ESPN apologizes for Jeremy Lin headline 'Chink in the Armor'

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The New York Knicks winning streak came an end Friday night (Feb. 17) when they lost to the New Orleans Hornets. Jeremy Lin, the player who has come out of nowhere after previously being cut by two other NBA teams, had nine turnovers, instead of the outstanding box score stats h had been putting up during the 7-game winning streak.

At ESPN, early this week on-air analyst Max Bretos wondered if there is a "chink in the armor" of Lin's game. ESPN's website then used "Chink in the Armor" as its headline after the Knicks lost Friday. In case you are unaware, "chink" is a derogatory term for someone of Chinese descent. Jeremy Lin is an American-born son of Taiwanese immigrants. ESPN immediately issued a statement of apology regarding the use of the phrase:

"Last night, ESPN.com's mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake."
ESPN later issued a follow-up statement:

"At ESPN we are aware of three offensive and inappropriate comments made on ESPN outlets during our coverage of Jeremy Lin.

Saturday we apologized for two references here. We have since learned of a similar reference Friday on ESPN Radio New York. The incidents were separate and different. We have engaged in a thorough review of all three and have taken the following action:

    The ESPN employee responsible for our Mobile headline has been dismissed.
    The ESPNEWS anchor has been suspended for 30 days.
    The radio commentator is not an ESPN employee.

We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future."

Obviously the headline was an insensitive, terrible mistake. But was it an intentional use of a racist pun? We aren't so sure.

"Chink in the armor" is an expression. In fact, it's a commonly-used cliche in sports. It has been used on ESPN's site over 3700 times, along with the phrase "Achilles' heel" and words like "vulnerability," " weakness" and " deficiency."

And the phrase "chink in the armor" actually has nothing to do with Chinese people. It has to do with finding either a literal or figurative opening in someone's either literal or figurative armor and using that to beat him or her. "Chink" is an actual word that means a narrow opening, crack or fissure, in addition to its racist meaning.

Obviously, if whomever wrote the headline thought they were being funny or clever - they weren't and they should be fired. And certainly someone along the way in the editing chain of command should have noticed that headline and removed it. But in the video below of Bretos using the phrase on air, we don't think he was using the phrase to be "punny" (and therefore racist).

On the other hand, would we all use a phrase that included the N-word if the N-word happened to have an actual meaning in the dictionary other than its use as a derogatory term for people of African descent? No, we can't see that happening. So why is "chink" OK and the N-word isn't?

Is it only because one has an actual dictionary definition as a word and the other is solely a racist term?

Is "chink in the armor" OK because it doesn't actually refer to someone of Chinese descent?

Is it only OK to use "chink in the armor"  in reference to non-Chinese? Or just towards non-Asian athletes?

What do you think, Zappers?



Photo/Video credit: ESPN, via Gothamist
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