“Chink in the Armor.”
This headline caused a stir among the sports community, leaving one ESPN employee fired and another suspended.
A few days before the ESPN article made waves, the New York Post published an article with the headline entitled, “AMASIAN.”
The question is, how do these racially charged headlines get published without an afterthought to their consequences?
UMass Amherst sophomore Austin Campbell believes that the all-too-common occurrence of these headlines may be because people today don’t see racism as the issue it once was. But racism today is as prevalent as it’s always been, as primetime ABC show, “What Would You Do?” proved.
In “What Would You Do,” the show created an experiment involving an actor playing a deli-owner yelling racial slurs at two Hispanic customers (also hired actors). His slew of insults included things like, “Get back in your pickup truck with the rest of your family.” The experiment was done to see if bystanders in the deli would take any action against the racial injustice. Many sat idly by, looking stunned, but keeping quiet. There was even one man who took the side of the clerk.
As this experiment proved, racism is still a major part of this country’s social construct. While it can be argued that racial slurs are considered to be “free speech,” journalists should be admonished when they use such terms when they are writing for the general public that includes people of all different races.
The unexpected emergence of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin is the most recent example of how journalists don’t know when they have crossed the line. After posting astory with a headline entitled “Chink in the Armor,” ESPN fired front-end editor Anthony Frederico and suspended anchor Max Bretos for thirty days.
ESPN writer Howard Bryant highlighted several other comments made in the sports world, including journalist Jason Whitlock making comments regarding Asian male sexuality and Floyd Mayweather Jr. speaking about a non-black player succeeding at a “black game.” The racial significance of the emergence of Jeremy Lin was debated on Sportscenter, Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, ESPN First Take, and Outside the Lines, among several others.
Melcolm Ruffin, a junior sport management major at UMass Amherst, stated that many of the terms used by analysts unknowingly acknowledge Lin’s race. “Analysts are using terms, saying he’s ‘deceptively athletic’ or saying ‘who says Asians can’t drive’ without realizing they are adding to the racial conversation.”
At the Knicks-Lakers game, fans held up signs reading “The Yellow Mamba” a play off of Kobe Bryant’s nickname “The Black Mamba.” The racial remarks spread beyond the world of sports journalism with Ben and Jerry’s making a special ice cream flavor called “Taste the Lin-sanity” consisting of honey swirl ice cream and fortune cookies. Saturday Night Live’s Cold Open on February 18th addressed the racially insensitive remarks made by the media. The African-American and white anchors would make several jokes that they all would find hilarious, but when one of the white anchors made a joke about an African-American, they all took offense. It did a very job of highlighting the double standard within the sporting community today.
So how can journalists stop themselves from unconsciously (or consciously) using racist slurs?
Poynter writer Tom Huang published an article titled “3 Things Journalists Can Learn From Linsanity” that all journalists (and Frederico, especially) should read. In the article Poynter’s “lessons to learn” are:
- Even as Lin breaks stereotypes, let’s watch out for subtle stereotyping in our coverage.
- Let’s not pigeonhole Lin into restrictive categories.
- This is a feel-good story, so humor should be a part of it. But let’s be careful about using humor that crosses the line.
The racial remarks in the emergence of Jeremy Lin have been so widespread that the Asian-American Journalist’s Society (AAJS) felt the need to release guidelines for what people could and could not say regarding Jeremy Lin. Taboo phrases include “Chink” and “Me love you Lin time.” They also outlined the “facts” about Lin that many typical Americans don’t even know, such as the fact that he isn’t Asian but is an Asian American, more specifically, Taiwanese-American.
Even with the Poynter suggestions and AAJS outlines, how can we guarantee a politically correct racial landscape in sports journalism? The prompt and severe punishment of firing Anthony Frederico is a good start, but he is not the only culprit by any means. Discriminating against athletes because of their race or ethnicity has been going on for far longer than the Jeremy Lin saga. As a journalist your only hope is to raise awareness on the issue and the hypocrisy surrounding it, in an attempt to eliminate it completely.