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Jensen: Jeremy Lin gaffe shows that ESPN must stop slurring its words

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Updated: March 20, 2012 8:27AM

From an early age, people constantly reminded me that I was different.

There was no greater challenge than spending my first six years in South Korea — one of the most homogenous countries in the world — then growing up on melting-pot military bases on opposite coasts of the United States.

Being one of the few Asians in my schools, I endured all the unoriginal and ignorant comments, references and stereotypes, many of which I’ve seen since Jeremy Lin emerged from NBA benchwarmer to NBA world-beater.

But there was one word I couldn’t brush aside: chink.

That word triggers something inside me, taking me back to some of the ugliest racial incidents of my life. Hearing the word in a gym, while playing basketball, or on a highway, after accidentally cutting someone off. Or hearing it in the basement of a friend’s house as a teenager when another kid — in an effort to antagonize me — called me a chink and dropped to the floor when I clocked him.

Twice in a 24-hour news cycle, ESPN used the tired phrase “Chink in the Armor” after Lin turned the ball over nine times in an 89-85 loss Friday to the New Orleans Hornets, snapping the New York Knicks’ seven-game winning streak.

The headline on the website — more so than the anchor’s reference on ESPN News — is egregious, perhaps the most appalling mistake in a regrettable week that featured a graphic of Lin’s face over a broken fortune cookie and a juvenile reference playing off a stereotype.

Yet the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” can serve as an example moving forward.

I’m not so concerned about an explanation in the obvious breakdown in protocol that allowed such a reprehensible headline to appear to millions, even if only for 35 minutes, in the wee hours of the night.

I’m also not looking for a head to roll, a sacrificial lamb.

Instead, I’m looking for ESPN to take ownership of the mistake and to spearhead an institutional change for its employees to be more sensitive, not just on matters of race. In today’s sports culture, the most outrageous and outspoken seem to be rewarded, so inevitably there will be instances when people cross the line.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident for ESPN.

Another “Chink in the Armor” headline appeared on ESPN in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics.

At minimum, ESPN should eradicate that phrase from ever taking up any space on its website — or on its airwaves — again. And others should take note of how offensive the word is and file it under ethnic slurs they should avoid at all costs in any instance.

There is, after all, nothing wrong with being different. But there is something wrong — and often dangerous — in highlighting the differences in people.

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