ESPN journalist fired over racist headline

Jeremy Lin林书豪

Courtesy of DvYang via Creative Commons

Posted by Rachel Weeks

“Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets” is an obviously offensive headline to everyone aware of Lin’s Asian descent. But apparently it did not seem so offensive at 2:30 a.m. Saturday when ESPN’s Anthony Federico posted it; he later claimed it was an “honest mistake.”

Just over a half hour later, the post was removed and ESPN released an apology, but the damage was done. Regardless of intent, by Sunday, Federico no longer had a job at ESPN and Max Bretos, an ESPN television personality who made a similar mistake regarding Jeremy Lin, received a 30-day suspension, according to ESPN’s follow-up statement. But were their punishments deserved?

While both journalists have since apologized for their poor word choice, mistakes have consequences, especially in print. Federico’s dismissal may seem harsh, but there are two possible options in this scenario–he intended the use of “chink” to be a racial slur or he didn’t–and in either case, dismissal seems an appropriate response.

The intentional use of a derogatory term justifies dismissal; it offends its readers and damages the reputation of its publisher without providing any additional information that might redeem its use. But even if it was an honest mistake, I believe that it is still grounds for dismissal. After all, it still offends its readers and damages the reputation of its publisher.

Writers’ intentions mean nothing after their words are published. The only thing that matters after that point is the reader’s understanding of those words. In this case, readers understood Federico’s use of “chink” to be offensive. Despite his intentions, Anthony Federico was unaware of his words’ implications. And once journalists lose control over their words, they are unable to do their job and eventually deserve to be dismissed. A journalist’s reputation is too valuable to make silly mistakes.

What role do writers’ intentions play after their words are published? Was ESPN right in firing Anthony Federico? Or is our society just paranoid about racism?

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