Really? ESPN uses “chink” about Jeremy Lin in headline after loss against Hornets. Really.

Racist headline used by ESPN after Jeremy Lin and Knicks' 2/17 loss to Hornets

Sigh. I knew it couldn’t last. Not only did the Knicks finally lose one, but ESPN managed to end its love affair with Lin with a helluva Dear Jeremy kissoff. ESPN last night posted a game story on some mobile editions with the headline “Chink In The Armor” (really) at 2:30 am ET, which was changed after 3 am to “All Good Things…”

ESPN posted an apology this morning, by Kevin Ota, Director of Communications, Digital Media ESPN Communications, who ironically is Asian American and having a crappy weekend:

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.

The network’s Rob King also tweeted a response that linked to the apology:

There’s no defense for the indefensible. All we can offer are our apologies, sincere though incalculably inadequate.

I don’t think this is over yet. There’s no way any producer — even the most inexperienced, underpaid, ignorant, young overnight employee — could not know about the racist meaning of the word “chink.” The headline, placed beneath an image of Lin, was a deliberate use of a racial — and racist — epithet. I hope some serious actions are taken by the network to both punish the person who used the word in this context, and to prevent it from happening again.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time the word “chink” was used on ESPN … to describe Jeremy Lin. Here’s an ESPN anchor (no, it’s not Walt Frazier; ignore the title beneath him) saying “chink in the armor” in a reference to how Lin can improve his game:

(ESPN posted this 11-second video apology today, three days after the incident and only after the use of the word in the headline provoked outrage across the Internet.)

What’s insidious about the use of “chink” is that because the word predates its racist use, in other contexts, it isn’t necessarily racist. “A chink in the armor” is a perfectly legitimate way to describe a strategic weakness, as in a opening in the chain mail of an opponent’s armor that can be exploited in battle. OK, so it’s a real word and a legitimate phrase. When you’re talking about the battle for Middle Earth with Sauron’s hordes. But not when it’s run with a photo of Jeremy Lin. Not when there’s even a hint of association with its anti-Chinese common usage.

And maybe not at all, ever, in the 21st century.

The phrase “chink in the armor” can be traced to the 1400s. It’s had a good long run, and maybe it’s time to retire it. The racial overtones since the late 1800s when anti-Chinese racism took hold in the US has sullied the word so it’s difficult to justify its use in almost any context.

Some people will pooh-pooh this idea and tell me “Oh, come on, don’t be so politically correct, it’s just a word, so what if someone uses it racially, if it’s used correctly it’s fine.”

Yeah, you might have a point. But for most Asian Americans, the word “chink” in any context, or even out of context, on a page by itself, elicits a very specific and predictable response: Our gut clenches. We react viscerally to the word’s racist meaning because we’ve been hit with its history of hate.

We’ve been called “chink” all our lives and told to “go back to where you came from” (even though we might have been born in the U.S.) and taunted by phony Chinese “ching-chong” speech and eyes pulled back into a squint (even in recent years, by Miley Cyrus and the Spanish Olympic basketball team).

These are part of a long list of symbols that are shortcut codes for racial denigration, that can be used in a range from mockery to out-right violence: In 2001, Kenny Chiu, a 17-year-old Taiwanese American boy in Laguna Beach, Calif was murdered and the word “chink” scratched into his car. The word may not have incited the violence but it’s clearly a reflection of the racial hatred that fed the violence. The crime led to the passage of “Kennys Law” which protects hate crime victims.

The word “chink” was the topic of recent discussion within the board of directors of the Mile-Hi JACL, the Denver chapter of the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in the country. The discussion was sparked by the use of the word by The Denver Post newspaper in a Dec. 4 2011 headline, “Chink in euro link for Colorado’s export businesses.”

The word is used correctly, to refer to a weakness. There isn’t even a reference to China, or Asia, in the article. It’s about the euro, and problems facing European economies and how they could affect Colorado. The word “chink” was probably used simply because it rhymes with “link.” No harm, no foul, right?

