By Richard Neer
WFAN, New York
Talk Show Host
NEW YORK — The nation has been deluged with Lin-sanity.
The story of the young Harvard grad bursting onto the NBA scene from obscurity rivals the media hype in 1975 when Time and Newsweek both deigned to feature Bruce Springsteen on their respective covers, proclaiming him the next Bob Dylan. Of course, Bruce survived the hype to become one of our most enduring rockers, but can the Jeremy Lin story survive a three game losing streak?
There are so many elements to his rise that have permeated sports talk over the last month. Why was he overlooked in the draft and subsequently cut by two teams? Was ethnicity a factor or did this episode just reveal that there are holes in the NBA scouting system? If he was playing somewhere other than New York and if he wasn’t Asian-American, would the media glare be anywhere near this intense?
Media figures have already been fired or suspended for insensitivity toward his background. We have reached a point in our nation where any reference to a person’s ethnicity that can be viewed in any way as stereotyping or prejudicial can be grounds for dismissal.
The lesson learned is – DON’T GO THERE! And this doesn’t only apply to utterances on a radio program. With the social media being what it is, a seemingly harmless tweet intended to be amusing or even an e-mail sent to a personal friend can go viral and cost you a job, maybe a career. We have entered an era where you must treat your life as if you are before a live mic 24/7/365.
Interestingly, comedians who previously seemed exempt from this rule are now under increased scrutiny. Even the idea that, “I’m Italian so I can make mafia jokes” rationale doesn’t fly these days.
It is important to know what the latest acceptable appellation is. There was a time when “oriental” was deemed appropriate, but many now consider it offensive and substitute the word “asian,” and there may come a time when even that is unacceptable. Observational jokes about physical characteristics or cultural tendencies are just not going to play anymore.
We continually walk a very fine line. We are expected to be “edgy” and “hip” and “entertaining.” We are expected to push the envelope. Words like “suck,” “bitch,” “piss,” “penis,” and “ass,” which weren’t to be used on the radio, are now being sprinkled into nationally aired commercials. Subjects that were considered obscene are now casually chatted about.
Does this represent progress for our industry? Even listening to a sporting event with our kids can lead to embarrassing moments. We now advertise products that we know don’t work. We air programs that openly lie or at least mislead the public, but hey, they pay the rent. These are not things to be proud of.
But increased sensitivity toward the feelings of others is a step in the right direction. Mocking someone for their ethnic background was never a good thing. At least it can be said that we have made some progress in a positive direction.
Richard Neer is a sports talk host at WFAN, New York, an anchor on A Touch of Grey, and sports editor of TALKERS magazine. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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