Fired ESPN editor: I didn't mean anything racist in my Jeremy Lin headline

Nothing says “slow news day” like debating whether some random guy’s turn of phrase was or wasn’t secretly motivated by racism.

Actually, I take that back. Nothing says “slow news day” like one of those viral vids of a cop tasering a defenseless person. But since I don’t have one of those, this’ll have to do.

The ESPN editor fired Sunday for using “chink in the armor” in a headline about Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin said the racial slur never crossed his mind – and he was devastated when he realized his mistake.

“This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny,” Anthony Federico told the Daily News…

He said he has used the phrase “at least 100 times” in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

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.”

“My faith is my life,” he said. “I’d love to tell Jeremy what happened and explain that this was an honest mistake.”

Lin himself said he didn’t think it was intentional, and as I write this, 58 percent of readers who took the Daily News online poll at the link above agree. I lean towards thinking that too, just because if the racial connotation had occurred to Federico while he was writing the headline, it also would have occurred to him that it was career suicide to go ahead and publish it. The only other explanation is that he knew the word “chink” had some sort of racial association but, for whatever insane reason, didn’t realize that it was offensive. Is there a single copy editor anywhere in America who’s that naive?

But it’s not cut and dried. I think Patterico’s too dismissive in waving this away as “political correctness gone amok” since, like Ace says, Lin’s race has been part of the “Linsanity” fascination since he first broke out. Any undrafted player coming off the bench to torch the Lakers for 38 points at the Garden would be a story, but if it’s a brainy Asian kid from Harvard, you’ve got a stereotype-shattering hook capable of driving demand through the roof. Media coverage of Lin’s race ranges from photos of silly signs spotted in the stands to serious pieces about reaction in China and Taiwan to the occasional lame racial joke tweeted by a sportswriter to criticism from other athletes that Lin is overhyped because he’s Asian. (Note to Floyd Mayweather: Yes, there are black players in the NBA capable of putting up stats like Lin has over the past three weeks. But not many.) Fans are so conscious of Lin’s race, in fact, that even though Federico’s headline went live at 2:30 a.m., it was yanked just 35 minutes later — rapid reaction for such a late hour. It’s certainly possible that Federico didn’t make the connection between Lin’s race and the phrase he used in the headline, but since he worked in the busiest news hive of American sports — which had devoted plenty of airtime to the many angles of Linsanity — he surely was aware at least that race was one of those angles. That’s why Ace is skeptical, and why I’m a little hesitant even though I think Federico probably meant no harm.

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