How can a single innocuous phrase land one ESPN employee a 30-day suspension, cause another employee’s termination, and prompt a national rant about racism? In a bygone day, when common sense trumped banal emotionalism, we’d have laughed at the possibility. But it’s today’s reality and we’re all worse for our so-called enlightenment. 

ESPN’s broadcast and electronic media employed the phrase “Chink in the armor” in reference to New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin’s first subpar performance. Lin is of Asian heritage. The offending parties became instant racists, and the comments pronouncing their guilt are as innumerable as they are mindless. My question is, quite honestly, has everyone lost their minds?

Only someone seeking offense, or wholly ignorant of what “chink in the armor” means, could consider the term an affront to Asians. The phrase dates to the 1400s and has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. It identifies a vulnerability or weakness. Since Lin had experienced his first bad game as a Knicks starter, the phrase was wholly appropriate for questioning a perceived flaw in his game that future opponents might exploit. Had the headline read “Chink blows Knicks’ winning streak,” the outrage would be understandable. But even Lin dismissed any racial intent. That should’ve ended it.

The mere presence of a word that can be used as a derisive term isn’t in itself racism. We might consider the ESPN employees naïve for not anticipating reprisals for their choice of terms. However, intentionally interpreting a word or phrase out of context is equally foolish, if not downright stupid. If only this were the first time speech manipulators had twisted words to propagate racial strife. It’s not. 

ESPN took the coward’s way out. The network could’ve defended their employees without offending anyone of Oriental heritage. All ESPN needed do was present the true definition of “chink in the armor.” But ESPN chose to toss their people overboard, reflecting a longstanding tradition of irrational reactions at ESPN and their partner, ABC Sports.

Remember the Rush Limbaugh-Donovan McNabb controversy? Limbaugh said nothing that demeaned McNabb as an athlete or as a man. Yet he resigned from ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown for political reasons. Limbaugh’s not alone. ABC dismissed Howard Cosell for saying of Washington Redskins’ wide receiver Alvin Garrett, “that little monkey gets open, doesn’t he?” As obnoxious as Cosell was, no one cognizant of his history could’ve considered him racist. Cosell was an avid defender of black athletes. Yet out the door he went. 

Cowardly judgments concerning race and offense aren’t unique to ABC and ESPN. In fact, they are culturally systemic. Either ignorance is hailed as enlightenment, or people eager to prove their tolerance intentionally take words and phrases out of context. The culture has become so saturated with politically correct censorship that every speaker and writer must guard their words to avoid being labeled a racist goon. Free speech can’t exist, let alone thrive, is so hostile an environment.

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