After Jeremy Lin and his Knicks (is there any disputing that they are his team right now?) defeated the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden 104-97, with Lin having a great game (28 points, 14 assists, 5 steals), that brought the Knicks back to .500 (16-16), but they and their fans are still up in the stratosphere. Defeating the defending champs only confirms the general mood in New York that this team has not only playoffs in its future but perhaps even its own championship, and much of the credit is being heaped on Lin’s six foot- three inch shoulders.
The unfortunate byproduct of all this is that Jeremy Lin, being a Chinese-American, has been the target of some inappropriate comments and headlines (a while back the New York Post had the headline “Amasian” to describe Lin’s performance). ESPN editor Anthony Federico was fired for using “chink in the armor” in a headline, and anchor Max Bretos was suspended for using the same slur when talking to Knicks’ icon Walt Frazier on the air, asking Clyde, “If there is a chink in the armor, where can he (Lin) improve his game?” What the heck is going on at ESPN?
In general the – and I hate to do this but I have succumbed too – LINsanity of all this is a combination of hysteria and happiness of Knicks fans (many in the media including the fired Federico) and the fact that many people do not see race as an issue. However, the sensitivity to race should always be a factor in the way we handle all matters, especially for people who are in the public domain. To use the word “chink” while referring to a person of Chinese descent is appallingly offensive to say the least, and if both Federico and Bretos did so innocently as they claim, then they are still guilty of being incredibly ignorant.
Sadly, race still matters in this country no matter how much we wish it did not. Yes, it is 2012 and we have an African-American president, but that has in many ways magnified the issue as still pertinent. Has any sitting president been under fire more than Barack Obama for a plethora of things that have nothing to do with him being president? People have questioned where he was born, his parentage, his upbringing, his background, his education, his religion, and his marriage more than any other president in history. All of this only exacerbates the need for a continuing discourse on race in this country, not only for our own citizenry but because the world is watching, and no doubt are taking note of how poorly this president has been treated.
Some people have compared Jeremy Lin and Jackie Robinson, but even that can have offensive connotations. Certainly the impact of Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 had an extraordinary social impact that went far beyond the baseball field, and Mr. Robinson had to suffer the slings and arrows of his good fortune, putting up with denigration and intolerance and threats. To his credit, Mr. Robinson held to his principals and beliefs and was a damn fine baseball player, cutting a path for others who would follow him in all sports and all walks of life. To compare him to a modern player, no matter what race, may seem to diminish all that Robinson had to overcome, whether intentional or not.
The impact of Jeremy Lin on his sport and society will never be the same magnitude as Robinson’s, but it does open the door hopefully for more Asian athletes who wish to play in the NBA, and it has started a dialogue (no matter how uncomfortable at times) about the perception of Asian athletes and Asian people in general. The ESPN case (and even the lampooning of it on this week’s Saturday Night Live broadcast) shows that (apologies to Robert Frost) we have miles to go before we can sleep in regards to race relations in this country, whether it is about Asian people or any other race for that matter.
As for now, Jeremy Lin is King of New York (as per today’s cover of the New York Daily News). His success has been most welcome by Knicks fans and most New Yorkers. Wouldn’t it be nice to one day have the conversation be about how great a ballplayer Jeremy Lin is and not how he is a great Asian-American ballplayer? As I said, miles to go before we can sleep.
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