Monday, February 20, 2012

Jeremy Lin headline slur was ‘honest mistake,’ fired ESPN editor Anthony Federico claims

EXCLUSIVE: 'This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny' Comments (127)
  NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on February 19, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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Jeremy Lin looks on during Knicks' victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

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The ESPN editor fired Sunday for using "chink in the armor" in a headline about Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin said the racial slur never crossed his mind - and he was devastated when he realized his mistake.

"This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny," Anthony Federico told the Daily News.

"I'm so sorry that I offended people. I'm so sorry if I offended Jeremy."

The headline - "Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin's 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets" - appeared on ESPN's mobile website at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday and was removed by 3:05 a.m.

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Battling to contain a furor, the sports network fired Federico and suspended anchor Max Bretos for 30 days because it turned out he had used the same expression on the air last week. ESPN offered profuse mea culpas and promised to be "better in the future."

Federico, 28, said he understands why he was axed. "ESPN did what they had to do," he said.

He said he has used the phrase "at least 100 times" in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

Federico called Lin one of his heroes - not just because he's a big Knicks fan, but because he feels a kinship with a fellow "outspoken Christian."

"My faith is my life," he said. "I'd love to tell Jeremy what happened and explain that this was an honest mistake."

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It was Federico's last headline of the night before heading home at 2:30 a.m. It might be the last he ever writes.

"I had a career that I was proud of," mourned Federico, who worked at ESPN since getting his start there as a temporary intern in 2006. "I'm devastated that I caused a firestorm."

A gracious Lin, who led the Knicks to another dazzling hardwood victory Sunday, gave Federico and Bretos the benefit of the doubt.

"They've apologized, and so from my end, I don't care anymore," Lin said. "You have to learn to forgive, and I don't even think that was intentional."

Bretos, too, said he didn't think of the slur Wednesday when he asked Knicks legend Walt (Clyde) Frazier about Lin on the air.

"If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?" Bretos asked.

The moment passed almost entirely without notice. A video replay suggests Bretos was not trying to be funny but made a poor choice of colloquialism. He tweeted his apologies Saturday, saying he meant no racial reference but would be extra-careful in the future.

"My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community," Bretos wrote. "Despite intention, phrase was inappropriate in this context."

Anchor Michael Kim took to Twitter to defend Bretos. "I truly believe it was an unfortunate use of words but I KNOW there was no malice there," he said.

With Ole Skaar

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