ESPN apologizes, gives straight answer for “One Direction” flub

ESPN screen shotThe first baseman for Japan’s Little League team, 13-year-old Nagiru Hiramatsu, was at bat during the opening inning when an accompanying graphic broadcast by ESPN3 mentioned something curious: his favorite singer – “Wandai Wrection”?

ESPN staffers watching the game between Japan and Pennsylvania knew something was amiss when the graphic flashed on screen. Hmm, they must have thought, shouldn’t that be “One Direction”?

Yes, mistakes happen.

ESPN did the right thing Monday night by quickly acknowledging the error during the broadcast and by later apologizing to the teen in the locker room.

“It should have been caught,” Jackson Davis, ESPN’s director of diversity, told MediaWatch during a phone conversation.

During Little League broadcasts, the children are often asked an assortment of questions, some of which make it to on-air graphics that allow viewers to learn more about the players.

“Our goal is to always get things correct right out of the gate,” Davis said. “When something like this occurs, we try to get to the bottom of it.”

As Davis describes it, something clearly went wrong during translation.

When Hiramatsu named his favorite singer, a translator transcribed his response as “Wandai Wrection.” No one caught the spelling error as the information passed through the usual chain, including inputting into a graphics generator.

“That information was loaded verbatim … and it was not checked very well, obviously,” Davis acknowledged.

Yes, we could come down on ESPN for the mistake, especially so soon after a San Francisco station aired bogus Asian-sounding names – and not long after ESPN’s own troubles last year over coverage of the NBA’s Jeremy Lin. But we applaud ESPN for coming clean and giving MediaWatch an explanation without dawdling.

Still, we hope that ESPN will continue to strengthen its protocols – perhaps by having someone sound out the names – to prevent a similar occurrence from happening again.

ESPN has been a strong partner for diversity. In 2010, AAJA awarded the sports network the Leadership in Diversity Award, and we appreciate the network’s continued efforts.

Paul Cheung, AAJA President  and Bobby Caina Calvan, MediaWatch Chair