ESPN’s Stance on Discriminatory Remarks: Hitting the nail on the head, or a lack of consistency?

By: Michael Scheiner

“Linsanity,” the emergence of the Harvard graduate point guard Jeremy Lin, has taken the New York Knicks, and the NBA as a whole, by storm. To illustrate the extent to which Lin’s visibility in the public eye has exploded, look no further than Lin’s marketability. Nielson’s N-score—a marketing measure which takes into account an athlete’s name recognition and likeability—has Jeremy Lin’s marketability off the charts; scoring Lin at a 102 on its scale, which trumps the scores of the next two NBA players on the scale, Kobe Bryant (90) and LeBron James (84).[1] Consequently, this explosion in popularity has prompted sports reporters and networks—most notably ESPN—to take great interest in Lin. Similar to the way in which ESPN capitalized on “Tebow Time” during Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow’s rise to popularity amongst NFL fans, the network is devoting significant programming to “Linsanity.”

The heightened coverage of “Linsanity”, however, has forced ESPN to deal head on with discriminatory remarks regarding people of Asian descent. In response to three separate instances during the month of February, ESPN released a statement confirming that the network “engaged in a thorough review of all three [instances],” and took necessary disciplinary action, including the ouster of an ESPN employee who published an offensive Mobile headline, and the 30-day suspension of an ESPNEWS anchor.[2] While ESPN should be lauded for their transparency in dealing swiftly and decisively with these matters— mostly for demonstrating that discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans cannot be tolerated—this situation brings to mind another instance in which ESPN was forced to deal with discriminatory remarks by an employee of the network.[3]

Though not nearly as heavily publicized as the remarks related to Lin (and the subsequent disciplinary action), nearly two years ago ESPN was forced to take on the public relations nightmare of Tony Kornheiser’s offensive remarks regarding Hannah Storm, an ESPN SportsCenter anchor. Kornheiser—a popular ESPN television and radio host—engaged in an on-air rant on his syndicated radio show claiming that Storm wore “a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She’s got on red go-go boots and a Catholic school plaid skirt…way too short for somebody in her 40s and maybe early 50s by now…She’s got on her typically very tight shirt. She like she has a sausage casing wrapping her upper body…I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t…but Hannah Storm…come on now! Stop! What are you doing?”[4] As a result of these offensive and discriminatory remarks, ESPN suspended Kornheiser from hosting his popular daily television show on ESPN, Pardon the Interruption, for a period of two weeks.[5]

Reviewing the way in which ESPN handled the recent discriminatory remarks directed at Jeremy Lin in light of their handling of this past incident brings up significant speculation regarding ESPN’s stance on handling discrimination by their employees. Without question, the two incidents involved highly discriminatory remarks against Asian-Americans and women, respectively. The discipline handed down by ESPN, however, differed markedly. The severity of the discipline handed down in the case of Jeremy Lin vastly outweighed that of Storm’s incident. This begs the question of whether ESPN has decided to strengthen its stance on discrimination by its employees, or the possibility that the astronomical popularity of Lin played a role in the disparity between ESPN’s disciplinary actions in these two instances.

[1] Michael Hiestand, Jeremy Lin More Popular than Kobe and LeBron, USA Today (Feb. 25, 2012),

[2] Statement on Offensive Comments, (Feb. 21, 2012),

[3] Clemente Lisi, Tony Kornheiser Suspended by ESPN for “Horrifying Comments” About Hannah Storm, N.Y. Post (Feb. 24, 2010)

[4] Id.  

[5] Id. 

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