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From the Press Box—Tattoos, the Coming Apocalypse and YOU

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From the Press Box—Tattoos, the Coming Apocalypse and YOU

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I have a tattoo, a band of sharks around my upper right arm. It reminds me of California, and mornings surfing along Malibu, Manhattan Beach and occasionally San Diego.

Obviously I don't live in California anymore and as I started writing about football full time, had to start taking the kids to weekend activities and, well, life happened, I don't get out to surf anymore.

So my tattoo reminds me of the days when I used to get up at 5am, hop in my car or truck (depends on the year) and sat on a board in flat water and watched the sun rise or set. Of surfing with dolphin pods and seals, of my wedding day when I kicked things off with a short trip to El Segundo with friends and family, some of whom had never touched a board, and spent the morning surfing.

So you can imagine how I took the idiocy that was David Whitley's incredibly wrongheaded, stupid and racist column at Sporting News about Colin Kaepernick and his tattoos.

Unlike some, I'm not going to say Whitley is a racist. I think he fell into some racist traps, spouted some really stupid crap and thought he was being funny. Maybe he thought he was turning the whole thing on its' ear and it was satire—but satire needs to be so far over the top that there can be NO denying it is, indeed, satire.

Instead it's just offensive and stupid. I guess, according to Whitley, I can never be a CEO because the thought of a tatted CEO made Whitley's monocle pop out. I suppose I, like Kaepernick, must have more in common with Federal Prisons across the country because, you know, TATTOOS.

What is truly sad is that somewhere in that execrable excuse for a column is a very fascinating discussion about perception, about surface assumptions and the changing landscape of sports and media.

Whitley robbed us of that though because hurr hurr hurr biker gang tats.

I'll be honest, I always consider the fact that now that I'm on camera multiple times a week, I have to present a face which appeals to the widest group possible. People want to dismiss my opinion because that's what we do with folks who we disagree with. So why give them an easy out by coloring my hair green or having tat sleeves?

I'll get more tattoos, but i'll never get them visible while on camera. I've wanted to color my hair more than once, but I'm not sure that would fly well right now. Maybe one day, but probably not right now.

So I acknowledge that, while Whitley said it with as much ignorance as any one human can muster, that a wider point can be made about Kaepernick's tattoos, or more directly, quarterbacks of any race's tattoos versus the expectations we have of them.

We have had a perception or view of what a quarterback looks like and let's be honest—until the last decade (maybe more recently) that face has been white and 'clean cut' (whatever that means).

That has changed, is changing and will keep changing.

Along with that clean cut image comes a distinct lack of tattoos, especially ones visible to the naked eye.

So this is where the issue gets thorny. See, I don't see that as a race issue because I've always known people who had tattoos and race never entered into it. However, it clearly is a factor in the minds of many people, especially generations slightly older than myself.

Which means what exactly?

That's a great question. Around CHTV, Footballguys and Bleacher Report I haven't run into a great many people who care about the race of thier quarterback—just that he completes passes. I haven't met a ton of folks who, unlike Jerry Richardson, give a damn that Cam Newton has no tattoos or Kaepernick does.

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We seem to care about one thing—can he ball? Can he play and carry our team to victory?

Think about your quarterback—for many of you here, Aaron Rodgers, but for those straggling in off Twitter or Facebook, maybe it's Cutler or Sanchez or Cassel or Stafford or Griffin.

Would it really bother you if they started sporting a sleeve of tattoos? Would you really avoid buying their jersey? Going to State Farm or Papa Johns or buying Under Armor?

Would you care beyond 'he's winning'?

This, to me is similar to a point I made about a month ago, about guys like Chris Kluwe stumping for Marriage Equity.

What the heck do we care if they look different, think different or believe different if they do their job?

Ultimately, that's the other dirty secret here.

We don't like 'different'.

We fear 'different'.

It makes us different and we dislike that a ton.

I have always thought that the vast majority of humans live in fear of being found out that they are unlike the general public around them, never realizing that everyone is different than everyone else. And that's OK.

We fear different because we're afraid that if we're different maybe we're wrong or something is wrong with us.

Fear is, and this is just me talking, the base, bottom line reason for an awful lot of hate and intolerance in the world.

I believe that to be true in just about everything, from Mitch Albom's 'I hate stats' rant a few weeks back to racism to just about any 'ism' you can find.


Now again, I think Whitley was trying to be funny. He's clearly completely inept at it, but I think he was goinjg for satire.

But even then, there's a grain of truth in there about how he feels about the whole subject.

He chooses not to talk about the religious aspect to Kaepernick's tattoos. He doesn't talk about his upbringing, how pleasant a person he is, how hard he works.

