Open Letter to ESPN - Lin Reaction


February 19, 2012
Dear ESPN:

I speak for no one else but myself. I am not a representative of the Asian American community and I am not speaking on behalf of AccuScore.

Every individual who is part of a minority group in this country knows racism when confronted with it. Every one of us has a story to tell from our earliest childhood. Most of us are able to tell you exactly the first time they felt they were confronted with racism. When I saw the “Chink in the Armor” Headline I had a punch in the gut physical reaction to the racist statement. I could tell by my physical reaction that regardless of the motive, or lack thereof, this was a racist statement and I appreciate that your company recognizes this point.

It was disturbing to see this type of content come from a company that I have admired since its inception. I have been a paying subscriber since the launch of your subscription product; I have been a daily visitor to the website since the start. I had a passion for sports that was largely fueled by ESPN and resulted in my founding AccuScore in 2004. I have considered it a crowning professional achievement to have been in a mutually beneficial business relationship with ESPN since 2006.

Racism from an ignorant person is offensive. Racism from a company like ESPN is abhorrent and it is time to ask some tough questions.

My concerns over ESPN’s lax attitude towards racism vs. Asians did not start with the Jeremy Lin headline. It started in the Beijing Olympics when the Spanish Basketball team took that horribly offensive picture mocking Asians. ESPN gave what it considered to be appropriate coverage of the story and half-hearted apologies from that team were made through the media. But I wondered at the time and even more now, what would have happened if this were the Atlanta Olympics and the Spanish team mocked African Americans in an equally offensive manner?

I ask you to take a moment to think about this question. I imagine ESPN’s top writers would have worked overtime to take the Spanish players to task for overt racism. Why did ESPN not make the same reaction when the Asian community was offended? I would imagine it is due to a lack of Asian representation in key positions within ESPN as well as the feeling that racism against Asians simply is not newsworthy. There is a false perception in the media that Asians do not actually find these things ‘that offensive’. I can tell you this is patently not the case.

ESPN is a culturally diverse organization comprised of teams of people who work together for a common goal. It is very likely employees become comfortable enough with each other to be politically incorrect and make jokes that not only bring much needed levity to pressure filled situations, it can even help employees bond. I understand this. But when you start to have multiple racially charged incidents it indicates that ESPN has gone too far in fostering racial insensitivity. You are the standard bearers in this industry and you need to hold yourself to a higher standard. You have a greater responsibility because ESPN has more influence on the culture than the sports and athletes that you cover.

Dismissing the offending employee is something that was not only required, but it should have not taken more than 24 hours to do. But in terms of a solution, it is unsatisfactory. I do not believe this employee was intentionally trying to promote racism or declare him or herself as racist. They were trying to be clever and write something that their audience, including their superiors, would find eye-catching and engaging. My concern is the environment at ESPN has fostered ‘borderline’ racism directed to Asians to the point that this employee felt comfortable enough to write the comment. The fact that he/she had the headline approved further shows that this is not a problem involving one employee.

The racist headlines and comments that are coming out of ESPN are the flames that you can extinguish by terminating and suspending employees. My concern is you have a lot of kindling lying around and sparks going off that could ignite future fires. This is why you have multiple incidents and not just a solitary event. You have to do a clean sweep of racist thinking within your organization. It is not enough to put in place processes that prevent racist headlines and statements from being published. You have to figure out how and why these offensive thoughts are being generated in the first place.

My final concern is in the coming days and weeks ESPN will take advantage of the fact that in comparison to other minority groups in this country Asian Americans are not as vocal. The employees directly involved with the offenses will be scapegoats, but no real steps towards curing the organization of racism are taken. I encourage you to not to do what is right from a strategic public relations standpoint but rather to do what is right, period. Public apologies are hollow unless they are followed up by public efforts to transform the company into one that is overtly free of bigotry.

I encourage ESPN to turn this negative issue into a positive opportunity to publicly demonstrate a commitment to become a leader in a broader movement to educate the public and extinguish racism from the media.

Sincerely,


Stephen Oh
Co-Founder of AccuScore