It is always interesting and ironic when two seemingly unrelated news stories dovetail and one works to illuminate the other. Such has been the case this week with the tragic assault on Isaac Kolstad in Mankato unfolding side by side in the Star Tribune with debate over the issue of how to work toward racial equity in Minneapolis.

The facts out of Mankato are that a former local high school star quarterback, 20-year-old Philip Nelson, allegedly was drunk and kicked an already unconscious, prone and defenseless Isaac Kolstad in the head “like it was a soccer ball.” Kolstad is now in critical condition fighting for his life and, should he live, faces possibly permanent brain damage. Nelson, a former Gophers football player who recently transferred to Rutgers (and has been dismissed now from that school’s football team) has been charged with first- and third-degree assault.

Isaac Kolstad is 24 years old, married with a daughter — and black. Philip Nelson is white.

Racial inequity is not always as obvious as it once was, Donald Sterling and his ilk notwithstanding. Instead, it comes in more subtle forms that nonetheless steer perception. In this instance, it is the media, and in particular the Star Tribune, that has furthered the type of white privilege that black Americans have long recognized and white Americans have not.

The above-the-fold front-page headline in the May 13 Star Tribune reads, “Flurry of blows leaves 2 lives in ruins.” The implication seems clear — there are two victims in this story. We are supposed to put ourselves in Nelson’s shoes and see how he, too, stands to lose so much from this horrible situation.

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.

It is easy to see the potential for racial inequity when someone like Donald Sterling is in a decisionmaking position. In Minnesota, though, we often display a much more nuanced form, and it is not as easy to see. Ask yourself: Would the Star Tribune really draw these parallels of lives ruined if a black 20-year-old Gophers football player kicked a white, unconscious 24-year-old husband and father in the head? Would they really be suggesting that there are two victims?

We may not need to see subtle forms of racial inequity in all things, but we should notice it when it is in the large-print headline of Minnesota’s largest-circulated newspaper.


Joe Bollettieri is an attorney and writer in St. Louis Park.