Conflicting reports call allegations against SLS Professor John Donohue into question

Oct. 4, 2018, 1:35 a.m.

Following The Fountain Hopper’s publication of unverified claims that Stanford Law Professor John Donohue used racial slurs during an altercation with a recreational basketball player at the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (AOERC), statements by Donohue and three witnesses — two of whom are Donohue’s sons — cast doubt on some of the allegations.

John Donohue validated some aspects of The Fountain Hopper’s story, confirming that he threatened the Asian basketball player with criminal charges, which Donohue said could result in deportation despite not knowing the individual’s name or citizenship status. However, he maintained that he did not use slurs against the player.

Donohue’s comments toward this player were said to have come after the professor collided with, and then fell to the ground with, another Asian player during a jump ball. The first basketball player then allegedly struck Donohue, reportedly knocking him unconscious and causing a concussion. 

A male sophomore who was playing basketball on an adjacent court at the time suggested to The Daily that allegations of such language were inaccurate. Donohue’s sons, Aidan Donohue ’19 and Patrick Donohue ’22, denied the allegations entirely.

Said claims were initially made public on Tuesday in The Fountain Hopper’s report. Despite naming Donohue, the publication did not clarify what slur he was actually alleged to have said.

“FoHo has made the editorial decision not to publish the alleged slur due to liability concerns,” the publication wrote. The Fountain Hopper did not specify the nature of such reservations.

According to Aidan Donohue, his father was accused of calling another player a “chink,” a derogatory term used to refer to people of Chinese descent. The sophomore witness to the incident did not recall hearing Donohue use any slurs, although he qualified that he was not within earshot for the entirety of the incident.

In an interview with The Daily, John Donohue claimed he was punched by one of the Asian players in an altercation related to a five-on-five basketball game in which the two were competing. Both of Donohue’s sons confirmed that such an altercation took place, and the sophomore witness confirmed this. 

According to Provost Persis Drell and Associate Vice President for University Communications Brad Hayward, a University investigation initiated by Stanford Law Dean Elizabeth Magill is ongoing. Magill declined to respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

“The review is still under way and is being co-led by an outside investigator and a Stanford faculty member,” Hayward wrote in an email to The Daily.

Following the instigation of Stanford’s outside review, John Donohue was questioned by examiners on Sept. 12. Meanwhile, Stanford police conducted a separate investigation, which was forwarded to the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office. The District Attorney “declined to file charges for any alleged crimes,” according to Hayward.

The altercation

The sophomore witness and Aidan Donohue reported that after a player from the opposing team, a taller Asian man, received the rebound, John Donohue grabbed the ball, making the ball a jump ball. Both John Donohue and the taller Asian man wrestled for the ball and ultimately fell to the floor.

Aidan Donohue said that the man “pulled [his] dad over [the player] a little bit,” as both of them tried to gain possession of the ball. 

Shortly after, according to Aidan Donohue, a different player “came out of nowhere” and punched the professor in the face, causing him to fall to the floor again.

“He collapsed on the floor and he was knocked unconscious and at that point I ran over and shoved the guy,” Aidan Donohue said.

The sophomore witness confirmed that another player, also Asian and slightly shorter than his teammate, approached the professor, but was unable to determine who threw which punches or whether they landed.

John Donohue said the punch led to a concussion and an injury to an eye which he previously had two surgeries on.

Aidan Donohue confirmed that when his father regained consciousness, John Donohue was “so out of it.” John Donohue then asked which player hit him, as he had no immediate recollection.

“I never saw him coming,” John Donohue said.

According to the sophomore witness, “both sides started raising their voices,” but the argument was taken into the hallway of the AOERC, at which point he followed.

In the hallway, John Donohue said that he explained potential legal consequences to the player who allegedly punched him. 

“I did sort of point out to the guy who refused to address the issue, ‘Do you realize how serious this is?’” he told The Daily. “‘You could be thrown out of Stanford. You could be criminally prosecuted: this was felony aggravated assault… You could be deported. Consequences of this could be very severe.’”

The sophomore witness confirmed that when he went out into the hallway, he did not hear any racist language.

“Either someone misheard or [the player] thought that it would help his case if he said I made that racial slur, which was not true. It was kind of upsetting,” John Donohue said. “My entire career has been fighting for social justice and racial equality so that would be quite an offensive charge to be made against me.”

At present, the player’s affiliation with Stanford is unknown. John Donohue and his sons do not know his name and claim that he refused to give his name to the staff at the front desk of the AOERC.

As this argument continued, John Donohue urged the AOERC staff member at the front desk to call the police despite their initial resistance to this request, according to Aidan Donohue. 

The Daily reached out to the AOERC front desk for comment, but did not hear from employees familiar with the matter by the time of publication.

The front desk ultimately called the police, who arrived on the scene and collected statements from both parties.

When asked why he hit the professor, the player gave “a vacant look” and said “‘I didn’t touch you,’” according to John Donohue.

Following the altercation, according to Donohue, the police asked Donohue whether he had called the player a “chink.” Donohue speculated that the man, defensive upon the police’s arrival, alleged the professor’s use of the term.

“It’s just ridiculous,” Aidan Donohue said.

Although he confirmed that his father made the comment about deportation, Aidan Donohue added, “My dad’s comments were absolutely not racially motivated.”


This article has been updated to clarify that John Donohue’s threats of deportation against the basketball player were combined with his threats of criminal charges. 


Aparna Verma contributed to this report.

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’

Julia Ingram ’21 was The Daily's Volume 256 editor-in-chief. She is a New York City native majoring in English literature and working toward a career in news reporting. Contact her at jingram ‘at’

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