I stopped watching professional basketball when Michael Jordan stopped playing. Suddenly a 23 year old kid from California has me thinking basketball.
Jeremy Lin is fantastic. He is smallish (6’3″, 200 lbs) by NBA standards, has a Harvard degree when the biggest stars (Bryant and James) completely skipped college, is a committed Christian, and is leading a storied franchise into a playoff berth. Also, it seems, his parents emigrated from Taiwan.
Today, America is in the grips of “Linsanity” and Anthony Federico, a low-level writer for ESPN is out of work. Federico posted a story on ESPN.com about a bad night for Lin. Lin’s nine turnovers arguably cost his team a win, and put a blip in Lin’s remarkable success story. Federico titled his story, “Chink in the Armor.” He was fired for his racial insensitivity.
Lin graciously brushed off the comment and accepted the explanation that offense was unintentional. Federico has apologized with much seeming sincerity. Yet people are still upset.
I think Lin is a fantastic kid and a marvelous story. As the father of two children of East Asian heritage, I am also particularly sensitive to any threats that could upset the happiness of my kids. That is mild. I am ferociously protective of my kids.
That said, I think Federico is getting a raw deal. I do not know how old he is, but I get the sense that he is fairly young. It is entirely plausible that he did not know he made an insensitive remark. He may have gone his whole life without hearing that used as an epithet. If anyone should be in trouble it should be an editor or producer who may be over the age of 40.
It seems entirely possible that we may have begun to eradicate certain words from the long lists of racial slurs. As far as I know, my kids have never heard all the many, many racial, ethnic, and religious terms I grew up with. In fact, my wife who is only 2 years younger than me and grew up in a small community in central Minnesota, did not know all the terms until she was out of graduate school. Coming from northern New Jersey, I had a lot of fun shocking – I mean “educating” – her with a standard Jersey vocabulary. I probably still know a few she never heard.
Most of those words have gone away. I would bet that I have not heard Federico’s term in at least ten years.
Is it possible that the efforts to be more sensitive have led us to be scolds who now have to teach the forbidden words lest they be spoken? If that is the case, we are becoming the problem we tried to solve.