Why Is Your Most Conservative Family Member Screaming About A Small Boy In A Headdress?
12:27 PM EST on December 1, 2023
I knew the story had escaped contain when my uncle texted me about it this week. His text complained about a Chicago-based journalist named Carron J. Phillips, who is a senior writer for the current iteration of Deadspin. My uncle is, of course, not a reader of that blog. As a man who grew up in the most cop-heavy zip code of Philadelphia, I am in touch with the angry conservative media extended universe simply by osmosis. So I knew what must have happened, and I knew it would be stupid. But this story was big enough, or anyway noisy enough, that maybe it popped onto your radar, too. So: here is an explainer.
Hey, I’m back! What’s up? Did Livvy rizz up someone new?
Sadly, this story does not include Livvy, or Baby Gronk, or even the UMass-Lowell lacrosse team. This cast of characters is much sadder.
Rough. It’s about Deadspin, huh? How are they doing?
I have occasionally been curious about what’s going on at Deadspin since it was resurrected a few months after I quit. I like to think I am not obsessed, and I know I am not all that salty anymore. So I check in on the site from time to time. Did you know one of their former EICs has an ice cream shop and there’s another ice cream shop next door?
I thought you said you weren’t obsessed.
This is just how I am about everything.
Last time we spoke like this, you said you were trying to be more focused. Let’s work on that. You said this is about this Phillips guy.
Thanks, yes. On Sunday, the Yahoo Sports writer Charles McDonald (@FourVerts) took a photo of his TV and posted it to Twitter.
Of course this is how it started.
Right. The photo was a shot of CBS’s Chiefs-Raiders broadcast, which showed a kid in a Native American headdress with his face painted black. In my mind he was very obviously just a kid looking to support his team with an ill-considered costume, a thing that will very obviously happen when a team is nicknamed “Chiefs” and uses Native imagery. It also very obviously looked like the kid was wearing blackface, at least until you thought about how unbelievably unlikely that was, even for a fanbase with a superfan charged with robbing a bank.
I am guessing Phillips wrote about this tweet?
He did! Deadspin ran a story Monday morning with the headline “The NFL needs to speak out against the Kansas City Chiefs fan in Black face, Native headdress,” and—
Can you believe the new Deadspin changed its headline case?
I actually like it. It makes it easier to tell what version of the site a story is from.
I’m full of ’em. Headline style aside, the story was not very well done. Phillips wrote that the kid had "found a way to hate Black people and the Native Americans at the same time" and that "the image of a Chiefs fan in Black face wearing a Native headdress during a road game leads to so many unanswered questions." Then he asked these questions:
Why did the camera person give this fan the attention?
Why did the producer allow that camera angle to be aired at all?
Is that fan a kid/teenager or a young adult?
Despite their age, who taught that person that what they were wearing was appropriate?
The answers to all of those questions lead back to the NFL. While it isn’t the league’s responsibility to stop racism and hate from being taught in the home, they are a league that has relentlessly participated in prejudice. If the NFL had outlawed the chop at Chiefs games and been more aggressive in changing the team’s name, then we wouldn’t be here.Deadspin, Nov. 27
And that is the end of the discussion of the photo of a guy’s TV. The execution may be clumsy—I would say it's extremely clumsy—but the point is logical enough: If the NFL didn’t let a team call itself the Chiefs, there would be none (or at least fewer) Native American-inspired fan outfits at their games. The rest of the story is a roundup of what I guess I’d call various race-related topics from around the NFL and society.
The thesis of this blog doesn't sound that bad. How did your uncle possibly hear about it?
Well, other television shots of the kid showed that his face was only painted half black, and that the other half was red. He was wearing red and black colors to support the Chiefs.
Oh, yes. People should consider how their looks could be perceived by others. And they do! The mere act of wearing a Chiefs jersey to a game in Las Vegas is a perfect example. And I certainly wouldn’t dress up in a headdress and face paint like this to attend a football game. But just from looking at the photo it’s very obvious to me the kid was not trying to wear blackface, or even do a tribute to Roddy Piper’s look at WrestleMania 6.
He’s way too young to have ever seen that match.