Here’s how I reacted when I saw the headline: My stomach clenched. I felt a flash of anger (and disappointment, since I worked for the Denver Post, and also its parent company, MediaNews Group). Then I read the article, and relaxed. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of consternation I’d felt when I first saw the word — just the word, out of context — in the headline. The context showed the word was not meant racially.

This headline came to the attention of the Mile-Hi chapter of JACL. The national organization often fights against hate crime and inappropriate use of racial words and phrases, and someone thought the Denver chapter should do something about this headline.

The members of the board (I’m on the board) were split on whether this use rose to the level of pointing it out to the Post’s management. Some of the board members thought that even though the word used correctly, it was worth making a statement because it made us all stop and clench our guts. Others thought because the word was used correctly, there was no issue. I frankly was part of this group.

But Erin pointed out that even if the Post didn’t mean it the least bit racially, this was a teaching moment, a chance to educate the local mainstream media (the only daily newspaper) so that next time, maybe they’d use a different word that doesn’t carry any symbolic baggage.

Just this week, the Mile-Hi JACL board voted to send a letter to the Post that isn’t a criticism or complaint, or written in any confrontational way, but just as a suggestion to perhaps use a different word in the future instead of one that could be misconstrued. Why potentially risk alarming, offending or alienating any readers when a different word would avoid the issue altogether?

The JACL chapter is adding the ESPN debacle to the letter before sending it. If the letter gets even one reporter, copy editor or manager to think for just a moment when they consider using the word again. They might decide to use it, but at least they thought about it. That’s all we’re asking.

I don’t think anyone at ESPN — least of all the employee who posted the game story early this morning about Lin and the Knicks — took a moment to think about the word. Or if they did, they thought the wrong thought: How Lin is Chinese, so this is a perfect word to use. And no one was there to catch the stupendous error of using the word in this instance.

That, I’d say, was a really Linsane mistake to make.


UPDATE:

The Asian American Journalists Association sent ESPN this letter today:

Feb. 18, 2012

Dear ESPN:

New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin had a bad night Friday. Regrettably, so did ESPN. Using “a chink in the armor” to describe Lin’s poor performance was inexcusable.

We at the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) find it hard to fathom how such an offensive headline appeared on your publishing platforms. The phrase was even spoken on-air.

We are glad ESPN has recognized its mistake, and we appreciate the quick apology for the transgression.

Many people, not just in Asian American communities, are shocked that a news company with a long tradition of excellence would use a racial epithet. It’s particularly galling because of the weeks of discussion about Lin, his heritage and even the wave of outright racism surrounding his stardom.

We are particularly concerned that an organization as large as yours did not have the proper checks in place to prevent the mistake. It is hard to fathom how editors on so many of your platforms failed to uphold your normally high standards.

Of course, it disappoints us to see one of our most valued and committed partners in diversity stumble. As you well know, this incident does not live up to the Leadership in Diversity Award that AAJA bestowed on ESPN in 2010. But we trust that you will transform this incident into a teachable moment.

We understand and appreciate that the offensive headline has been removed. But that’s not enough. We would like to understand how it happened and what actions are being taken by ESPN to make sure such missteps do not recur. Your internal review could be instructive for others in our industry who want to improve the systems they have – or need to put in place – to ensure that fairness, accuracy and good taste are reflected in the news coverage of our communities.

As always, AAJA stands with you in our shared mission of diversity in America’s newsrooms, and we welcome an opportunity to discuss how we can help you and your employees treat our communities with the fairness and respect they deserve.

Sincerely,
Doris Truong, AAJA National President
Bobby Caina Calvan and Jam Sardar, AAJA MediaWatch Co-Chairs


Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times comments as an Asian American who heard “chink” growing up.


Longtime Asian American columnist Emil Guillermo with his take on the ESPN gaffe, adding a bit of humor to soften the criticism.


