Jeremy Lin and ESPN’s 'Accidental' Racism

The spectacular New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin just made more headlines by leading his team to victory over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, with twenty-eight points and a career-high fourteen assists. But that’s not the only reason Lin is in the news. Outrage erupted when ESPN’s website posted a headline about the NBA’s first American player of Chinese origin that read, “Chink in the Armor.” Seriously. An ESPN anchor previously used the same phrase in an interview with Knicks Hall of Fame guard Walt Frazier and it had also been uttered on ESPN radio. But the webpage was captured and the frozen image went viral.

ESPN quickly posted a statement as bloodless as it was insufficient, which read: “Last night,’s mobile website posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. 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.” Then they told the media that this would be their only comment on the matter. After outrage ensued, this was followed by another statement that the headline writer has been fired and the anchor has been suspended for thirty days.

There are only two conclusions one can draw from all of this. Either ESPN has a group of stone racists sitting at the SportsCenter Desk, hosting their radio shows and writing headlines (doubtful), or they have no anti-racist mental apparatus for how to talk about an Asian-American player. As a result we see again that people of Asian descent are subject to a casual racism that other ethnic groups don’t have to suffer quite as starkly.

No one at ESPN would talk or write about a lesbian athlete and unconsciously put forth that the woman in question would have a “finger in the dike.” If an African-American player was thought of as stingy, it’s doubtful that anyone at the World Wide Leader would describe that person as “niggardly.” They would never brand a member of a football team as a “Redskin” (wait, scratch that last one.)

They wouldn’t do it because a mental synapse would spark to life and signal their brain that in 2012, unless you’re speaking at CPAC, that’s just not OK. This collective synapse was forged by mass movements for black and LGBT liberation in this country that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue. There simply hasn’t been a similar national struggle built by people of Asian descent. I spoke about this with William Wong, longtime journalist born and raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, and he said, “We haven’t had a national mass Asian-American civil rights movement because our numbers have been small and diffuse thanks to various exclusionary and discriminatory laws. Our communities are also too diverse in terms of American history and intra-Asian cultural and political differences. But we should note that many Asian-Americans in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were energized by the larger civil rights movement to organize an Asian-American movement in states like California, Washington and New York where we had the numbers to come together.” This is true. In places with concentrations of people willing to stand up, Asian-Americans have come together across differences of language and origin to demand respect and equal rights, often in the face of terrible violence.

The question is, what happens now. We have seen everyone with a media profile trying to grab a little bit of Jeremy Lin’s shine. Sarah Palin is posing with Linsanity shirts. The cringe-inducing David Brooks is writing unreadable columns about what Lin “represents.” Every sports/culture/political writer wants to have their say and bask in Lin’s glow. Let’s see if people rushing to stand with Jeremy Lin will stand up for him as well.

If one good thing comes out of this, maybe sportswriters can stop saying that they don’t think the issues of race and ethnicity have anything to do with Lin’s emergent celebrity. Of course it does. That’s why the hate is so ugly and supporters are so fiercely protective of his seat at the NBA table. The very kind of casual racism Lin has faced—the anti-Asian Twitter jokes, the Yellow Mamba signs, the mock Chinese talk, the catcalls from people attending the games—is something every single Asian-American has experienced at one time or another. That it happens at all is a sad fact; that ESPN is now in a position of having to apologize for something which never should have happened shows just how far we have to go.

12 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Zirin is the bigot towards Asian-American NBA players

Zirin has no credibility on this issue given his own grotesque ignorance about Wat Mitsaka-- the first American-born NBA player of Asian descent.

The Committee for Historical Justice for Wat Mitsaka DEMANDS that Zirin finally correct his egregious historical error!

Wat Mitsaka was the first American-born NBA player of Asian descent.

Apparently Asian people don't register in Zirin's history. Is Zirin a bigot?

Zirin's not a bigot. . .

But it seems to me that you're a pathetic attention whore Tornado. A question for you please:

Could you kindly release the members and executives of the Committee for Historical Justice for Wat Mitsaka? Refusal to do so will be evidence that this committee does not exist.

It's obvious that your obsession and desire to destroy Zirin's career and reputation has reached desperation time. I think it's time you gave it up, and think about something else.

It's called a job. Get one if you dare.

Well Said

"They wouldnt do it because a mental synapse would spark to life and signal their brain that in 2012, unless youre speaking at CPAC, thats just not OK."

Tornado - you ignorant... human

Tornado -

1 - no where in this piece does it say that Lin is the first Asian American player

2 - As Zirin has mentioned. Wat Mitsaka played in the BAA, not he NBA.

3 - Every great political writer needs trolls. That shows he's upsetting the right people. Thank you for being one of the most prominent of Zirin's bigot-trolls. It makes him all the doper.

Ray's lame excuses for Zirin's bigotry and ignorance of Wat Mitsaka

The bigots are out today. Ray's excuses for Zirin's bigotry and ignorance are pathetic.

<<1 - no where in this piece does it say that Lin is the first Asian American player>>

No, Zirin's historical gaffe is in his first--- still- uncorrected -- piece:

Lin-Sanity, More than a Cultural Curio, 02/12/2012

Next excuse:
"2 - As Zirin has mentioned. Wat Mitsaka played in the BAA, not he NBA."

Where in this article has Zirin "mentioned" the BAA? Besides, that is pathetic: everyone knows the BAA was the former name to the NBA.

Why are you making excuses for Zirin's bigotry and historical ignorance? The truth is Zirin's ample arse is in the wind on this one.

Zirin's "accidental" racism

Almost two weeks and no correction for this distortion:

'When you are also the first American-born player of Asian descent ever in the NBA . . . '

Lin-Sanity: More Than a Cultural Curio, 02/12/2012

For the truth, check out the excellent documentary on Wat Mitsaka:

Actually Tornado. . .

The NBA was formed about 65 years ago thanks to a merger from the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League, which, of course, were the two competing pro leagues of that time.

And you've refused to answer my question about the members of the committee you've cited, so that tells me that said committee does not exist except in your own mind.

Sounds like Ray's got it right on point number 3. You sure can dish it out, but you can't take it.

What?! No, dude, he's NOT a bigot nor ignorant.

Uh, Tornado, do you even know what those words (bigot & ignorant) mean?

Wat Misaka was BAA but...

Raymond Townsend, who's of Filipino descent, was a first-round choice of the Golden State Warriors in the 1970s. Rex Walters, who is of Japanese descent, was a first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Nets out of the University of Kansas in 1993 and played seven seasons in the NBA; Walters is now the coach at University of San Francisco.
-AAJA guidlines on Jeremy Lin Coverage

lin racism

What about the fact that lin's strengths are described as being: intelligent. heady, hard-working, or selfless.

The truth is that Lin is athletic, has one of the quickest first steps in the NBA, and actually turns the ball over at a historically high rate.

The dialogue surrounding his game is itself racist and I am sick of people not calling it out.


there was absolutley no need to mentoin the CPAC...your humorless joke about conservatives is just another attempt on your part to paint all people who don't agree with your view as bigots. Heres a news flash Dave, just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean their a bigot. You seem to forget that not every slightly off color comment is racist, you are just one of the brainless robots that bow down to the PC police

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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