A good point from you this time. I have a pretty generous definition of what constitutes a story; earlier this year Tom Ley had to tell me that, no, we didn't need three stories about one MLS game. But I really don’t think this kid’s football costume is a story.
Especially if you might be defaming him by writing it!
Yes. Anyway, it wasn't long before every ghoul residing in the conservative media hothouse seized on this story, holding up Phillips's assumption that the kid was wearing blackface as an unforgivable sin. The story was suddenly about an evil liberal journalist trying to smear a kid, and nothing else.
The person who seems to have kicked off the conservative backlash to Phillips's story is named Bobby Burack. He’s written about it for the conservative sports site OutKick, and at publication time of this story has tweeted about it 35 times—including 24 times after sharing what he said was his “final thought” on the situation, which itself concluded with: “The demand for racism vastly outstrips the supply. And because careers are tied to feigning racial hysteria—Joy Reid, Al Sharpton, Ben Crump—the race-hustlers have to reach/create.”
I do wish you’d let me place a bet on “I bet he compared Phillips to Al Sharpton.”
You’d never get the odds.
Let me at least take a guess first this time: This guy spends more time than anyone reaching for stories to create outrage, because that is more or less his job. Hit me with a screenshot of his author page.
I can see from those comment totals why he’s going all in on this story.
People are 150 percent more interested in this Deadspin blog than Thanksgiving. That’s data.
I assume the coverage from OutKick sent this story in an awful direction.
Yeah. Some backstory: OutKick was founded by the noted reactionary sports media doofus Clay Travis, whose awful output has been covered here before. In June 2020 the site tried a partnership with reactionary sports media doofus Jason Whitlock. Whitlock’s last byline on OutKick was in December 2020. In February of the next year he confirmed he’d pulled out of the venture, saying it was “a bad business deal, a byproduct of my failure to properly vet my business partners.”
Jason Whitlock seems to be the most introspective person in this saga.
He also made an hourlong video about the Deadspin blog. But yes, he might still be.
Hey, how long is this story so far?
Hush. So in May 2021 Travis sold OutKick to Fox, and their slop has since been distributed across Fox News’s various digital platforms. On Tuesday night Jesse Watters, who has Tucker Carlson’s old slot, did a segment on the subject with some incredible on-screen graphics.
Unfortunately for Burack, all those tweets didn’t get him a cable news appearance. Instead, that honor went to former WWE ring announcer Charly Caruso, who now works for OutKick. Fox Across America With Jimmy Failla had on comedian Dave Landau to comment. Greg Gutfeld did a long segment on his own show titled “Deadspin’s Carron Phillips only has a byline because he's a race-baiter.” Fox News’s The Five dedicated seven minutes to the segment and didn’t even mention OutKick. “This is the new thing,” Greg Gutfeld said, “half blackface.”
I guess Gutfeld isn’t familiar with WrestleMania 6, either.
And they even had former WWE wrestler and NWA World Champion Tyrus on the show! He weighed in, too, you know.
Shannon Armenta, the kid’s mother, posted on Facebook: “He is Native American—just stop already.” In fact, the kid's grandfather is Raul Armenta, a member of the federally recognized Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
The grandfather's bio says he’s currently on the tribe’s business committee and was on the gaming commission for 20 years. “He can easily recall a time when the reservation had no running water and credits the tribe’s progress over the past few decades to the tribe’s unwavering dedication to economic self-sufficiency,” his biography ends. “He looks forward to continuing the legacy of building a solid economic foundation for future generations of the Chumash tribe.”
This is all just online sleuthing, though. Did anyone actually talk to the kid and his family?
Jesse Watters got the exclusive! The kid’s name is Holden Armenta. He and his dad Bubba went on Watters’s Fox News show on Wednesday night, which means we got an answer to one of Phillips’s questions.
“Is that fan a kid/teenager or a young adult?”
So, Holden is nine. He almost certainly would not have seen this Deadspin article if people hadn’t made a big deal about it; you just know he stopped being a fan when they ended Rob Parker’s Trash Talkin’ Tuesday.
How’d that interview go?
It opens with Watters calling Holden “the most famous 9-year-old in America.” It includes a segment calling radio host Dan Le Batard, who made fun of OutKick’s coverage, hypocritical—because he had once dressed like WWE wrestler Kane.
