Colin Kaepernick Doesn't Look Like Other NFL Quarterbacks...Get Used to It
Colin Kaepernick, the new starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, doesn't fit into any predetermined mold of what a quarterback is supposed to look like.
Deal with it.
As fans and media have gotten used to the fact that Alex Smith is riding the bench and Kaepernick is going to be "the guy" moving forward, everyone has sought to learn a little bit more about him.
Recently, Sporting News' David Whitley took his turn at introducing Kaepernick to the world. He failed. More accurately, he failed miserably and embarrassingly. He took a young man and reduced him to a series of cosmetic choices. His racially charged screed was more "us vs. them" than the most recent episode of Homeland.
Here are some excerpts from Whitley's article, "Colin Kaepernick Ushers in an Inked-Up NFL Quarterbacking Era":
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is going to be a big-time NFL quarterback. That must make the guys in San Quentin happy.
For dinosaurs like me, NFL quarterbacks were our little Dutch boys. The original hero stuck his finger in the dyke to save Holland. Pro QBs were the last line of defense against the raging sea of ink. When our kids said they wanted a tattoo, we could always point to the Manning brothers.
I still think tattoo removal is going to be huge industry in the coming years. But for now, I might as well accept that Holland is probably doomed. If you can’t draw the tattoo line at NFL quarterback, you can’t draw them anywhere.
Oh, OK then.
At one point, Whitley even comes out and says, "It's not just a white thing." He's correct there, because many white people have zero problem with tattoos. If it were suddenly "a white thing," I would be awfully ashamed of my race.
No, it's not a white thing at all. It's probably not even an age thing, either. Plenty of "respectable" old white people have plenty of tattoos—things like crosses, butterflies or bible verses.
Rather, it's just an old columnist being frightened and judgmental of people who look slightly different from him instead of getting to know them as people. That's what it is. If he wants to label it, he can go right ahead; he seems like the expert with labels.
Why would anyone want to label Kaepernick as "tatted up" when he is so much more than that?
Kaepernick is the guy who turned down interest from Ivy League universities out of high school because he knew his family couldn't afford the tuition. He's the young man who spent part of this last summer hanging out at a camp with kids who suffer from heart defects (they've got some scars on their chests, too...hoodlums.)
You see, I've met Kaepernick before and came away with the impression of what a nice young man he is. To get to know a little more about him, I spoke with Shawn Smith, who handles PR and marketing for Kaepernick, and she told me some great stories.
Mrs. Smith took exception (calling it a "low blow") that Whitley compared Kaepernick to a hardened criminal from San Quentin. "He doesn't do anything wrong," she said, "and I'm not just talking about breaking the law. He doesn't drink. He doesn't stay out late. He's early to everything and doesn't miss appointments."
She told me a story of a time that Kaepernick was over to dinner, and as she sat down and "started chatting," she looked over and realized Kaepernick had bowed his head in prayer.
"He doesn't get riled up, ever...well, unless you're beating him in ping pong. He's really competitive."
Clearly a menace.
Whitley is hardly the first person in the media to try to fit an athlete into a neat little box of his own preconceived notions. In August 2011, ESPN ran with the (now infamous) "What if Michael Vick Were White?" column that featured a Photoshop of Vick in "white face."
The author of that column, Toure', took exception with the doctored photograph because it had the opposite effect of what his column intended. His goal was to talk about Vick in a way that moved past the tired, racist tropes. Instead, ESPN pandered to the lowest common denominator (as I wrote at the time).
This idea that we, as fans or media, know what a quarterback should look like is nonsense. Quarterbacks are people, and more and more, college coaches are caring less about what a quarterback looks like and more about how many wins he can get them.
Wins equal money, and in the multi-billion dollar business that is college athletics, a QB with dreads or tattoos that wins 10 games is just as valuable as the clean-cut white kid who does the same.
As those quarterbacks matriculate into the NFL, fans are treated to more black quarterbacks than some people may have ever imagined possible.
That fact can only help filter back down to the lower levels of football, where young black athletes have more black quarterbacks to look up to. As Whitley laments only having 20-some-odd white quarterbacks for his children to look up to, black parents finally have a handful they can point their sons toward.
Excuse me while I weep for Whitley's misfortune...tears of laughter, mind you.
A major problem with Whitley's insinuation that Kaepernick's tattoos mean the NFL is somehow changing is that the NFL fundamentally changed long ago, and the world kept turning. Not every quarterback has to emerge from the same Troy Aikman/Peyton Manning cookie cutter. It'll be alright. Maybe, in spite of Whitley, his children will learn to look up to people for better reasons than that they look similar.
That brings up the other big problem: Reducing Kaepernick to just "tatted up" ignores the myriad reasons that parents should hope and pray that their children grow up to be exactly like Colin Kaepernick and less like bitter old columnists who judge football players for the way they look rather than who they are or how well they play football.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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