Punishment for Color Blindness: ESPN’s Unfair and Cowardly Suspension of Max Bretos

What Max Bretos means by "chink in the armor." Not that ESPN cares.

The headline “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets” appeared on ESPN’s mobile web site last week, and it was quickly removed. ESPN apologized, then fired the over-night headline writer who thought it would be cute to make a racially-offensive play on words between the derogatory slur for a person of Chinese descent, and the old, respectable, and the completely non-racial phrase meaning “a flaw or weak point.”

ESPN’s response to the tasteless headline was appropriate.

But it wasn’t enough for ESPN, which was under a full barrage from the  political correctness police and race bullies as well as Jeremy Lin fanatics. So the station also decided to make a victim of  innocent anchor Max Bretos, suspending him for 30 days because he used the expression Wednesday when he asked New York Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier on air about Lin.

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

Nobody has seriously suggested that Bretos intended the same racist play on words as the juvenile ex-headline writer. The fact that he used the phrase without thinking about the double-meaning shows that he is the opposite of racist, that Lin’s Asian heritage wasn’t on his mind at all and that he was thinking of him as just a basketball player, as he should. Bretos’s wife is Asian; he is an unlikely suspect for anti-Asian attitudes, and there is virtually no chance that this was his intent.

So how can ESPN’s suspension be justified?

It can’t:

  1. Bretos’s  question to Frasier was clear and non-racial in content.
  2. The phrase ” a chink in the armor” is  completely legitimate and inoffensive idiom except to the ignorant, the intentionally offended, and when deliberately used to invoke the racial slur meaning of “chink.”
  3. Had the idiotic headline never run, Bretos would never have been targeted or punished. Because it did, ESPN decided to make him a scapegoat and brand him as a racist that had to suffer even though it must know that he is not.
  4.  Tapes show that Bretos has used the phrase on the air before, in a context that couldn’t possibly be interpreted as relating to Asians.
  5. Lin shrugged off the incident and accepted the network’s apology as settling the matter, even suggesting that the headline wasn’t intentional.
  6. It is unfair to punish an employee who did nothing wrong, when you know he did nothing wrong, because someone else did something wrong.
  7. It violates the First Niggardly Principle, which is discussed here.

So, in order to satisfy the offended, ESPN decided that it had to humiliate and dock the salary of a completely innocent, unbiased, responsible employee, while encouraging the absurd conversion of a 500-year old, useful, non-offensive idiom into a societal taboo. This is the Washington, D.C. government punishing an employee for using the word “niggardly” because the vocabulary-deficient thought the word was offensive. This is the Golf Channel suspending another color-blind announcer, Kelly Tighman, for innocently using the term “lynch” while talking about Tiger Woods.

And this is why Americans may never get to a point where, as Martin Luther King dreamed, a man is not judged by the color of his skin…because it is dangerous in America to forget about the color of a man’s skin. The race bullies won’t let us forget, and organizations like ESPN don’t have the integrity or the loyalty to stand up to screams for sacrifices on the altar of political correctness and self-censorship.

That’s the chink in their armor.

Update: Apparently Knicks broadcaster Spero Dede also used the “chink in the armor” idiom, also legitimately and innocently (a Knicks broadcaster is going to make a racial slur against a home town favorite?), and like Bretos is getting criticized for it. Sports commentator Larry Brown writes, absurdly, “Hopefully the multiple incidents over the past few days have taught people to avoid making racist statements in all forums.” Except it isn’t a racist statement, because words and phrases don’t magically change their meanings according to whom they are applied to! In the cases of both Dede and Bretos, their meaning was unambiguous and clear, and self-appointed censors still decided to tar them with a racist label when absolutely nobody believes they are racist.  “It’s a problem when it’s said about an Asian player. What is so difficult about that to comprehend?”, Brown asks a commenter. It’s difficult to comprehend, Larry, because it’s unreasonable and stupid. We don’t use different language according to race and nationality in the US. If something can be said about a non-Asian player and not be taken as offensive, it can be said about an Asian player. To argue otherwise, you have to believe that the otherwise harmless phrase actually means something different in that context, and in the cases of both Bretos and Dede, everyone knows it didn’t. Their “crime” is that their speech was colorblind, and the race-obsessed are condemning them. Amazing, and nauseating.

