Jeremy Lin: Basketball Sensation, Target of Racism from ESPN

If you follow basketball at all, you’ve no doubt heard about Jeremy Lin, the basketball sensation currently playing for the NY Knicks.  Lin’s story is one of a classic underdog.  No NBA team drafted Lin out of Harvard. The Golden State Warriors signed him and then waived him after one year; the Houston Rockets waived him after two weeks. Until just a few weeks ago, he was sleeping on his brothers’ couch.  Once he got the chance to play with the Knicks, scoring an astounding 38 points (against Kobe Bryant’s 34 points), Lin became a sensation, puns abounded (“Linsanity!”) and remarkably, almost no one – hardly an NBA coach, general manager, scout or fan — saw it coming.


Jeremy Lin is also Asian American, and the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. So, in the white-dominant culture of the U.S., this necessarily means that race is central to Lin’s story.  As David J. Leonard point out, Lin’s success has energized many in the Asian American community who see in Lin a role model, while at the same time, highlighting the persistence of racism.

The most recent, and high profile, form of racism directed at Lin has come from ESPN, the sports network, which ran the headline, “Chink in the Armor” on Friday, under an image of Lin in action, on its mobile website:



ESPN has now fired the employee responsible for an offensive headline.  In a statement today, ESPN says it conducted a thorough review and dismissed the employee responsible for the headline “Chink In The Armor” about Lin’s nine turnovers during Friday night’s game.  ESPN says it removed the headline 35 minutes after it was posted.  The term “chink” is a racial slur, used to denigrate people of Chinese descent.

But this is not the only racism toward Lin from ESPN. A similar incident went mostly unremarked upon.  On Wednesday, an ESPN anchor Max Bretos asked Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier: “If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?”

In a statement, ESPN says that Bretos has suspended for 30 days for his comment.  Kevin Ota, the director of communications in digital media for ESPN, posted a message today that reads, “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.”

More than apologize, it seems that ESPN needs to review its internal policies and beef up the corporate diversity training on the use of racial slurs.


  1. I will say that “chink in the armor” is a pretty common phrase. So I can kinda cut Bretos some slack if he asked that question off the top of his head.

    But the headline just seems so intentional. Actually, when I first read it, it didn’t occur to me what the problem was. It took a few moments for me to hone in on “chink.” The thing is, whoever wrote the headline was definitely thinking of a way to reference Lin in the headline, much like “Lin-sanity” or “Va-Lin-tine’s,” stuff like that. So if “chink” is what came to mind, then we got issues.

    I’m not sure the issue here is training on the use of racial slurs. Like I said in reference to Bretos, the phrase “chink in the armor” is race neutral in its everyday use. Of course, there could be some etymology I’m currently unaware of, but it’s something said all the time without reference to race or people.

    So while training could be useful, I actually think the problem here boils down to diversity on the staff. A lot of people, including myself, may have let the headline slide in the process of making a split decision. I’m assuming that there’re others, quite possibly of Asian descent, who would’ve caught it the moment they saw it. Or, at least before it hit the mobile app.

    And while we’re on the topic of news staff diversity, I’m on the only one who noticed the difference in the way CNN/MSNBC(/I don’t watch Fox) covered Whitney Houston’s death and funeral and the way BET covered the tragedy?

  2. Peter L.

    The phrase is race neutral, really?!? I guess if you’re not Asian or Asian-American…

    And nice derail at the end there re: Whitney Houston. Blaque Swan, you should know better than that.

  3. John D. Foster

    I’m with Peter L. on this one. Heck, even Buzz Bissinger from the Daily Beast said on CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday that the “chink in the armor” line was “definitely offensive,” while actually saying the face of Lin put on a fortune cookie was not, saying “The fortune cookie thing didn’t bother me…I don’t think it rises to the level of calling him a gook or a kike. People are having fun with it” (see the clip at Asian Americans remain largely safe targets for blatantly racist imagery and comments, by black and white Americans alike.

  4. cordoba blue

    I have so many Asian American customers that I don’t even say any words that start with “ch” around them. I’m paranoid. So I agree this was deeply offensive. They could have used a dozen other idioms. The problem is if you’re not specifically the race being ridiculed, you tend to dismiss the severity of the offense.
    Try explaining, by the way, the Civil Rights Movement to kids of various races who aren’t black, but who were discriminated against also.That includes Asian Americans with darker skin tones.
    I asked a little 4th grade girl from India yesterday to write an essay on the CRM. She was very dark, by the way. She looks up at me with big brown eyes and said, “Would I have had to go to the Colored Restaurants”? I told her “no” because I just couldn’t do it. It’s hard discussing the CRM with children, that’s African American or any other racial group that isn’t considered caucasian. It’s part of our history, so I need to do it. But it’s painful!

  5. You misunderstand my point.

    To use the phrase “chink in the armor” in reference to Lin the way the headline did is indefensible. That was clearly racially based. One of those obvious things not even Newt G could explain away.

    But in every other context I’ve heard it used, “chink in the armor” had nothing to do with race. The Patriots’ defense is the “chink in their armor.” Michael Jordan’s insistence on making player decisions is the “chink in his armor.” On its own, the phrase is race neutral.

