Subtle racism in Mankato attack coverage?


Isaac Kolstad, beaten nearly to death outside a Mankato bar last weekend, remains in a coma. Philip Nelson, the former University of Minnesota quarterback, is facing up to 25 years in prison. Both men’s lives will never be the same.

Was it racist of me to point that last part out?

In an op-ed in the Star Tribune today, attorney Joe Bollettieri of St. Louis Park says it is, at least when the Star Tribune did it with its headline on Tuesday morning. Kolstad is black. Nelson is white.

“Flurry of blows leaves 2 lives in ruins,” the front-page headline said.

A picture of Nelson leaving a courthouse while trying to shield his face accompanies the story.

Bollettieri writes that the handling of the case shows white privilege and subtle racism by suggesting there are two victims.

The idea that there is some equipoise between the consequences faced by a person who gets kicked in the head and those faced by the person who kicked him is reprehensible.

The Star Tribune also shows a picture of Philip Nelson’s father with this story. He is gravely concerned and his visage contributes to our ability to see this situation from the perspective of the Nelsons. There is no accompanying picture of Kolstad’s family. Pictures of Kolstad’s wife and child are widely available on the Internet, however.

The next day, in the sports pages, Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse devoted his column to Nelson (“Future was bright, once upon a time in Mankato,” May 14). He recounted Nelson’s heroics in high school and his once bright future. He closes the piece with, “There’s a 24-year-old, Isaac Kolstad, in critical condition …, and Philip Nelson is charged in the assault. A few seconds and lives ruined. Dang, Almighty.”

Again, the parallel of two lives ruined.

kolstadKolstad’s friends are trying to raise money to pay for considerable medical expenses. If he had a football future, of course, it’s over for Nelson.

Those are not the same things by a long shot. But they are things.

It’s possible, too, that something else is at play here aside from (or in addition to) racism — our elevation of sports stars. If Nelson hadn’t played football, would the attack be getting the attention it is?