Now that the sports pundits have recoiled about the New York Jets’ acquisition of Tim Tebow, proclaiming ‘the circus’ is coming to New York, and that these pundits have been all too eager to pronounce ‘Linsanity’ dead, the time is ripe for a renewed discussion about whether these two athletes (and their fans) have been treated fairly by those responsible for covering them. Being a much more recent phenomenon and embodying more complexities because of racial matters, Jeremy Lin’s case merits special attention here. As evidenced by AAJA’s release guidelines as to how to cover Lin, most of us realized that it was inevitable that Lin would be covered unfairly by many, intentionally or otherwise. In retrospect, it is now clear that not even we in AAJA were adequately prepared to handle all of the issues that the Lin phenomenon has raised, and perhaps no one could have been.
We bore witness to the comments of Floyd Mayweather and Jason Whitlock, which were racist- there is simply no better word to describe them. Then we saw the journalistic incompetence of Anthony Federico, who is now on friendly terms with Lin thanks to Lin’s outreach efforts. In all of these instances, the established politically correct elite were slient, and organizations like AAJA had to take the initiative to bring the matters to light. Predictably, talk radio said that we were being too sensitive about this, but at the very least abusive journalism that targets one race demands the same level of scrutiny that it does for any other race.
On the more constructive side, we have New York Times reporter (and my fellow AAJAer) Michael Luo, who gave us some of the most in-depth analysis about the Linsanity phenomenon put in the context of faith. “I like to think of my own faith,” Luo writes, “as nuanced and not fitting easily into anyone’s standard boxes. I suspect Lin’s has to be as well.” Both Luo and Lin share the same alma mater and were involved with the same Asian American Christian Fellowship on campus, albeit at different times. Finally, some positive content- but the distinction between Asian American Christians and all other Christians may not be warranted, given how difficult it is to define in words one’s own spiritual journey with God, let alone to define it for someone else. On top of that, it is certain that each of the APIA subgroups have distinct internal cleavages and commonalities in religious tradition, and there is also no doubt these traditions are heterogenous in practices depending on the congregation.
Then we were flooded with articles that detailed what Lin might mean to Asian Americans. But to only stress that does both Lin and APIA public figures in general a major disservice. To be sure, for an Asian American to be a role model to millions in his own race is powerful, but for him to be a role model to every race is magnitudes more so- and that’s what he is. There was one blogger in particular whom I thought really zeroed in on where the focus would be, and that was pastor DJ Chuang. In talking about what Lin means to all of us, Chuang hits some of the same notes that Luo does (he himself cites Luo), but adds this:
“Now that we see someone like Jeremy Lin doing what he’s doing, whole new worlds are opening up for so many, both Asians and non-Asians [emphasis his]. Most of us need role models and mentors, and @jlin7 has an anointed crossover [emphasis his] appeal.”
To me, this is critical. While Jeremy Lin is showing the potential to help put APIA on the map in the sports world, it is my expectation that he will be remembered more for being one of the first to bring Asians and non-Asians closer together. This is no different than what makes AAJA so important, as it promotes fair coverage of APIA not by excluding anyone, but by including everyone- not only does AAJA accept non-Asians as members, but it actively solicits participation from them. Breaking down these walls is the way for us to go, and it is as honorable of a mission as any.
Now for the most unfortunate part of all. As Lin caught fire, countless in the media, in a wave of sensationalism, raised the expectations on Lin to such an unrealistic level that it was now assumed he would single-handedly turn the entire team around. And now that it has become clear to them that Lin couldn’t do the impossible, the same bunch who were responsible for helping to create the unrealistic expectations (and with the same level of gratuitousness) now saw fit to crucify him. After all, it was now all Lin’s fault that the Knicks started to lose. It was Lin’s fault that coach D’Antoni’s job couldn’t be saved. Headlines read, “Lin and Out,” (New York Daily News) “No-Lin Situation,” (Fox Sports) and “R.I.P. Linsanity,”(New York Post) to name just a few outrageous ones. But in due time we will look back and see this as being the folly that it is.
At some point after his knee heals, Jeremy Lin will come back, and when he does, hopefully the expectations will be brought a reasonable level for the human being that Jeremy Lin, after all, is. I would bet my fortune that fifteen years from now, we will have seen hundreds of emerging athletes come into the NCAA and NBA who say, “I would not be where I am today had it not been for the inspiration and mentorship of Jeremy Lin.” Many of them will be Asian. There will also be many who are not. Until then, he will share his gifts both within the sports arena and outside of it, and the entire sports world- irrespective of race- will be better for it.