Dead In The Spin Water? 9-Year-Old Kansas City Chiefs Fan’s Parents Sue Media Outlet Over “Blackface” Claims About His Painted Face at Game

The reaction to what was perceived as a child’s blackface moment during a Kansas City Chiefs vs. Las Vegas Raiders football game last season has now yielded a lawsuit. The parents of Holden Armenta filed a lawsuit against Deadspin earlier this month to hold the outlet accountable. 

Shannon and Raul, parents of Holden Armenta, alleged that Deadspin exposed “the family to a barrage of hate, including death threats,” after the article was published.

“The Article falsely alleged that [Holden] had ‘found a way to hate Black people and the Native Americans at the same time,’ the lawsuit said. “It intentionally painted a picture of the Armenta Family as anti-Black, anti-Native American bigots who proudly engaged in the worst kind of racist conduct motivated by their family’s hatred for Black and Native Americans.”

NABJ Award-Winning Journalist Carron J. Phillips Called It Like He Saw It

The journalist who wrote the story, Carron J. Phillips, is an NABJ award-winning staff writer for Deadspin who called it as he saw it. In his original story, “The NFL needs to speak out against the Kansas City Chiefs fan in Black face, Native headdress,” in November 2023, the article discussed the face paint but not the totality of it.

One side was painted black, but the other was painted red. With that crucial detail aside, the article accused Armenta of wearing blackface despite other footage showing him with red and black paint on his face. Faulty original story titling? Possibly, but what’s more, when Armenta was shown on national TV and CBS broadcast, a contingent of fans were also outraged from the side painted in black.

Deadspin made the first move to adjust the narrative when it removed the photo of Holden Armenta from the story and amended it with little fanfare while adding a disclaimer that it was not going after the minor.

The story’s title was also revised: The NFL Must Ban Native Headdress And Culturally Insensitive Face Paint in the Stands (UPDATED) with an editor’s note to kick off the story.

“On Nov. 27, 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,” the note reads.

“Unfortunately the article drew attention to the fan, though our intended focus was on the NFL and its checkered history on race, an issue which our writer has covered extensively for Deadspin,” the explanation continued. 

“Three years ago, the Chiefs banned fans from wearing headdresses in Arrowhead Stadium, as well as face painting that ‘appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions.’ The story’s intended focus was the NFL and its failure to extend those rules to the entire league.”

Did Face Paint Meet Acceptable NFL Standards?

The Kansas City Chiefs introduced new policies geared toward raising awareness of American Indian cultures and celebrating “the rich traditions of tribes with a historic connection to the Kansas City area,” the team said in a statement in 2020. Additionally, fans are even prohibited from wearing headdresses to Arrowhead Stadium. 

According to, although face painting is allowed as a fan privilege, there are boundaries as the league states, “any face paint that is styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions will be prohibited.”

Amid the controversy, the Deadspin writer doubled down on his perspective when he posted on ‘X,’ “For the idiots in my mentions who are treating this as some harmless act because the other side of his face was painted red, I could make the argument that it makes it even worse.”

This hits directly on the fact that the act would be against Kansas City Chiefs policy for attending games at Arrowhead Stadium, but Allegiant in Las Vegas does not have the same stringency. 

Also, calling people “idiots” does not help win over the audience to your viewpoint.

Did Carron J. Phillips Jump To Conclusions? Child Is Native American

The issue is the perfect storm of working from limited information in the form of the live broadcast footage of the child at the game not showing his entire face for clarity and Phillips focusing on one perceived issue when, in truth, there were many. Since the controversy, the parents have armed themselves for the potential Native American disparagement pivot by claiming their son is Native American.

Armenta is apparently of Chumash descent.

If true, there are no ways to police how one wants to represent their heritage when it isn’t immediately clear that it is your heritage rather than a parody.

In the politically charged climate we are in, the story has been bait for a vocal contingent of Black conservatives as well as the “woke media” hunters. Could the story have been initially framed better? 


Are the parents wrong for feeding into their son’s love of the Chiefs so much that they allowed him to embody how he perceives the brand? Only if Allegiant Stadium had rules against it, but overall, it is universally known that kids like to wear face paint and cheer on their heroes. 

What the incident proves more than anything is that America’s racial polarization has so many intricate nuances that any small, unchecked fact will evolve into a roiling fire of discourse and that all loopholes will be blown up, so you must find no inconsistencies before commenting on anything that feels racially motivated.

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