Mistake or not, Charlotte broadcaster's 'horrific tweet' must be weighed heavily

A basketball rests at the baseline during a timeout in an NBA basketball game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Milwaukee Bucks in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 1, 2020. Milwaukee won 93-85. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

It’s 2020. Most of us have had phones with adaptive text abilities and autocorrect for years. And if you do, you know that the software doesn’t always pick things as quickly as we’d like — my phone, for instance, took a while to understand that I wasn’t typing “ducking.”

But it does adapt in time.

Which is why using the excuse that you “mistyped” the N-word is, if we’re being generous, not a believable excuse.

Yet that’s what Charlotte Hornets radio play-by-play announcer John Focke wants us to believe.

On Monday afternoon, Focke was apparently watching the Utah Jazz-Denver Nuggets playoff opener, and tweeted about the “awesome” shot-making in the game.

One massive problem: he typed the N-word, the vile, don’t-say-it-ever, no-really-never one, where Nuggets was supposed to be.

Nearly six hours after the initial tweet, he apologized, calling it a “horrific error” and added, “I don’t know how I mistyped, I had (and have) no intention of ever using that word.”

The Hornets have suspended Focke indefinitely pending an investigation.

Two coworkers, unprompted and separately, messaged me that they had no such issue with their phones confusing “Nuggets” for the racial slur when they tried on their own phones; if you try to type the N-word, it doesn’t fill in the word for you.

While it strains credulity that it was a rogue “mistyping,” Focke is standing by his story. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler, he insisted that he’s never typed the N-word before on his phone, so it wasn’t autocorrect, and that he just wasn’t paying attention nor did he give his tweet a once-over before hitting send. He said he’s “gutted” by what happened.

It’s unknown at this point whether the Hornets will accept that Focke made an honest, and honestly, awful, mistake. But one thing they’ll have to consider: Focke has opened the door to something bigger — that he might have a problem with the very people his livelihood is dependent on. He’s not the first sports media person to open this door, unfortunately, as the years since Colin Kaepernick began his silent protest have shown.

In the NBA, roughly three-quarters of the players are Black. The roster in Charlotte is no different. And what’s more, its executive suite is likely one of the most inclusive in American professional sports: the majority owner is the legendary Michael Jordan, and four of the eight others on the Hornets’ “front office” page on the team website are also Black, including one woman.

As the team-employed play-by-play voice, these are the people Focke works for; interviewing players is part of his job.

Whether they’ll all be able to trust him or feel comfortable enough to sit down with him for the podcasts he does is something that has to be considered. Focke told Fowler he hopes he’d get the opportunity to explain himself to them.

This was Focke’s first season with the team before it was cut short by the COVID-19 crisis (Charlotte didn’t qualify for the NBA bubble). He had broadcast Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx games before he was hired by Charlotte.

The job has become a bit of an unlucky one for the Hornets: longtime team voice Steve Martin retired after the 2017-2018 season, and Chris Kroeger was hired to replace him. But Kroeger was abruptly fired in March 2019, and the team has never publicly offered a reason; Martin was lured out of retirement to finish the season, and Focke was hired before this season.

Whether Focke gets a second season is out of his hands now.

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