ESPN Fires Writer Over Racial Slur in Jeremy Lin Headline

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An ESPN mobile screenshot taken on an iPad shows the incriminating headline that appeared Saturday morning

UPDATED: Monday 2/20, 2:00 p.m. EST

The headline was up for a mere 35 minutes in the middle of the night, but it has caused enough of a stir to get the writer canned. ESPN is apologizing after the phrase, a double entendre, appeared on the ESPN.com mobile site after the Knicks’ Friday night loss to the New Orleans Hornets. The headline was used to refer negatively to Jeremy Lin’s nine turnovers in the game, but the quip the writer chose was also a racial slur against Asians.

Though it appeared between 2:30 and 3:05 a.m. Saturday morning, only on ESPN’s mobile site, it set off a Twitter firestorm and dominated headlines much of the day as fans wondered if it was intentional. In a statement released Sunday, the news organization confirmed that the company had fired the person responsible. “The ESPN employee responsible for our Mobile headline has been dismissed.” The company noted that they will be reviewing “cross-platform editorial procedures” to ensure that slurs, accidental or not, do not slip by. The burning question of intent is, of course, not provable, but ESPN seems unwilling to consider this an accident – and rightfully so.

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That’s because this is hardly the first slip-up surrounding the Asian-American basketball star that led the Knicks to seven straight wins. Amid the so-called “linsanity “ that saw New York Knicks newbie Jeremy Lin rise to the top of the world’s basketball consciousness, punny phrases came to dominate the headlines, many funny and others just plain stereotypical, and then this racial utterance. And ESPN is taking no chances: two other journalists for the network have used the same words in reference to Lin.

Most glaringly, ESPN News anchor Max Bretos uttered the quip Wednesday night when asking a question about Lin – he received a 30-day suspension from the network after a tweeted apology expressing his embarrassment. And on Friday, an ESPN Radio commentator made a similar reference, but as he was not an ESPN employee, the company couldn’t take any disciplinary action.

Still, the company is trying to make right after a flood of wagging fingers. “We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin,” ESPN’s statement said. “His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. For all airing their opinions about Jeremy Lin, let this be a referendum on cultural correctness.

UPDATE: The fired writer, Anthony Federico, told the New York Daily News on Monday that his former employer “did what they had to do.” He noted he was “devastated” for causing the situation and hopes to be able to tell Lin that it was an “honest mistake.”

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