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How not to report on Jeremy Lin (hint: drop the racially charged language)

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.
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.
Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty images

"Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American, Latino or Native American?"

So reads a new media advisory put out by the Asian American Journalists Association for those reporting on New York Knicks basketball player Jeremy Lin, a Harvard graduate and California native whose rapid rise to stardom has garnered international media attention, but along with it a good deal of racially offensive press.

Among the most recent examples have been an ESPN headline last weekend that used the phrase "chink in the armor," a New York Post headline reading "AMASIAN!" and an MSG Network graphic showing Lin's face emerging from a fortune cookie. That's just the start.'s server has been out this morning, but the straightforward guidelines were also posted on AAJA president Doris Truong's blog. A list of the reporting "danger zones" doesn't mince words:


“CHINK”: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person on someone who is Asian American. Extreme care is needed if using the well-trod phrase “chink in the armor”; be mindful that the context does not involve Asia, Asians or Asian Americans. (The appearance of this phrase with regard to Lin led AAJA MediaWatch to issue a statement to ESPN, which subsequently disciplined its employees.)

DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to “an Asian who knows how to drive.”

EYE SHAPE: This is irrelevant. Do not make such references if discussing Lin’s vision.

FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.

MARTIAL ARTS: You’re writing about a basketball player. Don’t conflate his skills with judo, karate, tae kwon do, etc. Do not refer to Lin as “Grasshopper” or similar names associated with martial-arts stereotypes.

“ME LOVE YOU LIN TIME”: Avoid. This is a lazy pun on the athlete’s name and alludes to the broken English of a Hollywood caricature from the 1980s.

“YELLOW MAMBA”: This nickname that some have used for Lin plays off the “Black Mamba” nickname used by NBA star Kobe Bryant. It should be avoided. Asian immigrants in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries were subjected to discriminatory treatment resulting from a fear of a “Yellow Peril” that was touted in the media, which led to legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

There's also a link to AAJA's “All-American: A Handbook to Covering Asian America."

The guidelines have been making the rounds on Twitter, and some have commented on the implications of having a need for such guidelines in the first place. Longtime sports columnist and University of Maryland journalism instructor Kevin Blackistone (@ProfBlackistone) tweeted:

Sad that in this day and age we in the media must be reminded of this when covering Jeremy Lin