Feb 23, 2012

The C-word: a bigger issue than ESPN

...aaaaand the Linevitable has occurred: a controversy surrounding an age-old epithet has blown up in a way that ESPN would not have preferred. An online editor and a SportsCenter newscaster (Max Bretos, above) were caught using the phrase "chink in the armor" to describe Jeremy Lin's game following a Knicks game. The resulting outcry and a review by ESPN resulted in the editor receiving his walking papers, while Bretos was put off the air for a month -- reasonable punishments for me, considering the racist undertones of the word "chink."

Just for the record: I still don't think either of them meant any intentional offense, and I'm willing to chalk it off as an honest mistake. Even if they did, I still wouldn't let those two ruin what I think is one of the most best sports stories that I've ever seen unfold. It's certainly done nothing to make watching him play any less enjoyable, or dampen my appreciation for his style of play.

On the other hand, letting the issue die would send the message that the lesson has been learned here and we should all just forget about it, well... we can (and should) forgive if they appear sincere enough in their apology, but you still can't expect incidents like these to go away overnight. The same words that carried a racist connotation centuries ago, or even during the Civil Rights movement, still do so today in our daily interactions.

Let me put it this way: just because an Asian-American basketball player from Harvard became an unlikely NBA hero doesn't mean we'll stop being subjected to the same slurs and insults that we've heard on the streets and in the bars, clubs, and restaurants for generations.

People can claim all they want that we've become too sensitive in regards to race and ethnicity, but the whole "words are just words" defense just doesn't fly with me. That attitude does nothing but excuse discrimination and sweep it under the rug, when we ought to be calling the offenders out and teaching them what those words mean to us in the first place. That's a dangerous stance to take, particularly in a society that hasn't so much turned a blind eye to racism against Asians as it has implicitly encouraged it.

Finally, I've got this to say about Bretos' tweets after the fact: I do think he was sincere in his apology, but he definitely could have made the point without having to trot out his Asian wife in the process. Dating, or being married to, an Asian woman (or really people of any racial group, male or female) doesn't automatically mean that one is immune from holding racial prejudices or stereotypical thoughts. 

A simple explanation and an apology would have sufficed in this case; dragging his family and friends into the fray didn't do them, or Bretos himself for that matter, any favors. If anything, it merely gave off the impression that he wanted to distract us from the actual issue.

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