Tim Kawakami in the San Jose Mercury News on how Lin is a role model — and how he missed his talent too.


Feb. 19: SNL opens last night’s show with a skit about Linsanity and race. I squirmed, I laughed…. and I worried that some people didn’t get the point and thought all the anti-Asian racism was funny and still OK:


Feb. 19: ESPN released a statement updating the network’s apology with actions taken:

Follow-up statement and action

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.

(Statement also appears on ESPN’s MediaZone)


Feb. 19: MSNBC segment discussing the racist side of the Jeremy Lin Story:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


David Carr in the NYT writes a column about Lin’s irresistible allure for the media. What’s not to like? He asks. After listing some of the elements that make Lin’s story so fascinating, Carr writes: “Add in the fact that he is an actual team player wearing a Knicks uniform and it’s like spotting a unicorn playing point guard at Madison Square Garden.”


The Washington Post published a story about how Lin’s success is inspiring young Asian Americans to pursue sports. (Shh, don’t tell the Tiger mothers and Dragon dads, though….)


Terrific commentary by Arthur Ch’ien of WPIX11 in New York: “‘Teachable Moments’ Of Jeremy Lin Slurs Should Have Already Been Taught.”


Oh man, here’s yet another sportscaster who used the “chink in the armor” cliche Friday night. Were all these “journalists” so devoid of imagination that they sat on this cliche all week waiting for Lin’s first loss? This one’s by the official voice of the Knicks, Spero Dedes.


Excellent interview segment with MSNBC anchor Richard Lui speaking to Dr. Jame Peterson and CT state rep. William Tong about the work we still have to do to address racial issues in America:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Brian Tong on his blog says he’s glad this happened: “Now we know better.”


Now that the Knicks have lost again, to the NJ Nets (though Lin had what would be a great night for most players with 21 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds), maybe the crazy intensity of the fanaticism over him will settle down. Here’s a very good commentary by MSNBC’s Richard Lui about how Lin’s rise tells three separate American stories.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Funny, sharp and on-target interview with columnist Jeff Yang about ESPN’s racial messup: ”
Jeff Yang On ESPN’s Terrible Headline: Why Not ‘Hornets To JLin: Oh, Bee-hive!’


Wow, this was fast. And pretty damned brilliant. Kevin Yee, who’s starring on Broadway in “Mary Poppins” has created and stars in “Jeremy Lin the Musical” on YouTube:


Doris Truong, the national president of the Asian American Journalists Association, was interviewed via Skype by NBC Bay Area.


Marie Myung-Ok Lee in Salon writes about Lin-spiration and how Jeremy Lin doesn’t just transcend stereotypes, he owns them.


This seems an appropriate final update on this post: The editor who wrote the Lin headline and was fired by ESPN a couple of days later, Anthony Federico, has posted an online apology and explains it wasn’t meant racially and that he’s a good person. I believe him, and hope he finds another gig soon. Here’s a part of the apology:

I owe an apology to Jeremy Lin and all people offended. I am truly sorry.

Actions speak louder than words. My words may have hurt people in that moment but my actions have always helped people. If those who vilify me would take a deeper look at my life they would see that I am the exact opposite of how some are portraying me.

They would see that on the day of the incident I got a call from a friend – who happens to be homeless – and rushed to his aid. He was collapsed on the side of the road due to exposure and hunger. They would see how I picked him up and got him a hotel room and fed him. They would see I used my vacation time last year to volunteer in the orphanages of Haiti. They would see how I ‘adopted’ an elderly Alzheimer’s patient and visited him every week for a year. They would see that every winter I organize a coat drive for those less fortunate in New Haven. They would see how I raised $10,000 for a friend in need when his kids were born four months premature. They would see how I have worked in soup kitchens and convalescent homes since I was a kid. They would see my actions speak louder than my words. They would see that these acts were not done for my glory, but for God’s. They would see that each day I live and will continue to live a life of joy and service.

It never has been or will be my intention to hurt anyone.