This is political correctness at its most divisive and irresponsible.

71 thoughts on “Punishment for Color Blindness: ESPN’s Unfair and Cowardly Suspension of Max Bretos

  1. And yet somehow, ALBERT Lin is still employed by the Worldwide Leader.

    Seriously, though. This is the…network? Entity? Content provider?…that not only concluded it’s not a conflict of interest for Craig James to call his son’s bowl game, but that it’s not a conflict of interest even after he spent thousands of dollars of his own money securing the dismissal of its head coach. I wonder if they’re even aware of ethics, much less able to stay on its good side.

  2. “The phrase ” a chink in the armor” is completely legitimate and inoffensive idiom except to the ignorant, the intentionally offended…”

    Are you kidding me? Shouldn’t Max Bretos have used a measure of good judgment here – if he thought for even a split second it might offend (which clearly, in hindsight, he, and many, many others, would agree), he would not, and should not, have used that unfortunate phrase? And if he HADN’T thought about it, shouldn’t he be reminded that he should have, or else his sorry ass is going to go the route of his colleague? This is every bit as offensive a word as the ‘N’ word, and joke all you can, it conjures up decades of slavery, of racism – a dark past that’s spun in hatred and ignorance, and woven in unspoken suffering and anguish. It should be every bit as hurtful to the Chinese community as it is shameful to those who perpetrated it.

    • No.
      “Chink” is not a shameful word when used in that context. He shouldn’t have to be sensitive to using a word correctly. Speaking in public is only a minefield when people like you are laying traps.

      Frog means an amphibian; Spic ‘n Span has nothing to do with Mexicans, and niggardly means cheap. The fact that a listener has comprehension problems or is looking for ways to cry racism should not be the problem of normal, fair, intelligent professionals like Bretos, and ESPN should not give greivance bullies the illicit power they crave.

      • There are people in the world who are smart and sensitive enough to have used any number of words or phrases to express the same meaning, without the possibility of offending anyone, let alone a whole segment of the population. Then there are those who could care less about how others might feel, would indeed FLAUNT this “freedom of speech” without any regard for fellow citizens. I know into which group you belong. You have your right in expressing yourself any way you want, just as Max Bretos did. Sometimes there are consequences, and other times there aren’t. You even have the right to be as ignorant as you choose to be of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been shared by tens of thousands of Chinese. What you do NOT have, sir, is the right to tell us how we should feel about it.

      • And using incendiary language doesn’t add an iota of sense: go ahead and try to explain how “people like you” are “laying traps”? What was I doing: operating the teleprompter or writing his script for him?

        • What? Your attitude is the trap. You lie in wait for innocent people, using the language properly for communication, which is what it is designed for, to step on imaginary political correctness landmines so the grievance posse can cry out for vengeance. There is nothing whatsoever inappropriate about using “chink in the armor” to raise the issue of a flaw in an Asian player’s game. If the phrase can be used in relation to a non-Asian, and it can,it can be used in good faith (unlike in the headline) in relation to an Asian.There is no offense because the intent is clear, and the motive is pure. It is NOT like “nigger,” which is only a slur. This is a word with two meanings, one of which is crude and slang, that doesn’t even make sense in the context of the phrase! It probably isn’t even in the suspended anchor’s vocabulary, and you want to hang it on him. How can you justify that?

          • I wholeheartedly agree with your view Jack Marshall. Whenever there are two ways to interpret something, and one of those ways is offensive, there are certain types of people who will always take it the wrong way. I refer to them as bitches.

        • I am Chinese, and was not offended by Max Bretos use of the phrase. Did you actually watch the clip? It was completely innocuous. The headline was most likely intentional and that idiot was fired, but I do not believe that what Max Bretos said was insensitive in the least. If you truly are offended by it after watching the clip, then you are exactly like the “people like you”, people who are looking for anything to be pissed off about and complain about. I think you will find a majority of intelligent people will agree. Don’t try to speak for all of us.

