Writing headlines is a job somewhat akin to playing on the offensive line: Nobody is ever going to hear your name unless you screw something up or they're wheeling you away.
In Anthony Federico's case, both happened at the same time.
The 28-year-old ESPN editor would do well to omit from his résumé that he's the guy who was summarily fired after writing a headline about Jeremy Lin that used the unfortunate cliché "chink in the armor."
That was a bad headline. So was "Death Calls Nibs Price," the actual head for an obit featuring a photo of Price on the phone. But, years later, we can laugh about that. We won't be laughing at any "chink in the armor" headlines now or in the foreseeable future. Federico, who has become the Steve Bartman of headline writers, isn't going to be in a funny mood for a long time yet.
Speaking of which, despite condemnations from bloviating politicians, it stretches credulity to imagine this headline was a deliberate attempt at humor. It's a lot easier to imagine a late-shift editor inadvertently writing a racially charged headline at 2:30 a.m. than carefully plotting out surefire career suicide. In that manner, l'affaire d' Chink in the Armor harks to the 1999 Niggardly Incident.
You may recall that one. A bit over a decade ago, David Howard -- an overly erudite aide to Washington, D.C. mayor Anthony Williams -- used the term "niggardly" during a public meeting when discussing a fund's meager budget.
This was, technically, apropos: "Niggardly" essentially means "stingy." But for Howard, who is white, to use this term in mixed company was unwise and unnecessary. He should have just said "stingy."
Howard resigned, and Williams -- under heavy political pressure -- accepted his resignation. However, in a rare instance of everything really working out in the end, the media and general public overreacted to this overreaction, and Williams was successfully pressured to hire Howard back.
Don't expect a similarly neat resolution for Federico. It remains far-fetched to allege that a professional editor for a straitlaced company like ESPN would actually attempt to slip a horribly offensive racial pun into a headline and expect to remain gainfully employed. But obliviously doing so is still a firing offense. It's kind of like saying "bomb" in an airport.
The dizzying rapidity of what we used to quaintly call "The Information Superhighway" has made it easier than ever to foul up one's life's work with the click of a button. Sadly, Federico was driving a Corvair on this highway -- unsafe at any speed.
Best of luck to him. Like the athletes he covered, sometimes all people remember are your mistakes.
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