Not Every Lapse in Judgment Deserves the Death Penalty

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 1:48 PM EST

Courtesy of the Daily News, the poor schmoe who wrote last week's Headline of the Century explains himself:

The ESPN editor fired Sunday for using "chink in the armor" in a headline about Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin said the racial slur never crossed his mind — and he was devastated when he realized his mistake. "This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny," Anthony Federico told the Daily News. "I'm so sorry that I offended people. I'm so sorry if I offended Jeremy."

....Federico, 28, said he understands why he was axed. "ESPN did what they had to do," he said. He said he has used the phrase "at least 100 times" in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

Really? A hundred times? I'm notoriously poor at writing headlines, but even I don't recycle the same cliches a dozen times a year.

That aside, what are we to think of the firestorm surrounding all this? Option A: Deliberate or not, Federico's headline was acutely hurtful and offensive and ESPN had no alternative. An abject apology followed by Federico's firing was really their only choice. Option B: It was a momentary and inadvertent lapse that was removed within half an hour and immediately apologized for. It deserved a reprimand and a game plan to avoid similar problems in the future, not the death penalty.

I vote for Option B. We need to reserve the serious ordnance for real acts of malicious racism, not minor lapses of judgment. Not only is it the right thing to do, but real racism gets trivialized when stuff like this sucks up so much oxygen. A little generosity of spirit could go a long way here.