Anthony Federico, the ESPN editor fired over the Jeremy Lin “Chink in the Armor” headline, issued an extensive apology on Twitlonger, reasserting the profoundly unfortunate headline was “an honest mistake.”
I wrote thousands and thousands and thousands of headlines in my five years at ESPN. There never was a problem with any of them and I was consistently praised as an employee – both personally and professionally. Two weeks prior to the incident I had my first column published on espnW.com. My career was taking off. Why would I throw that all away with a racist pun? This was an honest mistake.
Federico also pointed out his prodigious charitable activities, which complicate any notion of him as a deliberate racist or a malevolent soul.
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.
In a sober light, ESPN satiated the thirst for vengeance. Apologies and honest discussions of racial issues are productive. Ruining careers for malice-free mistakes and engendering a climate of fear is counterproductive. Unlike with Max Bretos, however, what Frederico did was demonstrably wrong. His “Chink in the Armor” headline was offensive and avoidable. Readers are conditioned to expect wordplay, puns and double entendres in headlines. The link between the headline and the racial slur was, in that context, logical and direct. The gaffe was unintentional, but it should have been apparent beforehand.
Firing Federico was unmerciful. We feel for the former editor and wish him well, but when your mistake causes a PR disaster for a multi-billion dollar enterprise, termination is, sadly, not outside the range of reasonable outcomes.
Previously: ESPN’s Fired “Chink in the Armor” Editor Says it Was an Honest Mistake
Previously: The ESPN Ombudsman (Poynter) Has Chimed in on L’Affaire Lin
Previously: ESPN Took a Harsh Stand With the Max Bretos One Month Suspension
Previously: ESPN’s Insensitive Jeremy Lin Headline: “Chink in the Armor” [Update: ESPN Apologizes]