SB Nation Tried to Get Away With Publishing ‘Good Guy’ Profile on Convicted Rapist Daniel Holtzclaw

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Former Oklahoma City cop and former Eastern Michigan football player Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of raping numerous Black women while on the force. He was sentenced to 263 years after being convicted on 18 of 36 counts that included first-degree rape and forced oral sodomy.

Holtzclaw’s name has been back in headlines due to a long-form story in SB Nation that showcased him in a sympathetic light. Jeff Arnold wrote the story, which became the center of scrutiny and was eventually removed. Arnold took to Twitlonger yesterday to apologize:

“In recent days, I have had a chance to reflect on the profile of convicted rapist Daniel Holtzclaw I worked on for two months in collaboration with the editors at SB Nation. Now that I have some distance on the piece, I see that it presented a lopsided account that failed to acknowledge the suffering of Mr. Holtzclaw’s victims. For that, I apologize.

Throughout an arduous reporting and editing process, my editor and I were mindful that we could never lose sight of those victims or the horrific treatment each of them experienced. But we also felt there was an untold story to be told, which led us to focus on Mr. Holtzclaw, starting with his past as a football player at Eastern Michigan and his pursuit to play in the NFL.

In writing this piece – which was reviewed and signed off on by at least four editors prior to its publication – I hoped to present a more fully-rounded portrait of Mr. Holtzclaw than had appeared in the press. I hoped to explore the question of what had happened to this once-promising young man. I and my editor at SB Nation hoped to find possible answers as to what could have led to him to become a convicted rapist and sexual predator. In the end, though, I produced a piece that had massive shortcomings.

SB Nation cut ties with Arnold completely. However, this new revelation that four editors reviewed the piece and still decided to publicize it puts the spotlight back on SB Nation. The sports website is cleaning house by conducting an internal investigation and closing its long-form program until they figure out what happened. As SB Nation editorial director Spencer Hall puts it:

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.

Holtzclaw’s victims were 13 Black women who were dehumanized as the trial occurred because of their “sketchy” pasts, and this makes the profile even more insensitive.

Arnold did not name anyone involved, but the accusations are damning nonetheless.

In December of last year, SB Nation editor Glenn Stout said in an email  “the fact that [Holtzclaw] was a football player — and a pretty good one, who fell just short of the N.F.L. — seemed to have escaped all other coverage.”

Deadspin says the long-form piece was “basically, this is the local news interviewing the shocked neighbors — ‘He always seemed like such a nice kid’ — over and over again for 12,000 words.”

The deleted SB Nation profile can be summed up in this statement:

“Naturally quiet and reserved, Holtzclaw quickly proved himself to be an off-season workhorse. He struck teammates as a nose-to-the-grindstone worker, who rarely spoke unless he was spoken to, and who went about his business without bothering anyone around him … Holtzclaw was never the loud life of the party or heavy drinker like some other teammates who tended to make their presence known at off-campus parties. But neither was he a silent wallflower who disappeared from sight. He was a team leader, recognized as a football star at a place that had very few, and seemed to accept that responsibility.”

The profile attempts to humanize a person who does not deserve it. His victims did not get this type of “nuanced” overview of their lives or their trials and tribulations by major white media outlets — and neither should a convicted-rapist ex-cop.

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