The Des Moines Register's editors just don't get it

Diane Kolmer initially submitted this letter to the Des Moines Register, which has not published it. -promoted by Laura Belin

On August 18, the Des Moines Sunday Register glorified a criminal who violently assaulted three women, with a five-page cover story detailing his previous experience as a top-rated high school football player.

I kept reading and looking for any acknowledgment of what his crimes had been, but each page was more praise for his football talent. This was written by a sports writer. This criminal lost any right to his ‘glory’ when he violently assaulted not one but three women. He lost all right to any five-page Register story about his past athletic achievements.

Finally, in the last pages of the story there are graphic descriptions of his crimes, with a couple of quotes from one of the victims and one of the prosecutors of the cases. One prosecutor said that what he did stands out in her career for the degree of violence.

This type of news story only affirms the perception that if one is good at football, criminal behavior doesn’t matter, regardless of how egregious. The felon’s insistence of his remorse is dubious given his hope this story will get him into the NFL. Ultimately, the Register should never glorify the past of any violent criminal, even if he was a wannabe-Hawkeye football player.

Diane Kolmer formerly worked as a staffer for U.S. Senator George McGovern, then as a television reporter and later as a lobbyist in Iowa.

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: I enclose below photos of the five-page profile of Kyle Williams by Mark Emmert, the Register’s Iowa Hawkeyes beat reporter, as the story appeared in the Des Moines Sunday Register.

For some reason, this feature did not arouse as much controversy as a 2016 longform piece about convicted rapist and former college football player Daniel Holtzclaw. The editors of SB Nation pulled down that story hours after its publication, admitting it was “tone-deaf, insensitive to the victims of sexual assault and rape, and wrongheaded in approach and execution.” The news site fired the editor who had worked on the piece and had ignored serious concerns a colleague expressed prior to publication.

I know it’s not unusual to have ground rules going into an interview, but I question the news value of this piece, since Williams refused to discuss his crimes or his motives. It’s not clear whether he’s been diagnosed with or treated for any mental health condition or what he’s done in prison to address his problems with anger and violence toward women. Although Emmert’s story says a bit more about the victims than the SB Nation’s piece on Holtzclaw, the focus is on the tragic waste of Williams’ football talent, rather than on the women he savagely assaulted.

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  • As a side note...

    …which I also wondered about when I read Ira Lacher’s good recent post about football — how important is sports coverage to newspapers these days? As a subscriber with no interest in sports, I pay for a lot of sports stories that I never read. But in recent years, I’ve hoped that sports coverage was generating revenue from sports fans who might not otherwise pay for newspaper journalism. Is that actually true, and if so, could it perhaps be affecting, in certain cases, how sports are covered? Or is that last question unfair to sports writers?