ESPN Offers Quintessential Apology

by on January 3rd, 2011
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Before I explain what I respect about ESPN’s apology for this weekend’s “Chink in the Armor” racist fiasco, let’s all take note of my restraint in not producing yet another Jeremy Lin pun. As the plethora of abominable and obnoxious “Linsanity” puns demonstrates, resistance isn’t easy – but it also isn’t futile.

There, I did it. I made it through my intro with no new puns on Lin’s last name. Now, on with the apology analysis.

Media outlets, businesses, and organizations of all varieties should take note of the approach ESPN has employed in managing the controversy surrounding racist comments made through their online and on-air channels. After circulating an immediate apology on Saturday, along with a promise to complete a full investigation, the network released the statement linked here on Sunday.

What makes the network’s apology so effective? I can sum it up in three words: quick, decisive, action.

Quick: The on-air comment and online headline in question occurred on Friday night and in the early hours of Saturday morning, respectively. Within hours, by the time I climbed out of bed on Saturday, the network had already issued a general apology, and by mid-morning Sunday, they released a more formal statement which re-iterated their remorse and outlined the steps they had already taken to rectify the situation.

Decisive: ESPN appropriately owned this debacle from the start. The network took full responsibility, completed a quick investigation of the facts, and decided within 48 hours of the initial on-air racial slur how they would proceed. No dilly-dallying or mucking about. No excuses or blame game.

Action: The immediate mea culpa on Saturday, the rapid additional follow-up, one employee terminated, one employee suspended, a clear and concise public communication of the network’s actions, and an indication of steps they are taking to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

CEOs – there’s your template for damage control. You don’t need anything else.

Final proof of ESPN’s savvy is the network’s decision to broadcast the Knicks/Mavericks NBA game on Sunday afternoon. Featuring Lin and the Knicks demonstrates that ESPN is not afraid to climb right back in the ring, and it provides the network with an opportunity to quickly and neatly crate up the Lin controversy, while they appropriately re-direct the the focus of the conversation to Lin’s on-court performance.

The kicker is that network executives are also keenly aware that showing the Knicks game on Sunday will prove….Lin-strumental to their weekend ratings success.

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