Jeremy Lin, who was born in the U.S. and is of Taiwanese heritage, is off to one of the best starts in NBA history. But much of the talk surrounding the New York Knicks breakout point guard has revolved around race.
After his first loss as a starter, ESPN analysts wondered aloud if Lin had any weakness using the worst possible phrasing: asking if there was “a chink in the armor.” Since then, the network has fired the person responsible for publishing the headline on ESPN.com and suspended a broadcaster for 30 days, as well.
Despite the controversial nature of using this phrase to describe this player, the most socially damaging things ESPN could have done were issue a public apology and reprimand its employees.
Imagine a young Knicks fan who loves Lin and sees ESPN apologize for using “chink in the armor.” He then asks: “Dad, what does chink in the armor mean?”
Dad answers saying that it’s a phrase used for when someone has only one weakness. Then the young fan asks why it’s bad to say, and dad is forced to explain to him the derogatory use of the word “chink.” Thus, a meaningless racial slur is preserved because of the hyper-sensitive political correctness of modern media.
By acknowledging this gaffe to such a degree, ESPN increased the social damage exponentially. The headline was only up for 30 minutes and the phrase was only uttered twice out loud: once on TV and once on an ESPN radio broadcast by a non-ESPN employee.
The ESPN.com statement issued stated, “we are aware of three offensive and inappropriate comments made.”
In a certain context, the word chink can be offensive, but the “armor” idiom is used so frequently in sports journalism that it should take precedence. Instead, ESPN wrongly deemed the statements “offensive and inappropriate” and further perpetuated the perceived racism.
From a public relations standpoint, the response from ESPN was a no-brainer. Yet, we ought to care more about the public’s continuing recognition of fake words created by hate-mongers. By ignoring pre-existing definitions and acknowledging ridiculous slurs in an effort to not be considered racist, the media does the exact opposite.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities.” Media outlets deciding that, because Lin is Asian, he therefore does not have the capacity to be described using a commonly used phrase is the real racism.
The overreaction the comments spurred outweighs the severity of the comments themselves. Ridiculous concepts like racial slurs will never go away with this attitude. ESPN should have stood firm behind its employees who, most likely, had no bad intentions.
In a case like this, the racism exists nowhere but in our own minds. If Lin was of another race, the headline would have read the same, the unnamed writer would still have his or her job and people would be talking about exactly what they should be: Lin’s game.
Joe Polito is a senior majoring in mass communications.