Friday, March 2, 2012

The Answer Nobody's Asking For

Oops, she did it again. “She” as in ESPN and “it” as in another offensive race-related headline.

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they will be releasing wide receiver Hines Ward after his 14 seasons with the team. As a result, ESPN put up the following headline:
One could flimsily argue that that there’s no foul here, but as Deadspin writer Barry Petchesky spells out, there’s the other scenario:
Or did you see it and think to yourself that Hines Ward's father was stationed in South Korea and married a Korean woman, so that makes Ward half-Korean, and Korea is a country from which large numbers of people emigrate to the United States, and a portion of those Koreans are women who, for a lack of education or language skills or financial independence or other employment opportunities go into the business of massage, and in certain illegal massage parlors clients can pay the masseuse extra money to manually masturbate them to climax, and a slang term for this post-massage ejaculation is a "happy ending," so you immediately decided that ESPN's headline was racist?
I suppose this proves that history does indeed repeat itself. We are not yet two weeks removed from the “Chink in the Armor” fiasco, and ESPN has already crossed the boundary into racially insensitive territory, to say the very least.

The question nobody seems to be asking is, “Why?”

I will be the first to admit I was late to the Jeremy Lin bandwagon. When friends expressed varying degrees of excitement towards the Houston Rockets claiming Jeremy Lin off of waivers before the season began, I laughed. When the media started blowing up about Jeremy Lin’s “magical night” against the New Jersey Nets, I shrugged it off. When everybody and their mom couldn’t tweet or Facebook about anything else besides Jeremy Lin, I got annoyed.

Perhaps it irritated me most because it reminded me of “Yao Only Fans” during Yao Ming’s era in Texas. I wanted people to view Jeremy Lin from my standpoint -- as a basketball player, not as an Asian American man.

It wasn’t until the first quarter of the game between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers that I became a believer in Jeremy Lin’s skill set. I finally got to see him do work outside the realm of all the highlight videos flooding YouTube, and I confirmed with my own two eyes that he is fully capable of running Coach D’Antoni’s offense and is clearly the best point guard on the team. I embraced the tremendous sports story for all it was worth and realized, guiltily, that attempting to ignore Jeremy’s ethnicity was disrespecting the love and support of my own Asian American community.

As Grantland contributor Jay Caspian Kang insightfully wrote:
Statements like "I see everybody equally, therefore everyone should just talk about him as a basketball player" and accusations of "playing the race card" have become even more ubiquitous. And although the former signals a nice sentiment, it also provides convenient cover for those of us who benefit most from the status quo, regardless of race. Yes, Jeremy Lin became Linsanity because he has been playing at a level that has recalibrated expectations of any obscure player. And yes, there's nothing more tiresome than a long-winded meditation on a basketball player, especially if he's clearly been hijacked to promote some other agenda. But to strip Jeremy Lin of his status as the Great Yellow Hope not only seems dishonest and lazy, it also deprives the community he represents — willfully or not — of the unabashed joy of seeing one of its own succeed in the most improbable arena.

All around me, I witnessed the "unabashed joy" of friends, family, and strangers reveling in the success of Jeremy Lin, a player which the entire Asian American community could relate to. In a world with so few Asian American faces in the public eye, I understood the pride people experienced, even if it was by living vicariously through a 23-year-old point guard.
After this epiphany, I hopped aboard the hype train until its first stop -- the Knicks’ loss to the New Orleans Hornets. The pun-filled Linsanity era finally reared its ugly head with the headline, “Chink in the Armor.”

Would this have happened with any other race? Pardon my language, but HELL NO. And yes, the caps lock was necessary. If, for instance, there were an idiom in the English language that utilized the “N” word in the same manner, a worldwide media outlet such as ESPN would never be ignorant enough to utilize it, no matter what the intention. If ESPN did pull something like that, and twelve days later were to use a similarly degrading headline with racial undertones such as “No Happy Endings” with any other ethnic group, the entire Bristol campus would be turned upside-down. There is only one minority that the politically incorrect media is bold enough to belittle: Asian Americans.

Again, the question nobody seems to be asking is, “Why?”

Back in my undergraduate days at the University of Texas, I was part of an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter called Asian American Campus Ministry. We hosted a talent show one year to advocate for the end of human trafficking and to give a voice to the thousands of victims. A friend, Melissa Hong, gave an unforgettably moving speech that included this story:

I first heard about human trafficking when I was at a VASCON conference my freshman year. While I was sitting in on a workshop, a white man raised his hand and said, “Slavery existed in the United States for hundreds of years, but it ended because people stood together, took a stand, and said, we don’t want this anymore.” And this is where my blood starts boiling and my heart starts pumping, not because he was wrong, but because he was right. He said, “And now, slavery exists today. But I guess Asians are just more quiet.”
So, to answer the question nobody seems to be asking: “Why?”

Because we allow them to.

Photos courtesy of Rant Sports, Fit Perez, and Sports Illustrated.


What ESPN did or fail to do was simply irresponsible. To reconcile their mishaps they fired the writer that came up with the headline. This black mark on his name basically kills his career. All this could have been prevented if ONE person at ESPN stood up and said something. But everyone involved (and trust me there had to have been multiple officials who saw this) just let it slip through.

When will ESPN slip-up with Tiger Woods? Probably never since he's been basically claimed by blacks and advertised as black...

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