UPDATE March 28, 2012: Here’s a nice epilogue to the narrative about the ESPN headline. Jeremy Lin’s family reached out to Anthony Federico, the ESPN editor who was fired for the headline using the “C-word,” and it took a month but Lin had lunch with the fired editor in a Manhattan restaurant. Classy move, Lin.


(Many thanks to a couple of private groups I belong to, AAJA Media Watch and APA Media Mavens — and to Google Alerts — for helping me keep up with the best of ongoing coverage of Jeremy Lin.)


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23 Responses to Really? ESPN uses “chink” about Jeremy Lin in headline after loss against Hornets. Really.

  1. Lelanda Lee says:

    I think the argument to retire the word “chink” is not without precedent. We hardly ever hear the word “niggardly” anymore. It predated the racist “N-word” by centuries, and dates back to Old Norse and its verb “nigla,” meaning to haggle over little things. Language is ever evolving and contextual. The times have turned to where the contexts for using the word “chink” make it more problematic than useful.

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for the contextual addition of the discussion about the “N-word,” Lelanda.

  3. Eandres says:

    I think that chink, as long as it is used in the right context, is fine. Quiet honestly I didn’t even know it was a racist term until this article came out. I even asked one of my Asian American friends what it meant exactly and he didn’t even know it was a derogatory term. Therefore, I think that it is ridiculous for someone to never be able to use the phrase “a chink in the armor,” which is a fairly common phrase, just because it may have some racist undertones.

  4. curtis says:

    it may be in bad taste, but it’s no excuse to turn “chink” into the asian n-word and demand that it never be used by anybody, anywhere, ever. grow up, it’s just a word. those that are offended by it are the ones that give it its power, not the people that use it.

  5. Mark says:

    Eandres, it is not only /not/ a fairly common phrase, but it is about the usage. Obviously if you’re talking about ARMOUR then is makes total sense. But why on earth would you use it to describe the efforts of an athlete who has had to face racial prejudice his entire life? That’s ridiculous. Just because you and some of your privileged friends didn’t know what “chink” means doesn’t mean that it is right. I suspect if you called your friends chinks they would know precisely what it means.

  6. John lee says:

    Most people over 30 have awareness of racial terms, and I suspect that the ESPN writer is. Certainly the guy on tv is. Intentional or not, it was used in a careless way. I don’t think I’d be able to get away with using the n-word, or even other terms to refer to Mexican Americans, blacks, Persians, etc tha were even remotely considered offensive.

    Hownhard would it have been to use the words “kink in the armor” which infers the same kind of structural weakness in something?

  7. Deborah says:

    Eandres, as an Asian-Canadian of Chinese descent, I can tell you that I definitely do view the word “chink” as derogatory (as do most of my Asian-Canadian friends) because of its history as such. As far as I know, its usage as such refers to Chinese migrant-workers who came to this continent in the early parts of the twentieth century, were treated in all sorts of inhumane ways, and were told to “go back to where they came from”, and it was NEVER used in any way other than negatively. So yes, I cringe, I boil with anger any time I see or the word “chink” being used, especially in mainstream media. It has the same affect as the “n” word, and everyone knows not to use that word. We should have progressed past this sort of ignorant racism by now. It is NOT acceptable.

  8. Fasttrackxf says:

    As the blog points out, it’s all a matter of context. The argument is that the many editors at ESPN should have been aware of the associations of the word before using it…instead of giggling like little schoolchildren over the inane pun.

  9. Fasttrackxf says:

    And please, “I asked one of my Asian American friends…” … are they Chinese American? Or maybe they’re Vietnamese American, or Japanese American, or Korean American, or Filipino American? There’s a whole lotta different racial epithets for them.

