Deadspin took a lot of heat for its post about a young Kansas City Chiefs fan who had his face painted black and red during a game. Now, they find themselves in legal trouble over it.
During November’s Chiefs game against the Las Vegas Raiders, nine-year-old Holden Armenta was shown on CBS wearing a Native American headdress and with half his face painted black and the other half red. While wearing headdresses is banned at Arrowhead Stadium, Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium did not have the same policy. The three-second clip of Armenta only caught him from the right side, making only the side of his face painted black visible to the camera.
As screenshots of Armenta spread across social media, Deadspin’s Carron J. Phillips penned an article titled “The NFL needs to speak out against the Kansas City Chiefs fan in Black face, Native headdress.”
Following an intense backlash in conservative media, which included mentions by Elon Musk and Ted Cruz, the title of the article was amended 11 days later to “The NFL Must Ban Native Headdress And Culturally Insensitive Face Paint in the Stands (UPDATED)” and replaced the photo of Armenta, which showed the black side of his painted face, with a picture of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
An Editor’s Note was also added to the article on Dec. 8:
On Nov. 27, Deadspin published an opinion piece criticizing the NFL for allowing a young fan to attend the Kansas City Chiefs game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Nov. 26 wearing a traditional Native American headdress and, based upon the available photo, what appeared to be black face paint.
Unfortunately the article drew attention to the fan, though our intended focus was on the NFL and its checkered history on race, an issue which our writer has covered extensively for Deadspin. Three years ago, the Chiefs banned fans from wearing headdresses in Arrowhead Stadium, as well as face painting that “appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions.” The story’s intended focus was the NFL and its failure to extend those rules to the entire league.
We regret any suggestion that we were attacking the fan. To that end, our story was updated on Dec. 7 to remove any photos, tweets, links, or otherwise identifying information about the fan. We have also revised the headline to better reflect the substance of the story.
That note was deemed too little too late by the Armenta family, who filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against G/O Media, the owner of Deadspin.
The Article falsely alleged that H.A. had “found a way to hate Black people and the Native Americans at the same time.” It alleged that H.A.’s parents, Shannon and Raul, “taught” H.A. “racism and hate” at home. It intentionally painted a picture of the Armenta Family as anti-Black, anti-Native American bigots who proudly engaged in the worst kind of racist conduct motivated by their family’s hatred for Black and Native Americans.
The problem with Phillips’ Article: literally none of it was true. H.A. did not wear blackface. “Blackface” is “dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.” Before this controversy, nine-year-old H.A. had no idea what blackface was or the racist history behind it. And he certainly did not wear black paint on half of his face to mimic or mock Black people. He is a child, and until Deadspin and Phillips’ malicious accusation, it never occurred to nine-year-old H.A. that a person could hate another for the color of their skin. The truth is that H.A.’s face was painted in Chiefs’ team colors, black and red, split down the middle—just as myriad fans and team regalia have for decades.
Nor does H.A. hate Native Americans. He is Native American. And H.A.’s parents, Raul and Shannon Armenta, did not teach H.A. to hate Native Americans at home. H.A.’s father, Raul, belongs to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, and he works on the tribal reservation. And H.A.’s grandfather was a tribal elder. Throughout his childhood, H.A.’s parents have taught H.A. and his siblings the proud heritage, culture, and traditions of their tribe—and they celebrate that culture and history proudly. H.A. did not wear a costume headdress because he was “taught hate at home”—he wore it because he loves the Kansas City Chiefs’ football team and because he loves his Native American heritage.
The Armenta family claim in the lawsuit that they “repeatedly wrote to Deadspin demanding that it retract the Article and apologize,” which the site did not do. They also claim that “Deadspin’s lawyers threatened the Armenta family with counter-legal action should Raul and Shannon attempt to hold Phillips and Deadspin accountable for their false and defamatory Article.”
The family also says that the backlash from the article has made them consider moving out of state and that their son has “already suffered significantly—his test scores and grades have dropped in school, and he has shown emotional damage from the onslaught of negative attention.”
For Deadspin, this is just the latest in a series of legal entanglements that have marked the outlet’s history. The infamous Hulk Hogan trial effectively ended the Gawker Media era, leading to G/O Media’s purchase of Deadspin and many other Gawker sites. The outlet was also sued by former MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer for defamation, though that case was ultimately dismissed. It was reported last month that G/O is looking to sell Deadspin and its other sites.
G/O Media and Deadspin have not commented on the lawsuit as of yet.