          • Thanks, Thomas, for a compassionate and sane repsonse. An innocent broadcaster lost 30 days of salary because people like Paul feel empowered by showing they can hurt people for not tip-toeing around the English language, without any reason to suspect malice or even negligence. Not only can I say this is unethical conduct, it is important that as many people as possible say it’s wrong—because it divides us, because it hurts the innocent, and because it makes people afraid to express themselves.

        • I apologize to Jack for possibly violating certain standards of civility; but Mr. Lai, people like you make me ashamed to be Han Chinese almost as much as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek. In fact, the best thing to do would be to simply make sure that racist asshats can’t abuse the usage of “chink”, as opposed to trying to ban a rather amusing word whose original definition both predates the slur and is far more used in common speech. Are we really going to let racists determine what a word should mean?

      • Jack,
        If you don’t feel Max Bretos shouldn’t have been sensitive to using a word correctly, then I dare you to walk up to a crowd of African-Americans and use the word “niggardly” in your conversation; I’d bet Max would never do that.

        Max was on ESPN Sports Center which is a produced show and not some impromptu public speaking platform. That means the producers will go over questions and answers over-and-over during pre-production. What Max is at fault is his poor judgement and stupidity, in which you are free to defend.

        • What’s your point? If I walked up and used “niggardly” specifically to annoy African-Americans, that would be what the headline writer did. Calling Bretos stupid is inexcusable hind-sight bias. If it hadn’t been for the headline, nobody would have jumped on him. That’s HIS fault? Ridiculous. You are articulating a strict liability rule with political correctness fanaticism. HE’S stupid to presume that his audience isn’t race-obsessed and illiterate, and that his employers aren’t cowards incapable of fairness and proportion? If you say so.

  3. I really shouldn’t say whatever asinine thing pops into my head when I might actually have a pertinent ethics question.

    Would it be acceptable for him to return to the network after his suspension and immediately quit in protest? I’m guessing an on-air scolding and walk-off would be going too far.

    In my head, I envision something like this:

  4. Speaking as a Taiwanese-American here, this incident actually makes me feel a twinge of sympathy for Pat Buchanan’s worldview right now.

    Speaking on a bigger note, I hate how a lot of people seems to be hung up on words nowadays, without ever accounting for intention; this is not how you mend racial divides, and it lets a host of scoundrels get away with their misdeeds if they can mouth the right cant.

  5. Max Bretos should be fired. The fact that is wife is Asian makes it worse proving that he cares nothing for Asian culture and has no respect for it. His Asian wife should be embarrassed and ashamed.

    • Wow. That’s some great standard you’re advocating there, Bruce—fire someone for using language properly, when he neither intended nor did any harm, because someone else used similar words hurtfully, and some people are too lazy, silly, cowardly, or vicious to acknowledge the difference. Whatever it is in our culture that creates reasoning like yours—and I have some theories—it needs to be exposed, condemned, and flushed out. It is making people cruel and intolerant.

      All of you who support ESPN’s absurd decision–read Bruce’s comment again. That’s the ugly, relentless political correctness crowd that you’re empowering and catering to. Proud, are you?

    • What a load of tosh! I condemn the rampant use of that particular racist f-word when applied to the employment status of lighter-skinned persons. Using that word is malicious and hateful; all who think it, let alone utter it, and all who condone it by action or inaction should be ashamed and required by law to head-butt themselves in a mirror.

  6. If one Asian is offended then they did the right thing. As a professional writer and or newscaster you have seen others fall from grace with the slip of the pen or tongue. So they as professionals understand these “problems” be them right or wrong stay away. I’m sure ESPN is looking to expand their Asian market and if my retirment nest egg rested on the value of the stock price I’d be giving them a standing ovation on the handling of this matter. Is it fair that celeberties are photographed 24/7? No, but it comes with the job.

