Have we become so hypersensitive that a phrase in use for half a millennia must now be banished from the English lexicon? I'm speaking, of course, of the furor created last week when ESPN's mobile site ran a story headlined "A Chink in the Armor."
The idiom is commonly used to describe the vulnerability in an otherwise impenetrable defense. Its etymology goes back to the Middle Ages, when knights in battle wore suits of armor that covered their bodies head to foot. Opponents looked for small openings -- chinks -- through which they might thrust their swords or other weapons.
The ESPN story mentioned that the New York Knicks' star point guard, Jeremy Lin, turned the ball over nine times in the team's first loss with Lin as a starter -- the most by one player in the NBA this season. But what made the ESPN headline so controversial was that Jeremy Lin is, in addition to being a terrific player, a Taiwanese American. The protests poured in as readers -- and even more political activists and pundits -- decided the headline was a racist pun on Lin's ethnicity.
Really? I find it implausible given the context of the original story and what has come to light about the person responsible. The 28-year-old headline writer, Anthony Federico, appears to be an exemplary young man. Federico, whom ESPN has since fired over the headline incident, has spent his free time volunteering in orphanages in Haiti, visiting Alzheimer's patients, working in soup kitchens and helping the homeless. He seems more like the Good Samaritan than a racist yahoo.
But let me be clear: Anti-Asian prejudice has been an ugly part of American history, a subject about which I have written extensively in the context of immigration. And unfortunately, discrimination against Asians hasn't disappeared today, especially when it comes to college admissions.
Ironically, Jeremy Lin may well have suffered from a different form of discrimination. Despite his obvious athletic talents and high school record, no school offered him a basketball scholarship, and he ended up playing for Harvard.
Did schools pass on Lin because he was Asian? Possibly. Most high school basketball stars who played for state championship teams would have been offered a scholarship. But in Lin's case, college coaches and scouts may have ignored him because of his ethnicity.
The question isn't whether Asians are frequently the subjects of discrimination and prejudice, or even whether Lin's race has been an obstacle in his battle to succeed in sports. The question is whether ESPN reacted properly to what was an innocent use of a commonly used idiom.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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