Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin stumbled Friday night, but not as badly as ESPN did. Photo courtesy Chris Trotman/Getty Images North America

Unless you checked ESPN’s mobile website on your tablet or smart phone some time Friday night, you probably missed the controversial headline. After Jeremy Lin and the Knicks lost to the New Orleans Hornets in a game where Lin had nine turnovers, ESPN ran the headline on their mobile website “Chink in the Armor”. No matter your personal feelings about the headline, it’s easy to see where this created a fire storm for the worldwide leader in sports.

35 minutes later, the headline was taken down and replaced with “All Good Things…”, but the damage was already done. Failing to initially catch the eye of the more major media outlets, the story spread like an infectious disease across the social media outlets. Celebrities like Don Cheadle and athletes like Dontrelle Willis shared their shock and disgust at the headline.

As always, though, there are two sides to every story. And in this particular case, there are two ways to view it. Was it a harmless, misguided pun that almost any comedy-based website would get away with or was it an ignorant indictment of why we find Jeremy Lin special? Any way you slice it, ESPN’s blunder this weekend has reminded us all that we simply cannot get away from the issue of race when it comes to Jeremy Lin.

In a column I wrote earlier I said this: “We’re talking about the National Basketball Association, a league where people joke about how much of a minority white players are. Jeremy Lin is Asian; he mind as well be Klingon in the eyes of the NBA.” Yes, I suggested that the NBA is so devoid of Asian players that Jeremy Lin’s presence is almost alien in nature. And yet, I believe I had a point. So why is it that the critics are howling at ESPN?

Twitter Screengrab

A screengrab of Actor Don Cheadle's tweet Saturday morning with the controversial headline included. Photo courtesy Twitter

The fact of the matter is, as with any issue involving race, there is a fine line to walk across. Our nation’s history is flawed with prejudice and hate crimes. And while we can usually get along with each other, the inability (and rightfully so) to forget the past will forever leave the matter of race a tender subject. ESPN did not intend to insult Jeremy Lin or anyone else of Asian descent, but their recklessness in their need to come up  with a catchy headline prodded at feelings left in us by people who did.

More importantly, however, ESPN has reminded us that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot get away from the matter of race when discussing the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin. It’s not our fault, necessarily. Humans are a species of observation. When we watch a sport and almost everyone on the court is either black or white, and someone who is not plays to as high of a caliber as anyone else, we take notice. But choosing to celebrate Jeremy Lin only because he is Asian is a mistake that we can avoid. NBA scouts will tell you that basketball has risen to be an international sport. Much like baseball, the NBA  has no problems accepting the fact that there is talent abroad. And, quite frankly, the fact that he played his college ball at Harvard and stayed all four years probably hurt him in the eyes of scouts as much as anything else.

So yes, Jeremy Lin is not your typical NBA player. A part of it is because he is Asian, but most of it is not. If we are going to celebrate him on all of his underdog attributes than there is no need to revisit the most sensitive of them when we criticize his game. This is a notion that some editors at ESPN briefly forgot Friday night, and they are likely going to have to answer for their mistakes.

NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
Follow Bryan Lienesch on Twitter @bclienesch.