SB Nation, a well-known sports website, published and swiftly deleted an absurd article last week about convicted rapist Daniel Holtzclaw.
Yes — Daniel Holtzclaw — the Oklahoma cop who was just sent to prison for 263 years for raping more than a dozen black women.
Freelance writer Jeff Arnold penned a longform, 12-000 word article that presented Holtzclaw as the misunderstood nice guy who ended up not fulfilling his NFL dreams and getting railroaded in an over-hyped rape trial about his cop career.
Holtzclaw attacked women while on duty as a police officer and specifically targeted poor black women with criminal records. Prosecutors argued that he felt this was a population most vulnerable to his sadistic whims.
The offensive and long-winded SB Nation article was snatched offline within hours of publication, but not before being cached and immortalized. The issue is not the fact that SB Nation chose to run a longform story on Holtzclaw. There are numerous aspects of his backstory and the case that could be highlighted and studied in a nuanced and thought-provoking way.
However, the SB Nation story was an over-written pile of rape apologist trash. Full of sympathy for the convicted rapist, the piece offered excuses for Holtzclaw at every turn. Writer Jeff Arnold only spoke to Holtzclaw’s supporters. There is no balance. The only perspective offered is that of sympathizers such as Brian Bates, a private investigator hired by Holtzclaw’s attorney:
In Bates’ view, Holtzclaw was swept up in the furor over treatment of black Americans by police officers in other places, turmoil that had already resulted the #BlackLivesMatter movement and sparked riots in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, a brewing perfect storm that was only getting worse.
“The emotions were already there and all (the public) needed was a poster child and Daniel came along at the absolute worst time for Daniel,” Bates said. “And he was done.”
The fact that someone could find a way to blame the Black Lives Matter movement for Hotzclaw abusing his power as a police officer to target black women is a testament to how deep racism runs in this country. An acknowledgment of the intersection of racism, sexism and classism is too much to bear for some people, and Arnold managed to find several to be sources of his article:
There were periods of time left unaccounted for because Holtzclaw either turned off the computer in his car or didn’t radio in updates. It was during these times, the prosecutors charged and the jury determined, when Holtzclaw went from the football player turned caring cop to serial rapist. But the defense, and even Holtzclaw’s most earnest defenders, his family and supporters, firmly believe those assaults never took place. They consider those gaps inconsequential, nothing more significant than a harried cop on the beat who sometimes forgot to make a radio call or flip a switch, rather than the premeditated actions of someone preparing to commit a sexual assault.
In a 12,000-word article, the writer only saw fit to speak to Holtzclaw supporters and not flesh out the details of the behavior that ultimately led to Holtzclaw’s conviction. He was depicted as the “exotic looking” athlete whose NFL dreams got crushed and who started working in a neighborhood hostile to the police while being sad and taking steroids. Instead of “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” the article should have been titled “The Life of a Handsome Athlete Railroaded by the Black Lives Matter Movement Because…Blacks.”
A note from SB Nation editorial director Spencer Hall reads in part:
The publication of this story represents a complete breakdown of a part of the editorial process at SB Nation. There were objections by senior editorial staff that went unheeded. It was tone-deaf, insensitive to the victims of sexual assault and rape, and wrongheaded in approach and execution. There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.
Hopefully, Hall understands that the “complete breakdown of the editorial process” is partly due to a lack of diversity in the newsroom. This entire story is a proof of how necessary it is to have decision-makers in media who have different backgrounds, perspectives and knowledge. An article of that length (and by a freelancer no less) would have to go through several people before being published. This was not just one questionable source or an opening paragraph that needed tweaking. The entire premise for the article was ghastly, wrong-headed and dangerous.
After Holtzclaw’s conviction, there was a collective exhale from black women, because for once someone was held accountable for abusing black women. The SB Nation article essentially erased the pain of the black women who Holtzclaw assaulted, and SB Nation’s editorial team did not notice that glaring omission.
Between being ignored by the likes of SB Nation and being mined for “new” trends by women’s lifestyle publications, black women have an interesting role in today’s media landscape. These types of hurtful journalistic aggressions would happen far less often if there were more diversity in every aspect of the media industry, from interns to the top of the masthead.
As Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”