Journalist loses job after tweet on Sato's success

Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato celebrating after becoming the first Japanese driver to triumph in the race. Terry Frei, an American sportswriter, is no longer an employee of The Denver Post because of a tweet linking Sato's feat to World War II.
Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato celebrating after becoming the first Japanese driver to triumph in the race. Terry Frei, an American sportswriter, is no longer an employee of The Denver Post because of a tweet linking Sato's feat to World War II.PHOTO: REUTERS

DENVER • A veteran sportswriter left the Denver Post on Monday after he said he was unsettled by a Japanese driver's victory in the Indianapolis 500 over the Memorial Day weekend, when the United States traditionally honours its war dead, including those killed by Japanese forces in World War II.

Terry Frei triggered a firestorm of criticism with his remark posted on Twitter after Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the IndyCar race.

Sato beat 32 other competitors in the prestigious event staged at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, known as the Brickyard.

"Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend," Frei tweeted after the race on Sunday.

Social media reaction to the post prompted him to issue an apology later that day. "I apologise to Takuma Sato," he wrote. "I made a stupid reference, during an emotional weekend, to one of the nations that we fought in World War II - and in this case, the specific one my father fought against."

However, that apology was undermined when he thanked a woman who supported his original statement.

Frei is the author of Third Down and a War to Go, which chronicled the University of Wisconsin's 1942 football squad.

The team included his father, who fought against the Japanese in the war after the season.

The United States entered the war in 1941 after Japan attacked the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.

On Monday morning the newspaper's publisher, Mac Tully, and editor Lee Ann Colacioppo issued a joint statement on the newspaper's website saying Frei was out. It did not indicate whether he was fired or resigned.

"We apologise for the disrespectful and unacceptable tweet that was sent by one of our reporters," the statement said. "Terry Frei is no longer an employee of the Denver Post."

Frei was not available for comment.

After winning the race, Sato, 40, said he understood the significance of what his victory means to his country.

"This will be mega big. I cannot imagine how it's going to be," he said. "Nowadays, a lot of Japanese, the fans (are) following IndyCar Series, particularly for the Indy 500."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'Journalist loses job after tweet on Sato's success'. Print Edition | Subscribe