ESPN Uses a Lin-Sane Headline And How They Addressed a PR Nightmare

Posted on February 20, 2012 by kennynorton 2 Comments





By now, it is likely you have heard of “Linsanity”. If you haven’t, Linsanity is the nickname that has been properly given to the young point guard for the New York Knicks – Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin is the first Chinese American basketball player to ever play in the NBA and the first Harvard Graduate to play in the NBA in over 60 years. In the absence of their two biggest stars (Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire) and a starting point guard, Lin has come off the bench to dominate the league and lead the Knicks to 7 straight wins. This type of performance in the NBA hasn’t been seen in years, and being on the grand stage of New York the nickname “Linsanity” is very appropriate.

The entire sports world, and anyone who follows pop culture has been buzzing. People have have also begun to use seemingly every opportunity to create their own Lin puns. Including:

“All I do is Lin”


“Just Lin-Credible”

“A Lin-Derella Story”


Among, many, many others.

On Va-Lin-Tines (see what I did there) February 14th, he came to Toronto and hit the game winner against the Raptors with his best and most heralded performance yet.

All was going smooth, and there wasn’t any obvious slip ups in the media until the Knicks and Lin were defeated by  the second worst team in the NBA the New Orleans Hornets. Lin continued his great play, but forfeited 9 turn overs in the loss ending the Knicks’ winning streak.

The Headline

Over this past weekend a “racy” headline snuck its way on to ESPN’s mobile website seen below. Immediately this caused an outrage of negative reaction across Twitter. There was another incident that occurred on ESPN radio and the headline even made it to TV as seen below:


ESPN Web Slip up

The Reaction

The reaction was extremely negative (and appropriately so) across the internet and the photos and videos began to spread like wildfire. To give you an idea of how many tweets about the issue were made I did a simple search in Sysomos for (Lin AND Headline AND ESPN) and that string alone pulled in almost 20,000 tweets (19,648) in the last two days. Using their reach approximation which is calculated by summing up the followers of users who tweet and we get 62.9 million potential people seeing tweets in their stream regarding the ESPN headline.

Some sample tweets from the twittersphere in reaction to the headline:

The Response

Although this was a disastrous thing for ESPN to have on their website or their network, they’ve handled it very well. Immediately pulling the headline, and issuing an apology from their twitter accounts and their official website.

This is the official response from ESPN (Link):

“Last night,’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

They then posted this tweet to their 2.9 million followers. Note that the above tweet was re-tweeted over 1500 times (with a reach of over 4.6 million).

Side Note: One thing I will raise an eyebrow to is they didn’t post it to their Facebook community which has over double the community (6.6 million) and a much higher likelihood of people viewing the apology. However the tweet was shared around the internet and picked up by a variety of news outlets.

On Sunday – February 19 ESPN announced that the employee who posted the racist headline has been terminated.  It has also been announced that ESPN Anchor Max Bretos has been suspended for 30 days as a result to his usage of the pun on television.

What can we learn from this?

Because of the internet and social media it allowed the word to leak out at a rapid pace everyone seemed to be sounding off at the offensive headline. ESPN did what they could with social media and took down the content, fessed up and apologized publicly and ultimately fired the employee who was responsible. Where multiple online news outlets picked up the story, and included ESPN’s comments allowing the word to get out and defusing the obscurity around the whole situation. The way they took care of this situation is a testament to how PR is changing. Before Twitter, Facebook and blogs they would rely on major news outlets to pick the story up to clear up situations like this. Here, the whole situation was cleaned up before the 6 o clock news. Where a decade a go it could have taken weeks, or even months to have a similar impact. ESPN has shown the benefit of acting fast in PR to put a fire out, instead of letting it stew, and the story begin to take on a life of its own, they quickly took control of the situation by owning up and apologizing and pushing that message out to major news sources and their social media channels.

The major positive about this whole situation as a sports fan? We can all go back to enjoying the amazing play of Jeremy Lin and watch him continue to lead the Knicks without a recurring distraction.

How do you think ESPN handled this situation and would you have handled it differently?

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  • modsuperstar

    I understand why people would take offense to this, as chink is definitely a derogatory term when talking about people of Asian decent. The issue I find with this is that this term “Chink in the armor” is used all the time in sports.

    The phrase gets used across sports to describe vulnerability where there possibly was none before. So this phrase is implemented after Lin loses his first game after 7 straight victories by someone who didn’t catch the double meaning and it’s a scandal. Personally I doubt there was malicious intent behind it, but I suppose we’ll never know. Every so often people make mistakes and to a degree I think ESPN probably acted a little harshly when taking a bit wider view of the situation. I think they looked at it that Lin is the biggest story going in sports at the moment and they didn’t want any lingering issues to hurt their network’s ability to cover stories in the future.

    • Anonymous

      I hear you James. I also think it was majorly reactionary, if there
      wasn’t such a large reaction publicly then it would have been business
      as usual.

      But in situations where your brand is being looked at
      so poorly you have to do something to show you’re listening. I think
      they took care of the situation really well, apologizing, pushing out
      heavily through their social channels and terminating the employee. 

      Thanks for providing some great examples of how it was used previously. Didn’t realize it had been used so frequently!