Monday, February 20, 2012

Political and moral incorrectness and “Linsanity”

The world focuses a great deal of attention on the sports industry. We take our teams seriously, our athletes seriously, our games seriously. When all is said and done, “it is only a game” is as true today as it has always been. However, because the sports industry is taken as seriously as it is, at times we take sports far too seriously.

Sports is a multi-billion industry (the NFL generates $9 billion annually, MLB $7 billion) and the business of sports continues to drive interest and awareness. We live in an age where the evolution of social media continues to at times have an overwhelming impact on the word we live in. In an era of instant communication with stories going viral instantly, more so than ever, one can never be too careful about what one is saying – what you say may come back to haunt you in ways you never imagined.

The Jeremy Lin story continues to capture attention. It’s likely in the coming days and weeks the “Linsanity” will calm down and Jeremy Lin’s ultimate fate will be played out on a basketball court. However, as long as Lin remains the “flavor” of the day, how the media, how society looks at this media- driven phenom offers an opportunity to look at how the world we live in looks at a modern day “Linderella.”

Political and moral incorrectness reared its ugliness early Saturday morning on ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide sports leader. Friday night Lin’s New York Knicks lost 89-85, ending their seven- game winning streak, their first loss since Lin became the Knicks starting point guard on February 6. Lin had 26 points for the Knicks but also made nine turnovers. Someone working at created a headline for their game recap “Chink in the Armor.” The headline is completely inappropriate.

In its statement Saturday, ESPN said: “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.”

Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for editorial, print and digital media, Saturday said on Twitter: “There’s no defense for the indefensible. All we can offer are our apologies, sincere though incalculably inadequate.”

While in no way offering an explanation as to what went so terribly wrong at ESPN early Saturday morning, Wednesday night during an interview on ESPNews, Max Bretos, while interviewing Walt Frazier, the Knicks’ analyst on the MSG Network, used the same offensive racial slur.

According to The New York Times, an on-air statement delivered by Jorge Andres, another ESPN anchor, said an “anchor used an inappropriate word in asking a question about Jeremy Lin.” The statement continued: “ESPN apologizes for the incident and is taking steps to avoid this in the future.”

Embarrassed and maligned, ESPN made a decision on Sunday; a scorched earth solution to the series of events surrounding what amounted to a small part of their overall Jeremy Lin coverage, releasing the following statement:

“At ESPN we are aware of three offensive and inappropriate comments made on ESPN outlets during our coverage of Jeremy Lin.

Saturday we apologized for two references here. We have since learned of a similar reference Friday on ESPN Radio New York. The incidents were separate and different. We have engaged in a thorough review of all three and have taken the following action:

The ESPN employee responsible for our Mobile headline has been dismissed.|
The ESPNEWS anchor has been suspended for 30 days.
The radio commentator (Walt Frazier) is not an ESPN employee.

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.”

There have several other examples of inappropriate media reporting and the Jeremy Lin story.

Lin’s most important game to date was the Knicks on February 10 when Lin hit for 38 points in a nationally-televised ESPN game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock offered this inappropriate tweet following the game on his Twitter feed “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.” Whitlock was referring to Lin’s genitals and his Asian-American ethnicity.

Reaction was immediate on Twitter. “Linsanity” was trending worldwide. Whitlock was universally criticized.

The Asian American Journalists Assn. posted a letter to Whitlock, who is African American, on its Facebook page. "The offensive tweet debased one of sports’ feel-good moments, not just among Asian Americans but for so many others who are part of your audience," the letter according to The Los Angeles Times.

The AAJA asked Whitlock to apologize, which Whitlock did last Sunday on the Fox Sports site and via Twitter:

“I get Linsanity. I've cried watching Tiger Woods win a major golf championship. Jeremy Lin, for now, is the Tiger Woods of the NBA. I suspect Lin makes Asian Americans feel the way I feel when I watch Tiger play golf.

“I should've realized that Friday night when I watched Lin torch the Lakers. For Asian Americans and a lot of sports fans, his nationally televised 38-point outburst was the equivalent of Tiger's first victory in The Masters. I got caught up in the excitement. I tweeted about what a great story Lin is and how he could rival Tim Tebow.

“I then gave in to another part of my personality — my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature. It's been with me since birth, a gift from my mother and honed as a child listening to my godmother's Richard Pryor albums. I still want to be a standup comedian.

“The ... tweet overshadowed my sincere celebration of Lin’s performance and the irony that the stereotype applies to pot-bellied, overweight male sports writers, too. As the Asian American Journalist Association pointed out, I debased a feel-good sports moment. For that, I’m truly sorry.”

Whitlock enjoys being at the center of a firestorm, often being his own tempest in a teapot.

In 2006, after deciding he didn’t have enough time to continue writing for’s Page Two but while still wanting to appear on ESPN, in an interview with, Whitlock had less than complimentary remarks about two of his ESPN colleagues. Whitlock labeled Mike Lupica "an insecure, mean-spirited busybody" and referred to Robert "Scoop" Jackson as a "clown", saying that "the publishing of [Jackson's] fake ghetto posturing is an insult to black intelligence."

ESPN ended their association with Whitlock. Soon after ESPN decided they had had enough of Jason Whitlock wrote in The Kansas City Star (September 2006) that he was fired altogether from ESPN as a result of his remarks; he wrote that the company doesn't tolerate criticism and acted as they saw fit.

Aside from his online Twitter apology (published by Whitlock’s primary employer), Fox Sports decided not to discipline Jason Whitlock. Both the headline and Jason Whitlock slurs were inappropriate. Someone lost their job at ESPN for poor judgment, its business as normal for Fox Sports – the same company who has brought Homer Simpson to America and the world.

Last Wednesday, following the Knicks 85-79 win over the Philadelphia 76’ers (their seventh consecutive win), the MSG Network (the Knicks primary broadcast partner) published a picture of a fortune cookie, that featured Jeremy Lin (with his tongue sticking out) and the caption “The Knicks Good Fortune.” MSG suggested the picture was captured from a sign a fan brought to Madison Square Garden that night. The image is silly and insulting. Regardless of who created the sign, the offensive sign appeared on MSG. MSG should be held accountable for the sign appearing.

Jeremy Lin has established himself as a starter for the New York Knicks. The NBA will showcase Lin this weekend during the league’s All-Star Weekend. Lin will appear in Saturday night’s Rising Star’s game (showcasing rookie and sophomore players). This is the same Jeremy Lin who was cut by two NBA teams in December (Golden State and Houston) and was playing for the Knicks NBA D-League (minor league) team just three weeks ago.

The Jeremy Lin story has energized the Knicks and the NBA. It is a breath of fresh air the sports world needs. The ultimate unknown – becoming an overnight sensation. Jeremy Lin has earned all the accolades he’s received. What Jeremy Lin doesn’t deserve (or for that matter anyone else) are the racially insensitive remarks, comments and pictures that have appeared.

For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom

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