Jeremy Lin is perhaps the greatest Rudy calibre story of the modern era. Here we have an athlete who was sleeping on his brother’s couch, wondering if he would be cut from the roster of the Knicks. All through his sports career, Lin has been passed over and cut by two NBA teams. But as we all know, on one fateful day Lin became a common household name and why many people are turning back to the NBA.
And with that attention, comes Big Media headlines and everyone clamoring over Lin’s every move. For Lin, it must be stressful. In addition to trying to play in one of the toughest sports of modern times, where analysts are critiquing his every move and the greatest players and coaches are scheming on way to ‘dismantle’ his game, he has to worry about us silly commentators with a keyboard and a deadline.
When I take to the court and show off my legendary ability to shoot some hoops, though, if someone were to call me the “Magic Marshmallow” or “Frosty the Dunksman” I would not be offended. – Abe Goodman
The biggest media story on Lin so far, aside from his majority-dominating play, occurred last week when two ESPN journalists ran into some trouble for apparent ‘Chink in the Armor’ references they made about Jeremy Lin. Though Lin and others thought no harm was meant, the backlash and outrage caused a fire that could be flamed in media headlines and the story spread. In the world of sports, nicknames and habits are oft discussed in quite colorful terms, but just one typo with Lin can send a good journalist into a purgatory of fallen pundits. One of ESPN’s ‘chink in the armor’ journos is now without a job, the other, who actually has a Asian wife, is suspended.
The story last week encouraged the Asian American Journalist’s Association to release new guidelines for how media should cover Lin. As many readers may know, I do get carried away with my stories at times but I’d even be hard pressed to do a “Asian that Can Drive” headline for my story without thinking, hmm, this one may cause some trouble. ‘The Little Rice Rocket That Could’ proposal some Twitterers made for a future NBA sports game is right up there as well.
Below the AAJA has made some pointer tips for responsible, mature media covering Jeremy Lin. The fact that some of these exist shows you the accidental headlines that have been pouring through the media circuit.
Below are the AAJA’s guidelines, which you can also read on Yahoo!:
1. Jeremy Lin is Asian American, not Asian (more specifically, Taiwanese American). It’s an important distinction and one that should be considered before any references to former NBA players such as Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi, who were Chinese. Lin’s experiences were fundamentally different than people who immigrated to play in the NBA. Lin progressed through the ranks of American basketball from high school to college to the NBA, and to characterize him as a foreigner is both inaccurate and insulting.
2. Lin’s path to Madison Square Garden: More than 300 division schools passed on him. Harvard University has had only three other graduates go on to the NBA, the most recent one being in the 1950s. No NBA team wanted Lin in the draft after he graduated from Harvard.
3. Journalists don’t assume that African American players identify with NBA players who emigrated from Africa. The same principle applies with Asian Americans. It’s fair to ask Lin whether he looked up to or took pride in the accomplishments of Asian players. He may have. It’s unfair and poor journalism to assume he did.
4. Lin is not the first Asian American to play in the National Basketball Association. Raymond Townsend, who’s of Filipino descent, was a first-round choice of the Golden State Warriors in the 1970s. Rex Walters, who is of Japanese descent, was a first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Nets out of the University of Kansas in 1993 and played seven seasons in the NBA; Walters is now the coach at University of San Francisco. Wat Misaka is believed to have been the first Asian American to play professional basketball in the United States. Misaka, who’s of Japanese descent, appeared in three games for the New York Knicks in the 1947-48 season when the Knicks were part of the Basketball Association of America, which merged with the NBA after the 1948-49 season.
“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 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.
While the words are definitely timely, there are lighthearted references made to the background of various players. How many on this list of nicknames for players fit that bill? Larry “Joe” Bird is still called the “Hick from French Lick” in many parts of the country. And Kobe Bryant is called the Black Mamba. There was an explosive dunker named Chocolate Thunder.
As many liberals call me a Georgia hillbilly sometimes for expressing my beliefs as well, I can tell you it does not knock my game off. When I take to the court and show off my legendary ability to shoot some hoops, though, if someone were to call me the “Magic Marshmallow” or “Frosty the Dunksman” I would not be offended. I’d be flatulenced.
And that’s the point here today, my friends. Everyone should enjoy Jeremy Lin. He had made great strides to get where he is and the kid is making the NBA actually fun to watch again. He is Harvard educated and it shows: the smart passes, the high-lofty shots over the big men and the very personable way he talks to the media after the game. Jeremy Lin is a Christian and it shows in his selfless style of play and credit to his teammates.
And there is one other thing: Jeremy Lin is pretty danged American, just as much as any other player on the court. If you listen to him talk after a game, that much should be immediately obvious to you. My worry is that with all the media tiptoeing and lack of common sense, that it may start putting too much pressure on him and whatever ethnic background he’s perceived to have will be the talk, like it is now. It’s bad enough to watch ESPN legends sit around a table and discuss ‘Okay, Lin is good. Now how to teams destroy him so he can’t score.’ What?
The man just got promoted to starter last week, let’s not help other teams figure out ways to beat him. The Miami Heat’s intense play shows that the big names of the NBA are now making it a point to try to lock down Lin’s game at whatever cost, even full court pressing him like he was a primetime Magic Johnson, Bob Cousey or Pistol Pete reborn. I think the best thing to do with Lin is: let him be and let the fans enjoy.
Hopefully we see this kid develop into a John Stockton type player, with legendary passing skills, deadly three point and free throw shooting when necessary and an NBA All-Star. But as he continues his journey, let’s remember to treat him with respect and remember he’s just another American guy. Treat him as such, and media, that includes us. He’s just the same as every other greatest basketball player on Earth in the NBA.