How is there so much wrestling in this story.
The Kane thing was also Burack’s tweet, originally. Watters did not credit him. I’m starting to feel bad for this guy!
The Fox News interview was in the style of a local news hit, only it was about a Deadspin blog instead of a kid who won the local egg drop.
Bubba said his son was originally excited about getting on TV and was “devastated” by the blogs. Holden himself said, “It’s OK because everyone at school is getting excited, but if they go too far it can get a little overwhelming.” This kid wore a costume his parents probably bought for him to support his favorite football team, and now his family is going to have to deal with invites for months from grifters who want to make him the grand marshal of their 2024 Racism Parade.
“We never in any way shape or form meant to disrespect any Native Americans or any tribes,” Bubba said. “The tribe we’re from doesn’t even wear that type of headdress. This specific headdress is a novelty piece. It’s a costume piece.… without any disrespect towards any Native Americans at all.” He added that there was debate about his son’s costume among Native Americans, as well.
Bubba is doing better reporting than Fox News, or anyone else, on this story.
Front Office Sports’s A.J. Perez did some more sleuthing, following up on Bubba Armenta. You have to know by now who weighed in: Kenneth Kahn, Chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “Please keep in mind that the decisions made by individuals or families in our community are their own and may not reflect the views of the broader tribal community,” he told Perez in a statement. “As a federally recognized tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians does not endorse wearing regalia as part of a costume or participating in any other type of cultural appropriation.”
Oh, man. This really is going places.
This led to Deadspin finally updating its story, embedding the statement at the top of the original article and doing nothing else.
Anything else you discovered?
You would not believe the corny shit I saw while preparing for this fake Q&A. So many conservative try-hards are scrambling to get their licks in before the next outrage replaces this one. They’re making bootleg chrome Topps cards of the kid. "Chiefs Fans Are Planning To All Wear Black and Red Face Paint To The Next Game in A MASSIVE Show of Support For This Boy Who The Media Called Racist!" a Twitter user named Return of the Diva wrote in Old Deadspin Headline Case. Michelle Tafoya linked it to critical race theory. Ted Cruz used it as an opportunity to plug his book. Elon Musk tweeted about it twice. “Even Elon Musk has chimed in on Deadspin trying to smear a little kid and refusing to correct its article after overwhelming evidence,” Burack noted.
I saw someone reply to one of Phillips’s tweets with some meme featuring “the frog of shame.” That person, whose Twitter avatar is a photo of a man holding an infant, added: “If you scroll I littered his timeline with frogs.” That second tweet has received 54 likes, at publication time.
If somebody hits you with the frog of shame over this story, I’m gonna be so mad.
I’ll be devastated. Patterns formed as I slogged through the material. The arguments expanded beyond Deadspin to encompass the whole “mainstream media,” which I guess Deadspin is a part of now that they run syndicated game recaps. After that it just kind of becomes about what it’s always about: Trying to convince conservatives that they’re being persecuted.
But this is a terrible example of Liberal Media Bias. Best I can gather the people involved are (1) the people commenting on or replying to a tweet by @FourVerts, (2) Deadspin and (3) Dan Le Batard, I guess. The tweets about the Deadspin blog or Holden are now all marked with obnoxious community notes.
There are all these false assumptions and hype and piling-on, but there’s also a lot of fantasy. The people who are angry about this believe this will end Deadspin. “The lawsuit is going to be so big. I mean, it's going to be so huge,” conservative comedian Mike Loftus said on Fox. “Young Chiefs Fan Should Sue Deadspin Into Oblivion For Inventing Blackface Hoax About Him,” The Federalist wrote. The same sentiment is in a lot of tweets. “Mixing it up Wednesday with Mr. Phillips on X was conservative actor and author Kevin Sorbo, who predicted a defamation lawsuit,” the Washington Times wrote. A few tweets after what he promised was his “final thought” on the subject, OutKick’s Burack chastised Awful Announcing for saying he “rallied” conservatives with his full-court-press coverage of the subject. Then he basically said that rallying conservatives was indeed his goal: “Still, I hope conservatives & liberals destroy Deadspin.”
