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Jeremy Lin, professional sports, and those 'underlying racist tropes'

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Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks reacts reacts during a game against the Dallas Mavericks at New York's Madison Square Garden, February 19, 2012.

By now much of the country is familiar with the headline scandal this weekend involving New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin and ESPN, which on Saturday posted a headline with the phrase "chink in the armor." ESPN fired the headline writer, who said it was "an honest mistake," and the sports network suspended an anchor who used the phrase on-air.

Lin, meanwhile, has since told reporters he's not ruffled and believes - or at least hopes - that the headline's message wasn't intentional.

Good thing he has a thick skin. Whether intentional or not, the headline is by now one of a long list of racially offensive and/or divisive cracks, graphics and comments regarding Lin, a California native and Harvard graduate who in recent weeks has become basketball's first true Asian American superstar.

The blog Racialicious has compiled several recent examples, including a graphic from the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes depicting Lin in Chinese imperial garb with the phrase "Imperio Lin," and an MSG Network graphic of Lin's face coming out of a fortune cookie.

There's also video of a Saturday Night Live skit spoofing the cookie graphic and several other cracks. Racialicious' Arturo Garcia gives the show credit, but writes:

Best buckle up, though: the more exposure Lin and the Knicks get the rest of this year, the more inanities we as readers and consumers are going to have to speak up against.

In the New York Times this weekend, David Carr wrote about the "underlying racist tropes that still lurk in the id of American sports journalism, and by extension, the rest of us." From his media column yesterday:
From the start, his run threatened the tabloid supply of puns and superlatives. “Lincredible!” shouted The New York Post on Feb. 11. And because tabloids have a back page and front page to shout from, we’ve sometimes been treated to a double dose of wordplay: “Lin and a Prayer” was the cover headline on The Daily News one day last week, while the back page blared “Just Lin Time.”

But all the froth and fun started to curdle, first on Twitter — the Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted a crude reference about Lin’s anatomy and the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. suggested that Lin was getting attention because of his ethnicity, not his accomplishments — and then in the tabloid press — on Wednesday, perhaps at a loss after several breathless days of punning, The Post went with the unfortunate “Amasian!”

The combination of Lin’s ethnicity and accomplishments created some excess, but no one could have predicted how low it might go. On Saturday, an article on ESPN’s mobile site recycled an ancient and blatantly offensive ethnic slur, and in the process suggested that some corners of sports journalism remained a backwater in the culture, a place untouched by a history of civil rights struggle and decades of progress.


Lin isn't the first, of course, to struggle with prejudice in professional sports, as color lines have long existed. It wasn't until 1947 - relatively recently, considering baseball's long history - that Jackie Robinson debuted as the first major league black player with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

But even in sports where color and ethnic lines were broken long ago, the undercurrent that Carr writes about can still bubble to the surface. Last week, legendary boxing promoter Don King was criticized for using "wetbacks," among other things, while hyping a fight in Texas between Latino boxers Erik Molina and Chris Arreola, who after the fight blasted King as "racist" on camera.

Readers, any thoughts on this?

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