Oregon Daily Emerald Accused of Racial Stereotyping in Basketball Brawl Coverage

The Black Student Union at the University of Oregon is accusing The Oregon Daily Emerald of racial stereotyping in its coverage of a fight last month between opposing players facing off in an intramural basketball playoff game.  The group is also charging the school’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) with racial profiling in its initial handling of the incident.

In early March, two intramural hoops squads made up of Oregon students were involved in “a really physical game that just got out of hand.”  A hard foul led to a bench-clearing brawl and some physical violence, admittedly from members of both teams.

Yet, when DPS officers arrived on scene only black students were detained.  In addition, according to a local broadcast news report, the Black Student Union (BSU) “says the [white] student who started the fight was made to look like the victim” in related Emerald coverage and treated like the victim by the DPS.

As evidence of journalistic bias, the BSU specifically cites a pair of photographs run with the Emerald brawl report: 1) A shot published on the front page of the print edition showing a black student player surrounded by DPS officers, in handcuffs, and seemingly needing to be restrained.  2) A shot on the jump page of a bruised white student appearing fragile and innocent as DPS officers inspect him– even though he confessed throwing punches and was tagged by some as the actual fight-starter.

The group feels the photos are visual representations of a slant in the story itself that they allege unfairly paints the black players as harmful perpetrators and the white students as their vulnerable prey.  They are claiming unintentional stereotyping, without malicious intent.

BSU members are also complaining about the location of the front-page photo depicting the detained black student.  It ran in the far right column, adjacent to a separate story on crime in a neighborhood near campus known as West University. The BSU is concerned about the headline “Criminals of West University” appearing so close to the student photo, apparently “stereotypically associat[ing] a black man with crime.”

(My Take: This particular grievance is extremely weak for two reasons.  1) The “Criminals” story is the seventh installment of a multi-part series on crime in that neighborhood, undoubtedly scheduled for publication and even possibly laid out long before the basketball fight broke out.  2) There is a prominent line/border separating that centerpiece from the basketball report.  Check out the image below.  I see nothing but two stories competently laid out and clearly separated, along with a weather forecast calling for fog and a high in the 50s.)

A screenshot of a portion of the front page on the day the basketball brawl story appeared.

At a special meeting last week between the paper, the BSU, the DPS, and university administrators, Emerald EIC Tyree Harris stated, “The story [on the brawl last month] was clearly questioning everything involved in the situation.  Nobody in the newsroom was trying to portray this story in a stereotypical way.”


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