On Friday, ESPN’s mobile website included the following headline “Chink in the Armor” to refer to new New York Knicks’ sensation Jeremy Lin’s poor game against the Charlotte Hornets.
An ESPN anchor person also used the term on ESPN News. Reaction around the sports world and the Internet grew quickly, and ESPN.com had to work quickly to address the racist comments by its employees.
ESPN addressed the issue by apologizing for the comments. Today ESPN issued a statement that it fired the employee responsible for the mobile headline and suspended the ESPN News anchor for 30 days.
Were the actions taken by ESPN enough for Jeremy Lin, sports fans, and ESPN fans, to feel comfortable that the network took the offensive comments seriously? For the most part, I think ESPN acted quickly and appropriately. ESPN took the ultimate action against its mobile employee by terminating him. ESPN never defended the actions of their employees and conducted their own investigation into the matter without delay.
While I don’t quite understand why ESPN only suspended the ESPN News employee, they must have good reasons. Hopefully, those reasons will be communicated to the public soon (unless there’s a legal reason they are not allowed to do so).
There have been other high profile cases of racist or offensive speech by radio hosts and commentators. One of the most famous on air incidents in recent years was that of Don Imus who called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Initially, CBS only suspended Imus but, after a public outcry, the radio station fired him. Many people and critics felt that CBS took too long to fire Imus.
One thing is clear; ESPN has a good legal team and public relations staff. The legal team and public relations staff must have provided good counsel to ESPN executives, since the network didn’t delay their response to a potentially damaging incident. The network has obviously learned the public relations nightmare that can occur when action to offensive speech is not addressed earlier.
I’m sure many people will argue that ESPN is responsible for the horrible comments that were aired publicly. I disagree. ESPN trains its leaders about diversity within the network, and I’m sure the network has provided all their employees with diversity training and made them aware that offensive and racist speech will not and cannot be tolerated. I don’t feel the company can force every employee to be decent human beings. That’s an impossible task.
What a company can do is address individual cases of offensive speech. ESPN did that. What more could the network do?
While I agree that they did handle the matter appropriately, the company should donate money to groups that fight discrimination. It would be a nice gesture if ESPN donated $250,000 to those groups. Maybe they will still do that but they didn’t mention it in their press release.
The company should also improve its diversity program and retrain all their employees immediately. It’s obvious that some employees aren’t complying with company policies. A new round of diversity training would help to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future and would help the company to defend itself if a rogue employee acted like a racist again!
Please note: Sportmentary quotes an offensive headline issued by ESPN and it’s for journalistic integrity only!
Photo Credit – NY Daily News