    Especially since I thought the retarded fortune cookie thing was as bad as it would get. Then, boom! A Chinese person in the armor. What?!

    And no, I’m neither Asian nor Asian American, and that was part of my point. It took a moment for me to catch how the phrase was being used, even after knowing ESPN had done something offensive in regards to Lin. Whereas had it been a black player and the headline read, “Spook in the Graveyard,” it wouldn’t have taken me the time to finish reading the headline to see the problem! Just seeing, “Sp” without -ook would’ve been enough for me. See, I’m admitting to my own deficiency, and it’s real hard for me not to use aforementioned words to make a point. But I’m admitting to my own flaws and suggesting that “diversity training on racial slurs” wouldn’t be quite enough to prevent what happened. If I had been in charge, hopefully I would’ve caught it before the final, fatal “enter” was pressed. And I know a whole lot of racial slurs.

    What’s needed is a more diverse staff. To Peter L’s point, there’s no doubt in my mind that had someone of Asian descent been in charge, that incident would’ve never happened. Just like a more diverse staff would change the way the Houston tragedy was covered. As a black woman whose had Whitney to listen to and be mesmerized by and aspire to be my entire life, do I need to talk? Like you can’t Lin-magine. The first time I saw the word “Lin-sanity,” I thought Vince Carter had done something magical again and ESPN had misspelled the word.

    Was I trying to derail the conversation? Not really. The one guy got fired, deservedly so. He clearly needs some sort of . . . something. The other guy was suspended. I wouldn’t have suspended him, but be that as it may. My point is that news organizations, including ESPN, need a more diverse staff. Then a lot of this stuff wouldn’t happen. I’m sorry Asian Americans are safe targets for racism, but who isn’t besides white Americans? I’m sorry even blacks join in the target practice – [You can fill in my probably derailing comment here. It’s not about Houston.] – but we’re all subject to this white-dominate culture. And though my primary irritants are gay-rights groups who make as though blacks owe them some sort of unquestioned support (Groups like Human Rights Watch, Jessie, not any and every gay person.), I will remind us that black Americans live in America, too. Everybody’s influence by this pro-white, pro-heterosex society. I only expect different groups to be sensitive about the issues concerning their specific group(s). Therefore everybody needs to be represented in decision making processes so at the very least, the media is cleansed of offensive and insensitive imagery towards anyone.

    And if you can’t be respectful and understanding about Ms. Houston, don’t mention her at all. As awful as the incident was, and for all the obstacles and stereotypes Lin has to face, he’s alive!

  6. cordoba blue

    @ the above comment, “but we’re all subject to this white-dominate culture.”
    I don’t think that should ever be an excuse for one minority group to make denigrating remarks about another minority group. I’ve seen that reasoning on here before, that if Latinos make rude remarks about blacks, it’s because they are subject to the White Societal Influence. Have you ever spoken to a Mexican who lives in Mexico about other racial groups? Or an Asian who lives in Cambodia about African Americans?
    You are responsible for how you interact with other people. You and you alone, after age 18. That’s how it works. I can’t tell a potential employer that I might be late to work sometimes because “my mother was usually late to her jobs”. I can’t tell a police officer I was speeding because “my Dad always sped through this neighborhood. It’s a cultural thing”. When does the “white influence” stop and the personal responsibility start? Age 21, 25, 32,,,which age? At which age can we begin to use reason instead of claiming “it wasn’t my fault! White people made me do it!” That applies to any race.
    If we can’t escape from our own lack of logic and see our way clear with our INTELLECT, then why bother having discussions about race? It’s like trying to explain sociology to a squirrel. He’ll never get it. But we can “get it”.
    If you continously shirk responsibility for your own behavior, you are ultimately lost in any situation. And nobody unfortunately knows all racial innuendos, because the list is endless.
    With the best of intentions, sometimes people make mistakes. I was looking at a computer screen image of a black friend of mine’s black boyfriend. Her computer wasn’t working properly and she was always adjusting it. Anyway, when her boyfriend came on the screen I squinted my eyes and asked if she could lighten the image, because the screen was so dark (as it had been previously) that I couldn’t see his face.
    As soon as I said this I thought,”Oh Damn! I shouldn’t have said that!”. But she was cool. Didn’t blink an eye, just fiddled around with the screen. You have to be able to discern when people are being just jerks versus making inadvertent harmful statements. It’s hard to walk on eggs all the time,,if not impossible. A certain degree of trust has to be there if it’s going to work, between friends anyway.
    As far as journalism goes, try to keep everything totally race neutral. Even when “just kidding”. Many times comedians say things that nobody would ever get away with. It’s tremendously insulting. Sometimes people say things in jest, as Shakespeare told us, that they feel in earnest in their hearts.

  7. NDiv

    So as Asians, we should not be proud of Jeremy Lin?

    I’m proud of him, I’m proud of him for pursuing basketball despite the strong bias in Asian communities (both in Asia and the US) against pursuing athletics. There is a dearth of Asians in many sports, but not in my opinion because of discrimination or white dominance, rather it’s due to the fact that few Asian parents encourage their children to pursue athletics.

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