    • This is an “everybody does it” rationalization for bad behavior and a lynch mob environment. You are just accepting the unjust and the ignorant as the norm, which validates and encourages injustice and stupidity. ONE person? Virtually any statement can be spun to be offensive to one person, and you would give his power over the reasonable and the fair. I’m sorry, that’s not only illogical, it’s dangerous. That ESPN you’d have stock in would be devoid of color, humor, nuance and expression.

      The analogy, or whatever it is, with paparazzi and celebrities is terrible, and in fact backward. If anything, it tells us the opposite of what you think it does. When you live in a free society, you agree to allow good faith and clear speech, not to try to stifle it by concocting fake reasons to take offense. The celebrities in your analogy are the Asians.

  7. chink1
    1. a small narrow opening, such as a fissure or crack
    chink in one’s armour a small but fatal weakness
    (tr) Chiefly US and Canadian to fill up or make cracks in
    [perhaps variant of earlier chine, from Old English cine crack; related to Middle Dutch kene, Danish kin]
    chinky adj

    Maybe he should have just said: “If there is a small narrow opening, such as a fissure or crack in his game, where can he improve?”

  8. OMG! When are you going to learn, its not about what you intend, its about how it is perceived.There are enough examples of ignorance and being negligence and naivety and the consequences garnered documented that this should never have happened. Just because the word technically works doesn’t mean you should use that word! Use discretion! Too much ego in the world still. And regarding the paparazzi, their actions should be outlawed as they too are violating the rules of a free society regarding the idea of privacy. WE DON’T LIVE BY OURSELVES! SMDH!

    • OMG!!! You don’t know the difference between consequences and responsibility! I can’t help it when dim people misperceive what I say, and I’m not responsible for it if I have been clear, as Bretos was. Like Bretos, I do have to deal with the consequences of their misperception, but we must not dumb down expression to cater to the foolish, malevolent and ignorant.

  9. None of this would be an issue if he said “FLAW in the armor”. Now you tell me why he chose the other word……..and im waiting for an answer.

    • Because that’s not the 500 year old idiom. Obviously. Who says “flaw in the armor”? If you’re not going to use the whole phrase, you don’t use any of it—but it’s a good, serviceable, evocative phrase when people aren’t lying in wait to cry “Racist!!!”

  10. Jack,

    Max’s slur was intentional. I’m sure he thought about using that phrase and was just waiting for Lin to have a subpar performance so he could, and said it in a matter of fact tone so people would not suspect any racist intent…he suckered you, Jack.

    There was another incident with Max that went unnoticed last summer with because he was covering soccer, which Americans don’t care about. It was Manchester United playing MLS All-Stars in New York. There is a Korean player named Ji Sung Park on Man U. They showed footage of him making pizza in a New York pizzeria. Bretos commented something like, “that’s not kim chi.” That is totally offensive and he should have been fired then.

      • “What?!” is all I can say to Jonathan’s last four sentences above. Is there evidence that Ji Sung Park has been feeling like he and every person in his ethnic group is hated by everyone who eats pizza, ever since Bretos’s comment of last summer? Why would Ji Sung Park be offended when, while he is preparing a pizza, some sports talker says something like, “That’s not kim chee?”

        Jonathan so far has failed to communicate in a most basic way in his comments here. He has failed to explain why “That’s not kim chee” is offensive to anyone, whether in the pizzeria context alone or in any and all other contexts.

        So, let’s say I eat Middle Eastern food, a food commonly eaten by my ethnic group, and that fact about me is well known. Am I justified in screaming “RACISM! FIRE THAT RACIST!” in righteous rage, then, if I’m standing in a pizzeria, spreading tomato sauce on a pizza crust, and I overhear someone who happens to be following my life for his living say, “That’s not hummus?”

    • Jonathan: my friend, you are totally wasting your time here. You and I see eye to eye, but you’re wrong on one thing when you said, “he suckered you, Jack”. Jack’s not suckered. He knows full well what he’s doing, and what’s at stake here. YOU are the one suckered by thinking that Jack was suckered. I have no idea what kind of site this is, but clearly, there are quite a few who are not only incapable (or unwilling?) to see how others might feel, let alone care how others might feel. We’re wasting our time here. Staying in dialogue with these bozos would be the definition of insanity. Hasta luego!