Burack and other commentators justified this stance by saying that Deadspin was attempting to “ruin” this kid’s life; they, on the other hand, are just trying to defend a kid by continuing to remind him of this incident and making it the defining moment of his 10th year on the planet. There’s a lot of fervor, here, but none of it is internally consistent or even really connects, and it is of course all being whipped up with what seems to be a callous disregard for the well-being of the kid in question. I came to think of it as the sort of defensive response you'd see from a cartel—there’s only so much outrage to go around, and we are the ones to provide it.
It's like Burack tweeted: The belief among the goons pushing this story is that the “demand” among mainstream media types for stories about racism outstrips the supply of actual stories about racism. The idea here is that black people are given a leg up in America—a demonstrably untrue and marginal but very real belief that you’ve probably encountered if you’ve ever read a message board, or watched Fox, or lived in America. The idea is to tell the audience that they are being victimized by “anti-white racism” and “race-baiters.” Those are the real racists, and the real victim of racism is you—the person getting upset about a dumb blog post you didn’t like.
Phillips’s column did suck, right?
Oh it was awful. I have not read his whole output, but I’ve seen a few of his posts. He primarily writes about race and sports, which is a worthy journalistic beat. The construct of race inflects every aspect of American life, often in ways that are hidden or complicated. But Phillips’s beat does not really seem to be about that so much as it's about Carron J. Phillips pointing out something terrible that he saw and expressing that he is 1) disappointed but 2) not surprised to have seen it.
This was a column that should have been able to land a few relatively simple and unobjectionable points: It’s in poor taste you dress your kid up in Native American regalia at a football game, and the NFL implicitly encourages this behavior by having a team named the Chiefs. It almost instantly went off the rails because nobody involved in writing or editing it spent a few minutes looking for another camera angle of the kid. That it came out so badly is not just on Phillips, but on the editorial management at Deadspin and G/O Media.
It seems clear that Deadspin’s editorial brass is OK with making the kind of assumptions Phillips did in his story. They get stuff wrong a lot. There does not appear to be much, if any, editorial direction. They had a massive fuckup the one time they got a scoop. When their stories go viral it is not because of great reporting or writing or humor, but because they botched something.
Oh my goodness! The Mike McDaniel thing!
Right. In January 2022, Deadspin writer Sean Beckwith wrote a blog with the subhead “Please stop and think before you inadvertently dub another young, white guy as the next hot NFL coaching prospect.” The story was later updated to include this note at the top:
Editors’ note: We learned after the publication of this article that 49ers OC Mike McDaniel, whom we describe as a “white guy,” is in fact biracial. The article’s original text remains below. We regret the error.Deadspin, sometime after publication on Jan. 22, 2022
The article remains unchanged, much like the one about the Chiefs fan. This kind of stuff is on the editors, but obviously also goes straight to the home office. I was once an avid reader of many of Deadspin’s sister sites, all of which have bled talent since Great Hill Partners acquired the company. People are trying but the sites are much worse. It's slideshows and listicles. There is AI content. It’s bleak.
On the plus side, if you’re cold you can just turn off adblock, type in deadspin.com and your laptop will warm you right up.
Thank you for stopping me. I would’ve continued to rant.
You went a little harder than I wanted there.
Sorry. I was trying to do a David Roth thing, maybe, give everyone a look into the human condition? That may not work as well after several thousand words of jokes.
It’s OK. This was pretty long, and not nearly as fun as Livvy rizzing up Baby Gronk. Can you tell me something embarrassing about yourself?
Yeah. I have a fitting one. Last year the NCAA credentialed me for men’s basketball tournament games at Madison Square Garden. When I got there, I saw that two Deadspin writers were a few seats down from me. I wavered about talking to them. I really had something I wanted to ask. But I thought it might be unprofessional, or rude, and I worried my bosses would get mad.
I passed up a few chances, but eventually decided to approach them. I finished a story and got up my nerve. By that time they were gone. I felt like a baby for not approaching them earlier.
That’s OK. It might have been really awkward. You shouldn’t feel bad. But what did you need to ask them anyway?
What do you think? I know what it’s like to work at Deadspin. I wanted to know more about that ice cream shop.
Disclosure: The author, and 18 other Defector Media staffers, worked at a previous iteration of Deadspin.