ESPN Runs For Cover Over Lin, Bretos

The sports anchor made a mistake. But not one that deserves punishment.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I’ll just bet that phrase has been uttered by every right-minded broadcaster in the history of the media that have carried every unscripted utterance, every slip of the tongue, every idiotic statement and every unforseen double entendre ever propelled into a microphone.

ESPN Anchor Max Bretos: Have some sympathy.

Say it again, brothers and sisters of the congregation, because another has fallen.

In the case of ESPN vs Linsanity vs bad puns gone wild vs Max Bretos, Bretos is the one getting shafted.

Shafted by his own bosses, and shafted by a large public element that fails or refuses to see alternative theories to, or plausible explanations for, Bretos’ now infamous and unfortunate choice of words in questioning an analyst about a drop off in the play of New York Knicks’ rookie sensation, Jeremy Lin.

ESPN’s suspension of Bretos is the source of my objection and concern here. The firing of an on line editor is another story and I’ll get to that later.

But first, Bretos.

You’d be correct in feeling that asking about a “chink in the armor” in Lin’s play is not at all an appropriate choice of phrase when speaking about a man of Asian descent. At least I hope you would.

Unless I miss my bet, I’ll wager a few bucks that Bretos would agree.

I don’t know Max Bretos. Not at all. So maybe it’s my folly to conclude that he’s as horrified by his choice of words as anybody else, perhaps even more so. If not, however, you can be assured that ESPN would have gone beyond suspending their man for 30 days. They’d have fired him outright. Instead, they opted to slide their dutiful employee under the proverbial bus, for what might very likely be nothing more than an unfortunate confluence of using a perfectly acceptable and often used phrase within a context that immediately made it mean so much more than it usually does.

Have you never used the phrase? I have, often in my career as a broadcaster and writer. As I mentioned, it’s a perfectly acceptable choice of words to be used when questioning the suitability of one’s continued battle readiness.

For those who don’t know, and I can’t believe there are really that many, a chink in the armor means a crack or fissure, a weakness on an opponent. Suffer a chink in the armor in the “olden days” and you were likely to have enemies aiming their lances directly at it. Fast forward to modern sport and it’s a turn of phrase you’d have heard over and over and over again. After the Green Bay Packers stormed out to a 13 and oh start, did their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs suggest they had a chink in their armor?

Pretty pedestrian, in that context. A cliché, really. Clichés get to be clichés by being spoken again and again and again. That means they can fly out of one’s mouth at any given moment without dutiful thought. As well as automatic, time-worn intention.

New York Knicks’ star Jeremy Lin has been slighted. Just not by Max Bretos.

Entertain, if you will, the notion that not everything that passes a broadcaster’s lips is perfectly crafted, planned and executed. That’s hardly a stretch, right? Ever say something in the spur of the moment that was, in almost immediate hindsight, idiotic, just plain stupid or could easily be construed as rude, obnoxious or even racist? Me, too.

Once, while manning the microphone for a Toronto radio station’s morning show, I was talking about the power of a rather large African-American athlete. I blurted out, “Yup, he’s a big boy…” with absolutely no racial overtone implied. I knew what I really meant (I’d used the term “boy” or “young man,” or “kid” dozens and dozens of times before when talking about white athletes) but was petrified by what the perception could be in this case. I’d barely gotten the words out before I started to realize how they might incorrectly be taken. 

Quite frankly, I rather doubt that Bretos purposely chose to use that phrase in a way that would be insulting to Lin, or anyone of Asian descent. If he did, I’d wholeheartedly agree with the idea that he be taken to the town square and pelted with rotten tomatoes. Or at least the modern age equivalent, be roasted on Twitter.

No, I’ll bet that Bretos just trotted out a familiar phrase, with the usual sporting context as backdrop and before he could possibly connect the dots on the racial implications, the damage was done. This was not a scripted portion of the show, remember. This was a live Q and A session where the broadcaster is usually left to ad lib the questions and conversation.

For ESPN, this is all about saving face and ensuring they can properly manage the amount of damage that their vaunted brand will suffer in the wake of this scandal. That’s understandable, but it doesn’t make it right.

If Bretos is a good man and a valuable employee, his network should have rescued him from this embarrassment, not added to it. If, in their investigation into the faux pas, they discovered that this was just a slip of the tongue as I’ve described it, they ought to have issued a statement of support for Bretos, with an explanation. If their interrogation of Bretos led them to believe that he did it on purpose, they should have fired him. They didn’t, so what are we to conclude?

As for the on line editor, as I hinted, that’s a different story. The headline was concocted, the column designed, the picture of Lin added and then it was published. Time there for thought and filtering. The employee who let it happen either thought it was funny or lacks the editorial judgment that I’d insist upon when keeping someone at the helm of my global news service for any amount of time.

As for Bretos, I can sympathize. But luckily, at least so far, only to a point.

[box border=”full”]To read: “140 Character Assassinaton,” click here.[/box]

[box border=”full”]To read “Don Cherry: You Should Be Thankful For Him,” click here.[/box]

[box border=”full”]To read “Secrets Of The Media Lockdown Room,” click here.[/box]

[box border=”full”]To read “The London Rippers and Political Correctness,” click here.[/box]