The parents of a nine-year-old Kansas City Chiefs fan are suing a sports outlet after it published a story defaming their son and accusing him of cultural appropriation in what the family calls a “malicious” attack.
“It takes a lot to disrespect two groups of people at once,” Carron Phillips, a reporter for Deadspin, wrote in the November article accusing the nine-year-old of wearing “blackface“ to a Kansas City Chiefs football game. The article, titled “The NFL needs to speak out against the Kansas City Chiefs fan in Black face, Native headdress,” said that the nine-year-old “found a way to hate Black people and the Native American at the same time.” The nine-year-old was wearing black and red face paint as well as a decorative headdress, representing his favorite team at a National Football League game.
While attending the game, the boy was shown for a brief moment on the CBS television broadcast, an image that was later selectively copied and published by Phillips and Deadspin.
“Despite their age, who taught that person that what they were wearing was appropriate?” the Deadspin writer questioned in the article.
Shortly after the article was published, the nine-year-old’s parents, Shannon and Raul Armenta, spoke out and publicly condemned the reporter and sports outlet and demanded a retraction.
“It is not enough to quietly remove a tweet from X or disable the article from Deadspin’s website,” the Armentas’ lawyer wrote in a December letter threatening to sue. Shannon Armenia also shared on Facebook that her son is a Native American himself, as is his grandfather, who is reportedly serving on the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. Deadspin did not retract the article or issue an apology to the family, but rather updated the article to “remove any photos, tweets, links, or otherwise identifying information about the fan.”
On Tuesday, the Armentas’ filed a lawsuit against the media outlet, accusing it of “maliciously and wantonly attack[ing] a nine-year-old boy and his parents for Phillips’ own race-drenched political agenda.” Their son, referenced as “H.A.” in the lawsuit, was wearing red and black face paint and a costume headdress, “just as Chiefs fans and other avid sports fans have done for decades,” the lawsuit acknowledges.
“By selectively capturing from the CBS broadcast an image of H.A. showing only the one side of his face with black paint on it—an effort that took laser-focused precision to accomplish given how quickly the boy appeared on screen—Phillips and Deadspin deliberately omitted the half of H.A.’s face with red paint on it,” the parents’ lawsuit claims.
H.A.’s parents said that before the “controversy,” their son “had no idea what blackface was or the racist history behind it,” adding, “he certainly did not wear black paint on half of his face to mimic or mock Black people.” They additionally note in the lawsuit that the boy’s father belongs to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the same tribe in which his grandfather is an elder.
The family says that as a result of the smears, they have received death threats and have had to consider moving out of state. H.A. began suffering at school following the public smear, according to the lawsuit, which claims that his “test scores and grades have dropped in school, and he has shown emotional damage from the onslaught of negative attention.”
The family is seeking “actual and presumed damages to be specifically determined at trial,” a “narrowly-tailored injunction prohibiting the republication of any statement or image adjudicated to be false and defamatory,” and “additional remedies as the Court may deem just and proper.”
This piece first appeared at TPUSA.