How ESPN Dealt With a Racist Headline

25 Feb

Jeremy Lin, Harvard graduate and Asian-American point guard for the NBA’s New York Knicks, has taken the world by storm in the past few weeks. He went from a virtually unknown bench-warmer to an international superstar in an incredibly short amount of time. ESPN followed him constantly; always giving viewers an update on “Linsanity”. Unfortunately, on Friday February 17, an ESPN headline got the company in a world of trouble.

On that day, the New York Knicks broke their 7-game winning streak by losing to the New Orleans Hornets. Jeremy Lin had been an integral part of that winning streak and rose to international stardom because of it. During the game against the Hornets, Lin led the team in turnovers, revealing a major flaw in his game.

That evening, ESPN.com ran a story about the game with the headline “Chink in the Armor”, accompanied by a picture of Lin.

The headline drew attention from numerous groups, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). The choice of words was extremely insensitive given Lin’s Asian-American heritage. The phrase was especially hurtful to Lin after he revealed that the same racial slur was used to taunt him during his time at Harvard.

Upon receiving the backlash, ESPN promptly removed the headline and released a statement:

“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 next day, ESPN announced the firing of the editor responsible for posting the headline. The editor insisted that it was not meant to be offensive in any way, shape, or form. He claimed that it was an honest mistake meant to show a flaw in Lin’s game.

While the headline was appalling and offensive, ESPN did a good job dealing with it. They quickly removed it from their website (it was only online for around 30 minutes) and issued a statement. Firing the editor was the right thing to do.

Obviously, mistakes happen. I don’t believe that ESPN or the editor meant any racism with the headline; they just made an error. That being said, it is a good lesson for anyone posting on the internet. Before posting, one needs to be certain that nothing could be construed as racist or offensive. Even though ESPN didn’t do this, they did a good job dealing with the problem upon realizing it.

by Jonathan Jebson

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3 Responses to “How ESPN Dealt With a Racist Headline”

  1. Valerie H February 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Jeremy Lin commented on ESPN’s actions and said they had apologized and he didn’t care anymore. ESPN did take action really quick. Ironically, its Sunday’s statement goes, “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…” Perhaps more employee training would help before the milk is spilled.

  2. Jacob Trunsky February 28, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    Really interesting blog, Jonathan! I always enjoy when people post about current events. Although it is unimaginable that mistakes like this can happen, I believe that ESPN handed the situation promptly and professionally. However, I agree that the value of your post comes from the lesson that we must all take away. We must revise all of our work, and it doesn’t hurt to have someone else look over something – they might find an error that you missed. In addition, because of how fast information spreads on the Internet, more people are losing their jobs from inappropriate posts on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. You can never proof your work enough before you submit it!

  3. Julia Millot February 28, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    This article is linsane! It’s hard to believe that even strong companies like ESPN can slip up and make large mistakes. However, I think the way a company handles the situation says much more about their culture than the mistake itself. I’m glad they acted so responsibly and I really think they made the right call in removing the editor from their position.

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