      • Because, of course, how one “feels”, justified or not, allows one to mistreat others. Your comment is the antithesis of the Golden Rule, and snottiness is poor substitute for analysis. And that’s the weak point in your protective garments. You can’t support your position, so you just declare that the forum is hostile. It’s not hostile to rational arguments.

      • So, wait. You’re upset with a guy for using a commonly accepted phrase in the English language that traditionally has no racial implications because you somehow know what he was thinking and that he pre-meditated this situation….. and then you go around calling people names and insulting their intelligence?

        Yeah. If I have to choose between your bizarro world and a better future…I’m going to have to pass on your offer.

  11. We should all just go to PF Changs in honor of Jeremy Lin and his recent linsane success. If you don’t have a PF Changs in your local neighborhood check at your local groceries freezer isle they have frozen meals for two! So its linpossible not to enjoy these wonderful ethic delights!
    Bottom line Jeremy Lin is playing amazing basketball and is going to be a multimillionaire.

  12. Jesus Christ people need to lighten up. Everyone is so damn sensitive these days. Over 60 years ago FDR rounded up loyal Americans and put them in camps because of their ancestry. THAT was a racial discrimination. Using a legitimate English phrase in proper way isn’t. Get your priorities straight people.

    I once heard someone complain becuase my father used the word Chi Com’s to describe the chinese communist from the korean war. His resp[once was , “They were chinese, they were communist so whats wrong with calling them that? Plus they were trying to kill me so I will call them that all I want. “

      • Jonathan, even ESPN doesn’t believe that. You keep maintaining that what was obviously not true is. It’s bewildering and unfair, but it does relieve you from an actual argument why he should be punished for something completely innocent. Nobody can watch the video and conclude that he meant anything other than what the phrase means.

        You’re ridiculous.

        • If I had not heard his previous comment about Koreans and kim chee, I might give him the benefit of the doubt. But otherwise, he was deliberate in his racism.

          You’re ignorant.

          • The kimchee comment wasn’t racist in the least. Even if it was, and it’s not-–what’s your silly rule, that it’s inherently racist to use a reference to a regional food while discussing an athlete’s performance from that region? Why? Give me one reason. What’s demeaning about it?—it doesn’t make an innocent comment racist.

            I’m thrilled, really: this is like bird-watching. You’re a rare example of an extreme, political correctness Zealot to whom neither reason nor fairness mean a thing. Your picture should be in the dictionary under “political correctness nut”—hey, maybe it is! I’ll check…

      • “Wanted 2 apologize 2 all those I have upset. Not done with any racial reference. Despite intention, phrase was inappropriate in this context” – Max Bretos


        Since you know so much about people’s thoughts and intentions, better than they themselves do, why don’t you share with us your mind reading technique?

        • Yes, that would be very useful in my field as well.
          Bretos had no choice but to apologize, I suppose. I wish he hadn’t. It wasn’t “inappropriate,’ unless Lin really had no chinks in his armor.

            • What do you mean by apologetic coward?
              What’s the saying, it’s better to apologize after the fact then ask for permission? He apologized because that’s the easy thing to do. As I said, the key point is that he said a similar racial comment in the past, that is why I contend his statement is racist. Plain and simple.

              • You are saying the statement is racist because his history makes him a racist. So, you admit that the statement itself is not racist when said by someone without a history of racism?

                By apologetic coward, I mean to say that you think he’s a racist based on his history, that he was attempting to instill racism in others, and when confronted, was too coward to admit his master plan and apologized profusely.

                Whereas, I see him as a guy who committed an unintended pun that other people picked up on and apologized for the confusion admitting that it was unintentional.

  13. Ah, how I wish I could allow up some of the revealing comments I’m getting from chicken-hearted race-baiters—fake names, fake e-mails, vile insults, rationalizations and weak reasoning. But rules are rules. Too bad. You’d enjoy them as much as I have. It’s nice to know the caliber of people on the other side.with issues like this–makes me even more certain that I’ve got it right.

