A blot on ESPN's escutcheon?

I was in New York City last weekend when the infamous and seemingly racist headline ran about the Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. The phrase that was used -- a chink in the armor -- is not racist on its own. If you're unfamiliar with the idiom, you can read about it here. But one of the words in the idiom can be a racist slur. I was talking about it with friends and no one could believe that the headline was posted. We freaked out, actually. But one friend wondered if there was any way that the editor was younger and didn't know about the racist connotation. It certainly worked under the non-racist definition -- the article was discussing Lin's turnovers as his Achilles' heel, a fatal flaw in his performance. So I was interested to read this story in the New York Daily News:

The ESPN editor fired Sunday for using "chink in the armor" in a headline about Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin said the racial slur never crossed his mind - and he was devastated when he realized his mistake.

"This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny," Anthony Federico told the Daily News.

"I'm so sorry that I offended people. I'm so sorry if I offended Jeremy."

The headline was up for all of a half hour at 2:30 AM on Saturday. But Federico was fired and an anchor who used the phrase separately was suspended for a month:

Federico, 28, said he understands why he was axed. "ESPN did what they had to do," he said.

He said he has used the phrase "at least 100 times" in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

Federico called Lin one of his heroes - not just because he's a big Knicks fan, but because he feels a kinship with a fellow "outspoken Christian."

"My faith is my life," he said. "I'd love to tell Jeremy what happened and explain that this was an honest mistake."

I thought that was interesting, not just that he said it but that the Daily News included it in its report about the incident. One of the things I find interesting about the Lin story is the effect he's having on people. For instance, I don't like basketball but I really enjoy watching him (my husband thinks this is an awesome development since he's a huge basketball fan). But it's certainly true, as that great Michael Luo piece in the New York Times showed, that his faith and testimony resonate with people as well.

The other thing I think will be interesting to see in coverage is how Lin's faith affects how he handles his work and the attention he receives:

A gracious Lin, who led the Knicks to another dazzling hardwood victory Sunday, gave Federico and Bretos the benefit of the doubt.

"They've apologized, and so from my end, I don't care anymore," Lin said. "You have to learn to forgive, and I don't even think that was intentional."

I just wanted to point out that the Daily News did a good job of naturally incorporating religion into this story, both from Federico's perspective and Lin's. For what it's worth, the guy who was suspended also used the phrase with its non-slur meaning, and pointed out that he would have avoided it if he'd thought of the racial meaning. He added that his wife (and child) are Asian.

Which leaves me with one last religion-related question and it's the kind we don't typically touch here. But I'm curious what you all think. The Daily News writes that the offending headline was the last headline Federico wrote before heading home at 2:30 AM and that it may be the last headline he ever writes. Now, I know that not everyone practices forgiveness or related religious concepts, but why, exactly, was the guy fired? For not knowing that a completely legitimate phrase that has been used for hundreds of years also contains a word with a racist meaning of more recent vintage? Is that a standard we want to use in newsrooms? A requirement that editors have perfect knowledge of racism? I do think that editors should be aware of racism and racist words and strive to avoid causing offense, but when I look at this story, I'm wondering if newsrooms shouldn't do some soul-searching of their own.

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