I am as much of a sports fan as most people are fans of Woodrow Wilson books. They don’t care about Woodrow, I don’t care about sports. My lifetime sports diet consists of the occasional story that transcends ESPN, movies like Jerry Maguire, and several memories of being picked last in middle school. But even I have been drawn in by the story of ‘the headline.’
The online life of the ESPN story in question was about 45 minutes. Since it was 2:30 in the morning, almost no one saw it. Yet, because the headline appeared in an article involving an Asian-American player, the phrase “Chink in the armor” would go from an innocuous cliché to the ultimate expression of racial intolerance.
America was faced with two possibilities:
1) Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Consider, perhaps, that the author was not an anti-Asian activist using subtle racial slurs in headlines of sports stories to underhandedly turn basketball fans towards hatred of those who are different.
2) Freak out and call for the authors head.
Everyone knows what “chink in the armor” means. It is used constantly to describe a weakness in an otherwise strong performance. It properly described what the story was about. The fact that the author didn’t notice the theoretically racial tie between the cliché and NBA star Jeremy Lin is a strong indicator that he wasn’t using it in a derogatory way. No matter.
The mania eventually climbed to such a level that ESPN anchor Max Bretos was suspended for what amounts to an accusation of anti-Asian bias, despite being married to someone who is Asian. This is a phrase that has endured centuries of use, with no offensive origins, and we have supposed news networks like MSNBC actually blurring out the words when covering the story.
Anthony Federico, the author of the original headline, was fired. Once the dust was settled and the blood was spilled, America barely noticed when we were finally able to meet him. He is a Knicks fan. He loves Jeremy Lin. He is a man of strong faith. He is dedicated to charity. He helps his friends in need. He has no reported history of racism and no blemishes on his work record.
In short, there is no evidence whatsoever that would make any rational human being believe that he did this on purpose. Are we really supposed to think a man who gives up his vacation time to travel to Haiti and help earthquake victims, moonlights as a guy who would risk his career on an anti-Asian pun?
In the aftermath, Federico has been incredibly gracious. He took responsibility for the apparent mistake of not predicting that others would apply racism to his words. He apologized to his employer for his role in their spinelessness. He is taking what seems like a completely unfair event, and using his faith to deal with it, and his inner strength as a way to inspire others to consider a relationship with God. He is using his darkest moments to try and share light with others.
Yet, no one stands up for him. No one. All Anthony Federico received from his employer was this public statement:
The ESPN employee responsible for our Mobile headline has been dismissed.
How does something like this happen? It’s based on a cold bottom line calculation that probably seems extremely rational in a board room:
We are a multi-billion dollar company. The public wants a scalp. Investigating the truth, doing our best to discover the intent, soberly explaining the situation to the public, and patiently trying to do the right thing—does nothing for us. There is no upside there. There’s no possible benefit to us in doing the right thing for this nameless, faceless employee. Let’s axe him, and move on with our lives.
This is jellyfish capitalism. It is business without backbone. Pressure groups target companies and their advertisers to create just enough fear to make them ask themselves: “Who cares what is right? Why bother fighting? Where’s the upside for us?”
We’ve come to a point where freedom of speech only exists when others like it. Where we only accept differing opinions from professors, as those professors won’t accept differing opinions form their own students. Where business owners routinely turn control of their companies over to whichever outsider is screaming the loudest.
Why should you care? This is far bigger than one online writer. This isn’t about any one story, one company, or one industry. Sure, it’s easy to sit down and watch a headline writer you don’t know go down in flames. But if you don’t speak up for him, who will be there to speak up for you? More to the point: why should anyone be there to speak up for you?
Anthony Federico’s job at ESPN was to write headlines. It wasn’t to cause international incidents. It wasn’t to put the mouse in Orlando at risk. Everyone understands this, including Anthony. A serious private discussion between Anthony and his manager might have been called for. Perhaps a probationary period was understandable. At worst, maybe a suspension equal to the air personality who made the exact same mistake would have been justifiable.
Instead, we have a giant corporation using the little guy as a scapegoat, with nothing more than fear and greed as motivators, and everyone is silent. The same people who claim to defend the “99 percent” sit by and cheer.
Where is the guy saying that doing the right thing is worth the risk?
Where is the person in power standing up and saying—if he goes, I go?
Where is the Jerry Maguire in this ridiculous sports movie I’m watching?
I started GBTV because I believe the truth should never be compromised. That means maintaining that two plus two equals four, no matter who is telling you that it equals five. It means recognizing that what is right, is always worth sticking your neck out for. It means knowing that the most important time to stand up is when it’s uncomfortable.
The reward for doing so might not seem so obvious. But it’s a long term investment that I firmly believe we all will feel in our businesses, in our communities, and long after our time on this earth is done.