Former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw (C), stands with his defense attorney Scott Adams (L). Holtzclaw was convicted of raping four women and sexually assaulting several others while he was on duty. Reuters/Sue Ogrocki

Vox Media’s sports site, SB Nation, has taken down an article it published on Feb. 17 titled “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?”, about a former footballer who was convicted on multiple counts of rape and sexual assault.

The publication had faced immense backlash from the public soon after the story was published, with readers accusing the editorial team of being sympathetic to 29-year-old Holtzclaw -- a police officer at the time he committed his crimes -- and insensitive to his victims.

The article, a longform feature that was promoted to the site’s front page, begins with an emotional description of Holtzclaw in an Oklahoma court, which in January this year sentenced him to 263 years in prison.

It then goes on to interview a number of sources, including Holtzclaw’s former teammates Cortland Selman and Tyler Grey, who express their disbelief at their friend’s crimes, while interweaving these accounts with details about Holtzclaw’s past.

A total of nearly 12,000 words were published, but little space was dedicated to Holtzclaw’s victims – 13 black women he was charged to have raped and sexually assaulted.

Readers quickly expressed their outrage and disappointment at the piece written by Jeff Arnold, a regular contributor to the New York Times, Associated Press and Chicago Sun-Times, and tellingly, cited as a “veteran journalist who covered Daniel Holtzclaw’s entire Eastern Michigan football career”.

“It was insensitive to the victims lumping them together as ‘troubled women’ especially after most of them have been vindicated in court,” one commentator said on SB Nation in response to an open note by the title’s editorial director.

“The man is a convicted rapist now, but the article was trying to show that anybody that knew the guy had no indication of his predatorial [sic] nature.”

SB Nation’s Editorial Director Spencer Hall released a letter of apology hours after the story first went live, saying the publication of the piece represented a “complete breakdown of a part of the editorial process at SB Nation”.

“It was tone-deaf, insensitive to the victims of sexual assault and rape, and wrongheaded in approach and execution. There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.

“In light of that failure, we've taken the story down. I take full responsibility for this as editorial director. It was not up to our standards as a website. It was not up to our standards as a part of Vox Media. It is not reflective of our ideals, or who we want to be as an organisation in the future.”

Although Hall’s swift and humble response has earned praise from some readers, his admission that senior editorial staff had objected to the article – but whose warnings went unheeded – have left others asking who gave the green light, and how the story even managed to make it to the front page.

The debacle has also raised debate about the coverage of topics outside of the sports arena, in sports journalism, which is focused on telling stories about the character and journey of an athlete. As Fansided’s Jessica Luther points out, assigning a story about sexual assault to a sports writer was SB Nation’s downfall.

“Arnold’s starting point is as a man who watched Holtzclaw’s entire college career, who sees Holtzclaw as an athlete first, and who imagines Holtzclaw’s story as a tragic arc,” Luther writes. “The victimised women are simply an anomaly to be explained away in the otherwise successful life of a nice guy who happened to become a convicted rapist.”