Deadspin removed the words “Black face” from a headline as part of an overhaul of a story that led to outrage and accusations that the outlet was unfairly targeting a young Kansas City Chiefs fan.
The photo that ran with the story, which showed only half of the 9-year-old fan’s face during a Chiefs road game in Las Vegas, was replaced with a picture of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Editors also added an extended note to the top of the story.
“The story’s intended focus was the NFL and its failure to extend those rules to the entire league,” the note stated. “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.”
But changing a story 10 days after it was published may not mean Deadspin is off the hook legally if the parents choose to file a defamation lawsuit, sports law attorney Dan Lust told Front Office Sports.
“If you were the family and you were feeling motivated to sue because of the damage that this caused in your life, this retraction is a little bit too late,” said Lust, co-host of the Conduct Detrimental podcast. “Deadspin let the story hang out for a certain amount of time, his face was already the subject of the article for the world to see. An apology is not going to rid the harm that this has already done. [Deadspin] put something that is allegedly false, and portrayed something in a false light.”
The Deadspin story did not name the young fan, although other outlets identified the child along with his parents shortly after the article was published last week. Other photos from the game, including those posted by his parents on Facebook, showed both sides of the young fan’s face, immediately leading to questions about why Deadspin continued to use the original headline, which referenced “Black face.”
Lust drew attention to the first part of the editor’s note, which reads: “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.”
“There was only one photo available?” Lust asked. “I would really hammer that phrasing if I was an attorney [representing the parents]. They didn’t say, ‘Based on all the photos we had available at our disposal as well as a diligent search of the internet, and a review of all the video we could find from the game.’ It was ‘based upon the available photo.’”
Clare Locke, which represented far-right activist group Project Veritas and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in defamation cases, did not return several messages left by FOS this week.
A message left with a spokesperson for G/O Media, Deadspin’s parent company, was not immediately returned.