  10. C W says:

    @ I’m sure that happened….. nice try

  11. Jim says:

    Chink means a narrow opening. It’s often used in the phrase chink in [one’s] armor, which means a weakness that provides an opening for attack. Another common use is in the phrase chink of light (or sunlight), which appears most often in British writing and is similar in meaning to ray of hope. Kink has a few meanings, including (1) a tight curl in rope or wire, (2) a painful muscle spasm, (3) a flaw in a plan, and (4) an unusual sexual taste or behavior.

    So no, they could not have substituted the word for the heading.

    Stop being overly sensitive about “chink”, it has multiple uses in our language, and is fully acceptable if not being used in a derogatory way. Just because it is antiquated does not mean we should get rid of it.

    Really, you should try to not be easily offended. There are plenty of non-racist, derogatory terms I could use instead.

  12. V2Blast says:

    “But for most **Asian Americans**, the word “chink” in any context, or even out of context, on a page by itself, elicits a very specific and predictable response: Our gut clenches. We react to viscerally to the word’s racist meaning because we’ve been hit with its history of hate. ”

    …Nope, just the Chinese Americans. Though the rest of us still think it’s massively racist in this context.

    I’m pretty sure “niggardly” did not stop being used solely because it was close to a racist term. “Chink in the armor” is a perfectly valid expression, and not at all racist – in the proper context.

    When you’re talking about a Chinese American player, in this context, though… Ridiculously racist.

  13. Harry says:

    Jim,

    So Lin has chinks in his head, right? He’s got narrow openings for his eyes? I think you need to travel to Compton and try to use a non-racist, derogatory term for African Americans. Let’s see if you get out alive.

    You need some education on sensitivity. If you aren’t offended by racial slurs, or even comments that could be construed as racial, then you probably a guy who has a red sunburn on the back of his neck… or should you be called a red neck?

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  15. tim bucktoo says:

    Liberalism is a mental disorder

  16. Douglas North says:

    The N-word actually comes from the Portuguese/Spanish word Negro, meaning black, which evolved into Neger or Negar. So saying that the word Chink can be used occasionally as long as it is not used in conjunction with a Chinese/Asian person is similar to me saying that we can say that Justin Bieber was wearing a nigger (black) outfit today. There was a huge problem with an international couch company which produced couches which were “Nigger-black” in color. Is this okay? I’m not so sure.
    I say this understanding that Asians also have very racist issues of their own. There is a very popular brand of toothpaste in Taiwan called “Blackie” or “Darkie” with a very black man smiling with extremely white teeth on the containers. It’s been around for decades. Is it okay? Not likely that black Americans would find that too amusing.

  17. Douglas North says:

    To be clear, some have stated that Chink should be used only outside the context of an Asian person. That’s why I used the N-word in the context of Justin Bieber because JB is white; not sure if it makes it okay. In fact, today black people call each other the N-word all the time & I’ve even heard non-black people call their black close friends that but I’ve never heard Chinese or Asian people call each other Chink. It is THAT offensive. And, I can’t think outside of a high school game of Dungeons & Dragons ever hearing any Asian person use the word Chink in any context at all. There are many other idioms in English which can substitute for the phrase.

  18. Isami Yoshihara says:

    Gil,
    During the 2002 Soccer World Cup, USAToday used “Jap” as an abbreviation for Japan, and I sent them the following email:

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Isami Yoshihara
    Sent: Monday, June 10, 2002 7:18 AM
    To: USATIN: Sports
    Subject: USATODAY.com sports feedback
    In your coverage of the Soccer World Cup, you use “JAP” as an abbreviation for Japan. For obvious reasons, you should use the more acceptable “JPN”. Thank you.

    Almost immediately, I received the following reply:

    From: Dure, Beau [mailto:bdure@usatoday.com]
    Subject: RE: USATODAY.com sports feedback

    Excellent point. Those scores come through one of our automated feeds, but we can make the change for the rest of the games. Thanks for writing.

    Beau Dure
    Assistant Sports Editor – Olympics, Golf, Soccer USATODAY.com

    And they did! Sometimes people don’t know the negative ramifications so it’s always best to bring it to their attention, as Erin had suggested to you all.

