News and Sports

April 2, 2013

ESPN’s “Chink In The Armor” headline

More articles by »
Written by: MANAA

February 15- In an interview with Walt Clyde Frazier, ESPN anchor Max Bretos asks why NY Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin failed to perform as well (against the Sacramento Kings) as he’d done in the past:  “If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?”

February 18, 2:30 a.m.-Following the Knicks’ first loss in eight games (to the New Orleans Hornets the previous night), an ESPN mobile headline reads:  “Chink in the Armor” accompanied by a picture of Lin.

9:32 a.m-ESPN releases a statement saying the report was taken down at 3:05 a.m.  “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.
“Wednesday night [February 15] on ESPNEWS, an anchor used an inappropriate word in asking a question about Jeremy Lin. ESPN apologizes for the incident, and is taking steps to avoid this in the future.”

MANAA Founding President Guy Aoki calls Rob King (CNN’s Senior VP of Editorial, Print, and Digital Media), who says he’s embarrassed by the gaffe and that they’re currently investigating what happened.  King tells Aoki that ironically, on Wednesday (February 15), at ESPN’s monthly editorial board meeting, he’d advised the department heads to be careful about how they covered Lin.  The executive later explains this further in a February 24 email:  “We distributed a list of guidelines and best practices regarding care with language and imagery to content leaders across TV, Radio, Digital and Print, and those guidelines were further shared with leaders in PR, Marketing and Sales. Those leaders in turn either passed along the guidelines electronically or, as was the case in my group, sat down and had meetings with a wider array of editors and managers to reinforce the importance of reading and sharing those guidelines.”

An e-mail to ESPN employees went out that night and early Thursday morning.  Bretos’ gaff happened Wednesday night, so he may not have seen it. King agrees to call Aoki back when he determines if the headline writer meant it as a joke or didn’t realize “chink” was a racial slur against Chinese people.

Bretos apologizes through Twitter, saying he would be extra-careful in the future.  “My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community. Despite intention, phrase was inappropriate in this context.”


That night-The opening skit of “Saturday Night Live” makes a point of the double standard regarding stereotypes of Asians vs. blacks.  Talking about “Lin-sanity,” two black sports commentators use Asian stereotypes (“me love you long time,” “wax on, was off,” bang gongs, and make karate moves) and everyone laughs, but when a White sports commentator makes reference to mild black stereotypes (eating fried chicken and being late for work), the two Black commentators get upset.  The White anchor reprimands the White commentator, who keeps making black jokes, and by the end of the skit, is fired.

February 19-ESPN releases a press release saying the writer of the headline (later revealed to be Anthony Federico) has been fired and Max Bretos has been suspended for 30 days.  “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.”

Later that day-Guy Aoki issues a press release–“MANAA Praises ESPN for Firing Over ‘Chink’ Headline; Pushes For Better Oversight”—recounting his conversation with King (Aoki can’t cc’d it to King because he never got his email address but King later tells Aoki his press release was fair).

“‘We had not asked for anyone to be fired nor suspended,’ explained Aoki.  ‘King was supposed to get back to me once he understood the intention of the editor who wrote the headline…  But he never called back.  The apology should’ve extended to the entire Asian American community, not to just Lin.  However, we appreciate how seriously ESPN took these gaffes.’

“‘Even though ESPN tried to head off any possible problems, somehow, these derogatory phrases still leaked through,’ pointed out MANAA board member Miriam Nakamura-Quan.  ‘We want to know what new procedures the network will implement to prevent these kinds of mistakes from happening in the future.  There needs to be tighter monitoring of print, radio, TV, and social media.  It’s unfortunate that the Asian American community still has to endure these types of derogatory comments at a time when we should be celebrating the success of Jeremy Lin.  It makes me sad.’

“Racially offensive comments against Lin seem to pop up every other day.  On February 10, writer Jason Whitlock insinuated Lin had a two-inch penis; On Tuesday [February 14], MANAA asked the network to apologize, to reprimand the writer, and to initiate firm guidelines for how its reporters would cover Asian Americans in the future but has not received any response.

“MANAA is calling on all media companies to have discussions with their employees to prevent future racially insensitive incidents.

“Aoki feels that because so much media attention is being paid to Lin, insulting and dismissive attitudes toward Asian Americans will be coming to the surface more often, demonstrating how far this country has to go in its view of the community.  ‘Despite our accomplishments,’ asserts Aoki, ‘there are still two groups that can be joked about with impunity:  Asians and gays.  Hopefully, the media and general public will be forced to reflect on these issues so that we can become a more sensitive and enlightened society.’”

See full press release

February 20– In an interview with the NY Daily News (“Jeremy Lin Headline Slur Was ‘Honest Mistake,’ Fired ESPN Editor Anthony Federico Claims” by Irving DeJohn and Helen Kennedy), fired editor Anthony Federico, 28, says, “This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny.  I’m so sorry that I offended people. I’m so sorry if I offended Jeremy.  ESPN did what they had to do.” Federico says he used the phrase “at least 100 times” in past headlines over the years so didn’t think twice about using it again.  Federico called Lin one of his heroes–not just because he’s a big Knicks fan, but because he feels a kinship with a fellow “outspoken Christian.”

Lin said he gave Federico and Bretos the benefit of the doubt:  “They’ve apologized, and so from my end, I don’t care anymore.  You have to learn to forgive, and I don’t even think that was intentional” (Lin and Federico later have lunch).

ted chen guy aoki

NBC4’s Ted Chen interviews Guy Aoki on the controversy for the noon and 5:00 news.  Chen shows clips of the “Saturday Night Live” skit.  Aoki said he cringed when he saw it.  He knew they were making a point about the double-standard, but he worried some were laughing at Asian Americans and not with them.  “When it comes to Asian Americans, I think subconsciously, they think, ‘Well, you know, they’re very nice people, they don’t fight back, they’re not gonna get really angry about it, and so you can step all over them.”

View the updated segment (without Aoki’s SNL reaction for the 5 pm broadcast)  

The interview is also used by other NBC affiliates including NBC Bay Area KNTV.

February 22- Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) leaders meet with King.

Later the day-AAJA issues a Media Advisory on things to keep in mind when covering Jeremy Lin.  It makes yahoo’s news homepage.

February 23-Because he and King keep missing each other by phone, Aoki emails a list of questions to him to better understand the situation.

February 24-King responds.  In answer to Aoki’s question:  “Since the gaffe was made anyway, has the network come up with a solution to more strongly impress upon on air talent about the seriousness of this matter so it won’t happen again?”

A:  “Yes. Through the disciplinary action, through subsequent meetings with talent, writers and producers, and through an ongoing examination of our process of checks and balances, both from a human and technological perspective.

Q:  “What was the ESPN radio incident, who was it, and was it meant as a joke, or like Bretos, something said without thinking about the significant of the phrase when juxtaposed with a man of Chinese descent?”

A:  “The incident on ESPN radio was not an ESPN production. It was an [sic] Madison Square Garden production that our station aired. That MSG announcer’s action was identical to Max Bretos’. ESPN is not involved in any subsequent action regarding the MSG broadcast.”



About the Author



Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.