SB Nation has produced plenty of interesting longform pieces that have been well-received, but the one they ran Wednesday came under intense fire almost immediately, and the piece was pulled completely later in the day. (Update: See the end of this piece for SB Nation’s explanation why.) The piece in question was almost 12,000 words on Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer who was sentenced to 263 years in jail in January for on-duty rapes and sexual assaults; the sports connection was that Holtzclaw played football at Eastern Michigan and had NFL dreams.

SB Nation’s done some excellent longform pieces on athletes and sexual assault charges before, including stories on Mel Hall and Dave Meggett, but this one took a rather different approach, relying heavily on Holtzclaw’s former teammates’ and parents’ comments that he couldn’t possibly have done this and alleging that he was only accused thanks to national backlash against police officers through movements such as Black Lives Matter. It also carried a rather substantial potential conflict of interest just from its author, whose background wasn’t disclosed until the end of the piece:

Another big issue with the piece was the way it didn’t include or even reference most of the stories from Holtzclaw’s victims, which were reported by Buzzfeed’s Jessica Testa in December. Testa took strong exception to this piece:

The piece also drew other major backlash on Twitter almost immediately, including from ESPN journalist Kevin Van Valkenburg:

Here are some of the other criticisms the piece took:

As of Wednesday evening, SB Nation hadn’t responded to a request for comment on the Holtzclaw story and why it was pulled. We’ll update if they do.

Update: Here is their response:

Earlier today, SB Nation posted a story called “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” that attempted to find out the backstory of convicted serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw. The story focused on his football background in particular.

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.

In light of that failure, we’ve taken the story down. I take full responsibility for this as editorial director. It was not up to our standards as a website. It was not up to our standards as a part of Vox Media.  It is not reflective of our ideals, or who we want to be as an organization in the future.

We’re reviewing all of our processes in light of this failure. There are a lot of them, and I promise to talk in detail about them publicly while we work through all of them.

Spencer Hall

Editorial Director

SB Nation

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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