tiger Woods, was the best golfer. Of course comedy is comedy and it okay to have a laugh in the proper context even when it involves race or ethnicity. But this was about ten years ago. Around that time, Jarome Iginla, who is black, led the NHL scoring race. The same year, Steve Nash, a relatively short white man, was named MVP of the NBA.

    Today, the hottest player in the NBA, Jeremy Lin, is Asian. The NHL’s top goal scorer during February is Wayne Simmonds, who is black. The top wide receiver in the NFL in 2011 was Wes Welker, who is white. Oh yeah, it is not limited to race and ethnicity. The gender barrier keeps falling. The most notable automobile racer is the female Danica Patrick. At what point does stuff like this change from “man bites dog” to “dog bites man?”

    Perhaps the way to avoid offending people is to stop being so amazed by the accomplishments of the human race.

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  • JP

    This is a dangerous misinformation. Deaf people routinely point as part of sign language, and a few have already been harrassed for “flashing gang sign.” A few deaf people have been shot by policemen who did not realize they were deaf (or ignored others’ warnings.)

    I take this kind of bigotry and disinformation very seriously.


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