February 19, 2012; Source: ESPN | Last week, NPQ took note as Fox sports commentator Jason Whitlock issued an apology for an offensive racial tweet about NBA phenom Jeremy Lin. Now ESPN finds itself issuing a similar apology.

After the Knicks’ winning streak—spearheaded by Lin—ended Friday night, ESPN’s mobile website ran the headline “Chink in the Armor.” The racial slur, regularly suffered by Asians—including Lin, during his Harvard days—was immediately noticed and quickly spread via Twitter and the blogosphere. 

The offensive headline was taken down in less than an hour but the damage had been done. ESPN issued the requisite apology Saturday morning:

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.

Asian groups have nonetheless decried the use of the “C” word.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund released a statement, which reads:

ESPN’s use of the derogatory headline “Chink in the Armor,” describing Jeremy Lin’s turnovers as costing the Knicks its seven-game winning streak on Friday is racist and inexcusable. Although ESPN issued a statement apologizing for its lapse in editorial judgment, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) asks that this apology be aired prominently on ESPN’s television programs, so that it is clear to all viewers that this racist language is unacceptable…The time for apologies is over. The media and the general public must understand that racist language and stereotypes used to describe Jeremy Lin are an insult to all Asian Americans, and no one should tolerate their use.

The Asian American Journalists Association, which had previously called out Whitlock’s inappropriate tweet, posted an open letter to ESPN on their Facebook page:

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…

AAJA’s letter also indicates that the organization sees this as 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.

ESPN heard the outrage loud and clear. The employee responsible for the headline has been fired and a news anchor who uttered the slur a couple of days before the headline fiasco has also been suspended. ESPN responded:

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.

Now if only others would likewise reflect on the harm done by racial slurs and promise to do better in the future. –Erwin de Leon