What Can Be Learned From ESPN's Use Of 'Chink In The Armor'?

The "Chink In The Armor" headline that ran on the ESPN Mobile platforms late Friday night into early Saturday morning, appearing for roughly half an hour, probably needs a bit more explanation. The headline drew widespread reaction Saturday morning, ranging from shock to shrugged shoulders. Some couldn't believe a headline containing such a loaded word ran on a prominent sports news site, while others felt the term was just a figure of speech.

If you missed it, this was the mobile headline.



Right away, the problem is apparent. Plastered across the landing page is a photo of Jeremy Lin. The first word a reader sees underneath the photo is "chink." This is absolutely a problem and there's no excuse for it.

Late Friday night, I wrote about the offensive headline and said, "This was unintentional -- it had to be unintentional." This was less a declaration and more a hope that whoever wrote the headline did so without realizing the meaning and offensive nature of it. At best, it was an innocent mistake. At worst, it was a blatant attempt to squeeze a racial epithet into a headline. And somewhere it between, it may have been an effort to create a headline with a double meaning that the writer thought was funny.

We're flying blind here, and the hope is ESPN will open a window into the editorial process to explain what happened. Because the headline writer is anonymous, assuming intent is akin to taking a shot in the dark. We also have no idea what the staffing was like or how many checks and balances there were at the time, though we can safely assume far less than on a normal, mid-day shift.

There is context to this all, as well. A "Chink In The Armor?" headline ran on a 2008 story about Team USA's Beijing Olympics journey. On Wednesday, an ESPN commentator used the phrase while asking Walt Frazier a question about Lin. At one point, the video was on ESPN's website, but it was pulled before Friday night, as far as I can tell. I know where it was, but could not find it again. That it seems to have been scrubbed shows there was some kind of awareness about the phrase and its meaning.

But intent probably doesn't matter here. The fact of the matter is the headline should've never ran in the first place. Whether it was an attempt to shock, be humorous, or blatantly jab at Lin's heritage simply doesn't matter. It was wrong.

ESPN has apologized for both the headline and the on-air statement, and that's a start. Editor-in-Chief Rob King even tweeted about the headline, saying it was "indefensible." The swift response should be commended, even if the headline should've never ran in the first place.

Finally, Jon Bois has the best take on the Jeremy Lin phenomenon and what we can all learn about the casual, and perhaps not-so-casual, racism bubbling underneath it all.

The primary objective of this conversation isn't to go around calling people racist and trying to make them feel like shit. It's to encourage people to critically assess their words and demonstrations. Racism can manifest itself in a thousand different ways. "I hate _____ people" is only one of them.

There is an opportunity to learn and grow here. It's unfortunate the opportunity presented itself under such unfortunate circumstances, but there are serious conversations that can be borne out of the incident.

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