ESPN

Jeremy Lin, ESPN, and deconstructing post-racism apologies

By Guest Contributor Kyle McLorg

The unfortunate tale of ESPN’s racist Jeremy Lin headline continued today when the editor who wrote it, Anthony Federico, came forward with a response.

I’m going to assume he’s being truthful when he says that the headline was “in reference to the tone of the column and not to Jeremy Lin’s race,” although not without some pains. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could fall victim to such an “awful editorial lapse,” especially given the sensitive nature of the racial issues surrounding Lin. Regardless, I won’t accuse him of lying.

In fact, I’m going to take everything he said in his response to be true. As far as recent apologies from the media are concerned, his was not altogether bad. He said he was sorry, and he said it immediately. This was more than I can say for Jason Whitlock after his racist tweet regarding Lin early in February.

Bruno and Bochy

This all made me think back to the another racist gaffe, when Tony Bruno called Ramon Ramirez an “illegal alien” on Twitter. In this case, Bruno didn’t even apologize — he admitted to removing the post, stood by his comments about Bruce Bochy being a “coward,” and then dug in, prepared to do battle with angry Giants fans everywhere.

When compared to Whitlock’s and Bruno’s apologies, Federico’s certainly stands out as the most sincere, but that does not give it complete amnesty from criticism.

Put simply, by defending themselves in their respective apologies, these three men have changed them into arguments. Each man makes an argument for his own absolution – an excuse, so to speak, for why they should be forgiven or why they are justified in saying what they did. In doing so, they succumbed to using some common fallacies that devalue their actual apologies.

Tony Bruno’s post following his “illegal alien” tweet didn’t even constitute an apology (the word “sorry” was never used), therefore he is probably the worst offender. He instead evoked the “two wrongs make a right fallacy”:

“Two wrongs make a right is a fallacy closely related to appeal to common practice. In this case, the argument is it’s acceptable to do something, not because other people are doing it, but because they are doing other things just as bad.”

In Bruno’s case, it was acceptable to call Ramirez an “illegal alien,” because Bruce Bochy was ordering his pitchers to throw at Philadelphia Phillies hitters. It seems comparable to saying, “Yeah, I hit my brother. But I stand by it, because he called me a butthead.”

Further devaluing his argument, Bruno called his name calling followers “classless and vile.” He was basically saying “It’s right for me to name call – I’ve been wronged. But it’s NOT right for YOU to name call; in fact it’s very immature.” The repercussions of his actions were very little – after a rash of outrage on the Internet, the hype died down. Tony Bruno has since stopped his long time radio show “Into the Night,” and is now hosting a local show in Philadelphia.

In defense of myself

In Jason Whitlock’s apology (yes, this one actually contained the word “sorry”), he evokes what’s called “the genetic fallacy,” defined by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy as:

“[an] attempt to discredit or support a claim or an argument because of its origin (genesis) when such an appeal to origins is irrelevant.”

Examples of this glared in Whitlock’s apology, especially when he credited “his immature, sophomoric, comedic nature” to a “gift from [his] mother” and Richard Pryor. This argument is attempting to point at some older, more acceptable source of racism, while in the meantime it distracts from his actions and justifies his behavior. The evidence is needless to say, completely irrelevant.

He compares the Asian community’s feelings towards Lin with his own towards Tiger Woods, especially when Tiger won his first major. He describes how he cried. He claims that he relates. This is appealing to the Asian community’s emotions, attempting to form a relationship. This is a fallacy called “appeal to emotion.” He used it in an effort to soften the blow, but looking under the surface, it was again completely irrelevant. Tiger Woods had nothing to do with the racist tweet he sent; Woods was brought up in an attempt to get those offended one step closer to forgiving him.

Federico did some very similar things in his apology. It started well, with an immediate admission of wrong-doing and an apology to Lin. Then he jumped into fallacious reasoning, namely evoking the “genetic fallacy.”

A large portion of his apology described his various altruistic deeds, including helping a homeless friend off of the street to find shelter the day that the column was run. He described volunteering at orphanages in Haiti and organizing coat drives for the homeless. He proclaimed that if people saw his everyday life, “They would see that these acts were not done for my glory, but for God’s.”

While doing his good deeds, his intentions were probably altruistic. I can’t say whether he used them as a means for self promotion or not. But the moment that he starts using them as reasoning behind why he should be forgiven, they are no longer deeds done for “God’s glory.” Those actions are now being used as evidence against the idea that he is a bad person. To make matters worse, they aren’t even necessary points – most people will believe a man who says he made a mistake. Those who don’t forgive him possess opinions that don’t matter. He would have been forgiven without flaunting his good deeds. Now he just looks combative because he is arguing, where he should just simply be apologizing. The ammunition he’s using to defend himself, although respectable, is completely unrelated to his unfortunate editorial mistake.

Whereas I feel no empathy for Whitlock or Bruno, I do feel for Federico. One mistake, albeit a huge one, cost him both his reputation and a career. He must now find a way to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild as an editor and journalist somewhere else. But just as he should have considered his fateful headline more closely, he also should have put his apology under a microscope before releasing it. In a time when making both racist statements and apologies have become common, it pays to master the fragile art of sincerely accomplishing the latter.

You can find more of Kyle McLorg’s writing at Ruthless Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Ruthless_Sports.

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