  19. Candy Barr says:

    Douglas, not all Black people refer to each other as the N-word, let’s make that clear. Anglo-pilferer, Ching Chong, Dago, FOB, Gook, Hymie, Kike, Prairie Nigger, Redneck, Oakie, Sand Nigger, Sheeny, Wetback, etc. The list goes on. I am a teacher, and I often hear teens — who are not Black — use the term. I always turn around and ask if they were referring to me, and warning them, if they use that around the wrong Black people, they could get shot.

    And referring to Justin Bieber as a nigger doesn’t make sense to me, either. There are so many white and Hispanic teens who dress in baggy pants and shirts . . . It is not limited to Blacks, by far.

    Douglas North
    February 19, 2012 – 9:58 am | Permalink
    To be clear, some have stated that Chink should be used only outside the context of an Asian person. That’s why I used the N-word in the context of Justin Bieber because JB is white; not sure if it makes it okay. In fact, today black people call each other the N-word all the time & I’ve even heard non-black people call their black close friends that but I’ve never heard Chinese or Asian people call each other Chink. It is THAT offensive. And, I can’t think outside of a high school game of Dungeons & Dragons ever hearing any Asian person use the word Chink in any context at all. There are many other idioms in English which can substitute for the phrase.

  20. Chris K says:

    This is ridiculous. The use of the phrase “chink in the armor” is no more racist or derogatory than using the words “niggardly”, “spook”, “spade”, “greaser”, “zippers”, “cracker”, and dozen’s of other normal use words that have real meanings in everyday language and warped usage in slang. Eventually, this hyper-identification of linguistic based correctness will create a ridiculous prohibition on how we speak and communicate. The PC crowd says it’s about weeding out hate but it’s really about control. Anyone can modify their language to conceal a hate filled heart. It’s a stupid and childish battlefront in the crusade for equality and justice in society.

  21. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. I understand that the march of political correctness can be frustrating, but it’s important to keep in mind that for people of color, these words have meanings beyond the “normal” use, and that after hearing “chink” all our lives, the context doesn’t matter, our stomachs clench just when we see the word. I’m assuming you’re not Asian. It’s hard to imagine the experience of hearing and seeing these words in hateful contexts if a person is privileged to not have to worry about it. To those people, being careful with words might be an imposition. To Asians (and other people of color), it’s merely a show of respect. Sure, there are lots of instances when many of the words you mention are fine — it is in the context after all. But even then I’m careful and cognizant when I use them. I know they carry not-so-subtle double meanings. I don’t advocate banning all words with double meanings. But I do think “chink” is a seldom used word that few would miss if we became sensitized enough not to use it. BTW regarding context, that’s why I think it’s fair to fire the editor who wrote the headline but only suspend the anchor who said the phrase on ESPN. Both say they didn’t mean any racial comment by the use of the phrase, and I believe them. But the context of the anchor’s use is conversation and you can tell by watching him he didn’t think about the meaning. In a bold-faced headline that happens to be under an image of Lin, even if the editor wasn’t meaning to be racist, the context is hard to deny. At best, it’s a colossal lack of judgment on the editor’s part, and sloppy journalism to rely on a cliche he claims to have used hundreds of times. The context on the headline is what got him fired,. not his intent.

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  23. Sho Uesugi says:

    The only thing I despise more than racism…is political correctness. I would rather live in a world where people can make off-color, stupid comments which we have the freedom to denigrate than in one where every bloody comment is dissected and examined, and fools offer false apologies. And this “really” catchphrase might want to go the same spot that the word “chink” belongs in…namely the garbage. Really. Really.

    And anyone who watches SNL and misses the point of their sarcasm would also sit through Borat thinking that it was anti-semitic. However, SNL made a good point about the PC police, as well as the acceptability of Asian directed humor, vs Black directed humor. I can enjoy both at times, as long as its not truly racist, and pokes fun at stereotypes. Calling someone a Chink does not fall into this range.

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