  14. Stop defending the indefensible, Jackie Marshall, because you will only tarnish your good name in the process. The bottom line is that if other racial slurs referring to any other groups of people also carried double meanings or even triple meanings, they wouldn’t have been used by journalists or sports journalists.

    To be an ESPN writer/editor and to have racial and ethnic slurs constantly and unconsciously running through his tiny, little head must be torturous for Anthony Federico, considering how many non-white sports stars are there in professional sports. Even novice high school newspaper writers know that some words and phrases are never to be used in print (or online), without having to be taught. He deserves a break from doing or writing about anything sports-related…for life.

    As for Max Bretos – Just because your wife is Asian it doesn’t mean that you’re free of any racism towards Asians, much less any other racial or ethnic groups! What kind of fuzzy logic is that for an overly-paid ESPN anchor? Go back to college and take Philosophy (Logic) 101 while you’re on suspension. In comparison, Juan Williams got fired for a much less offensive remark. So stop whining because you still got to keep your job (with no salary reduction) to support your half-Asian family. Or you can book more speaking engagements during your suspension and rattle off more epithets that happen to be on your mind. Thanks to you “My wife is Asian” is now the new “My best friend is Black.” Don’t kid yourself – your tweet was no apology, just a bad attempt to find an excuse for having diarrhea of the mouth. Please do not use your wife as tissue when it happens again.

    Some unsophisticated sports writers and news pundits chimed in and defended Bretos on his use of the “commonly used” sports phrase while on the air as unintentional, because the phrase has been used so often in sports media. Therein lies the problem, sports reporters, columnists and talking heads are predominantly white and male, that’s why this phrase has been in use in sports media for this long. It may also probably explain why ESPN is well-known for making offensive comments towards people of color and women for as long as it has been in existence. So these headlines and on-air remarks are not surprising at all – it’s just very sad that the general public (and even some journalists) have paid any attention to these slurs because of JLin.

    • Passionate and enthusiastic, also inaccurate, and wrong. I’m wrestling my tongue to the ground to avoid “dumb.” Juan Williams said nothing offensive at all–if you think he did, your outed as a political correctness hack. The reason people have been using “chink in the armor” for years is that it isn’t a racist term, never has been. Bretos gave Lin the respect of thinking about him as he thinks about any other player, for whom using “chink in the armor” couldn’t possibly offend even the political correctness-addled like you. Racists want to make him, the non-racist, the villain, when that is exactly backward.A non-racist person should not be afraid to use a non-racist phrase in connection with a person he does not think about racially out of fear that people who are race-obsessed, or looking for a race issue, or unable to think about an American basketball player as just an American basketball player rather than a hyphenated basketball player, will criticize him for it. You can offer a dwarf a shrimp. You can ask a Native American to make a reservation. You can ask a tall player to stretch his legs, and a Dutch lesbian can be asked to stick her finger in a leaky dike, if that’s what needs to happen to stop a flood.There is no such thing as a legitimate non-racist word or phrase that suddenly becomes offensive according to who its applied to, unless, as in the headline, someone is trying to make it so. I watched the clip of the interview where the phrase was used, and there isn’t a chance that he made the comment with racial intent.

      You call me “Jackie” again, jerk, and you’re gone.

    • By the way, unless “Final Word” is your real name, you owe me an e-mail giving me your actual identity before you get another word posted here. It takes some gall to withhold your name and mock me with mine. You can use screen names here, but only after giving me the right one. I don’t enforce this enough, and need to: it’s a chink in my armor.

    • To “Final Word”: As an American of Han Chinese descent, I would love it if people like you never spoke for my ethnic group ever, ever again. “Chink” is a perfectly valid English word when it is not used as a slur; hell, I use it quite a bit myself.

      • Well, by definition, Julian, that makes you a racist, since if you use “chink”, it is being used in connection with an Asian-American, and thus a slur no matter what the meaning or context. Shape up!

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