The parents of a nine-year-old Kansas City Chiefs fan have sued the leftist sports blog Deadspin over an article that accused the boy of wearing blackface and hating Native Americans for wearing a headdress—despite the boy being Native American and wearing black and red to support his team.
After a TV broadcast of a Chiefs game showed the boy wearing his face painted half in red and half in black, Deadspin and its senior writer Carron Phillips used a screenshot that isolated a frame where only the black was visible in order to “maliciously and wantonly attack a nine-year-old boy and his parents for Phillips’ own race-drenched political agenda,” the defamation lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Delaware state court, said.
The article was titled “The NFL needs to speak out against the Kansas City Chiefs fan in Black face, Native headdress,” and claimed that the child had “found a way to hate Black people and the Native Americans at the same time.”
The lawsuit, which refers to the child only by his initials, said:
The problem with Phillips’ Article: literally none of it was true. H.A. did not wear blackface… 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.
Raul Armenta, the boy’s father, belongs to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and works for the tribe; the boy’s grandfather serves on the tribe’s board. “H.A. did not wear a costume headdress because he was ‘taught hate at home’” — as Phillips alleged — “he wore it because he loves the Kansas City Chiefs’ football team and because he loves his Native American heritage,” the suit said.
Why is @Deadspin @carronJphillips trying to ruin this little kid’s life? They’re accusing him of blackface but conveniently left out his full face which was painted for the game https://t.co/kFfgAL4aDH pic.twitter.com/750u5sfETE
— Libs of TikTok (@libsoftiktok) November 28, 2023
The lawsuit said that the damaging allegation against an innocent child was motivated by a political agenda. Phillips used the concocted narrative to claim that “This is what happens when you ban books, stand against Critical Race Theory, and try to erase centuries of hate.” It continued:
Accusing people of engaging in racist acts has long been Phillips’ modus operandi; his career is based on it. His recent articles include: “Ryan Tannehill’s ‘support’ for young Titans quarterbacks depends on if they’re white”; “We know why Simone Biles doesn’t get the same attention as Taylor Swift at NFL games” (because she is Black), and “The Chicago Bears haven’t won a playoff game since Lovie Smith. Their next head coach should be Black.” He has declared to the public that ‘America is racist as hell’ and has authored dozens of articles to support this inflammatory narrative. Phillips has also declared that he and other people of color are “tired of going high”—taking the high road—because ‘[a]lways having to be the bigger person is not only unfair but extremely exhausting.’ Instead of ‘going high,’ Phillips would take out his racist ‘exhaustion’ on a child and his family.
It said that after readers flooded Phillips and Deadspin with evidence that the boy was not wearing blackface, Phillips called the critics “idiots.”
Deadspin “published a series of further ‘updates’ that not only failed to correct the record, but instead established that Deadspin fully understood the Article’s highly damaging and defamatory nature—while maliciously refusing to back down. And 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 suit said.
“Deadspin has gone too far. H.A. should not have to live with his face being plastered on social media alongside false and defamatory accusations of racist conduct. His parents should not be forced to live with the false and defamatory allegation that they are teaching ‘hate in the home.’ And Raul and Shannon will not be bullied by Deadspin’s threat of counter-legal action for vindicating their rights—and the rights of their nine-year old son. The Armenta Family brings this lawsuit to set the record straight and to hold Deadspin accountable for willfully spreading incendiary lies about a nine-year-old child who it chose as a vehicle for its race-baiting agenda,” it continued.
The lawsuit does not target Phillips as a defendant but instead names G/O Media, the parent company of Deadspin. G/O Media did not return a request for comment.
The suit features a picture of Taylor Swift wearing black and red to similarly celebrate the Chiefs, and pictures of black cheerleaders from the team embracing the nine-year-old for his superfan costume.
The article claimed that if people “stand against Critical Race Theory, and try to erase centuries of hate. You give future generations the ammunition they need to evolve and recreate racism better than before”—a line the lawsuit said implied that the “innocent costume was even worse” than slavery.
By December 12, Deadspin had changed its story to focus on faulting the NFL for not banning fans from wearing headdresses at all stadiums, in what the lawsuit called a “dishonest attempt to reframe the gist of the original story” that showed that it knew the blackface allegation was wrong, while still not retracting it.
The suit said the family is “now outcast from their community” and is considering moving, while the boy has lost “the innocence of youth, and the deep, unencumbered love for his favorite football team.” When he applies to college, Google search results will link him to racism, it said.
It said Deadspin acted with “actual malice” because Phillips knew the boy was not wearing blackface and noted that he did not reach out to the family for comment before publishing. It asks the court to order Deadspin to pay “punitive and/or exemplary damages” to the family.