Just 'he has tattoos' with some disturbingly soft undertones of 'and he's black'. Add in 'and he replaced a reasonably nice white kid' if you want to feel really dirty.

It's a new world folks. It's a world where our pure sport of football has been tainted. Our quarterbacks are no longer looking like us! (and I say that with a tongue planted in cheek because 'us' means many different things to my many different readers of various religions, genders and races)

Here's what matters about Colin Kaepernick:

-He throws the ball harder than Alex Smith
-He can throw the ball further than Smith
-He can be more accurate over longer distances than Smith
-He works damned hard
-He's mobile
-He can play the game

All the rest of it should be so much noise.

Of course, to old men like Jerry Richardson and hacks like Whitley, it's the book jacket that matters, not the story.

I had a lot more to get to today but this is already long so, we'll table thinks like is Suh a dirty player next time.

I bet he has tattoos though. Just like them jerks in San Quentin.

Now excuse me, I have to get a giant tat of Kaepernick giving the middle finger to Whitley on my back.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (23) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

I'm not one to throw out claims of "racism" lightly, but it's really hard to not come to that conclusion with that piece.

As for tattoos, I have my right leg covered and both my upper arms. I made a conscious decision not to go below my elbows (or anywhere else easily visible) because of my chosen career path (I was a journalist for a while and now work in communications/marketing). I wish I worked in a field where full-arm/hand tattoos wouldn't be looked at sideways, but that's life.

Chad Toporski's picture

Love the article, and love the song choice at the end. One of my favorite musicals.

I have no tattoos, and I will never have one in the future. They're not my thing.

But I couldn't care any less if someone else has them. It's their body, their life, their choice. And it has no overarching reflection on their personality.

Just look at Crabtree. Probably one of the nicest guys you'll meet in or outside the NFL, and the dude is covered in tats. Some people just need to get over themselves.

Church's picture

I'm going the opposite way of Evan and say that racism is thrown out way too often. Jemele Hill was a coworker of him says he's a great guy and not a racist...he apparently has two adopted daughters who are African American.

Society is so quick to label someone that is mostly a complete stranger. It was an ill conceived article no doubt but how does he differ from you whose surely made an off color joke about someone's disability, race, religion, heritage, sexual alignment? BIGOT! RACIST! See? I don't know you but have already labeled you something based on something I haven't heard you said but you've surely done (and if you say you never have I think you're lying to yourself). This guy did it in the media...shouldve known better as well but would you like the world to judge you because of one regretable statement regardless if you've said it publicly or privately? You know you're no better than him because we've all said something bigotted...maybe you didnt think so but surely someone who didnt hear it but wouldve been offended if they had or someone who heard you say it but didnt call you out on the carpet.

Throwing out the racism claim lumps the innocent mistake makers with the true hate filled, angry individuals there are.

Andrew Garda's picture

I didn't say he was racist - I said some of what he wrote was.

And the two things are mutually exclusive.

As for him having two African American daughters, that counts for very little to me. It's not a get out of stupid card. And equating tats with jails and gang bangers when the majority of people involved in both things are black and the person you're writing about is also black (in this case, Kaepernick) is just ignorant, and even if it's not intended, racist.

I'm sure he's a great guy. Having met Jemele a few times, I would imagine she wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. Hill also said she wouldn't defend the column, and again, if she thought it was OK, she'd say it.

Which should say all that should be said about it.

Mike's picture

Wow, do you even know what the word "racist" means? It's sad that the obsession with race has percolated from looney academia into common culture, especially sports. I guess when you say "racist" you just mean "I don't like this but am too dumb to figure out why."

What is racist in that column? I happen to agree with his ideas on tattoos. When I was growing up tattoos were for sailors, bikers, and prisoners. I briefly considered getting one in the Army, but thought better of it. I think all the tattoos are sad, pathetic attempts to seem "rebellious" and "nonconformist". Hey guys, if EVERYONE is a nonconformist rebel, then NOBODY is.

Andrew Garda's picture

1) I'm not too dumb to know what racist is, which is why I said he wasn't one.

2) Judging someone based on how they look is bigoted and, I;m sorry, flat out ignorant.

3) There are a myriad of ways to express oneself. Some with the written word, some with body art, some with song, some in other ways.
Exactly who the hell are you to judge it?

Nerdmann's picture


calipackfan's picture

I wonder when Green Bay will have a black quarterback of course there is no chance till Rodgers retires.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

They have, just didn't start for them.

Evan's picture

I remember being super pumped about the Aaron Brooks era.

Pack Fan in ATL's picture

I personally don't have any tattoos nor do I want any as I subscribe to that body is a temple saying, but regardless, who is he to decry someones choice to get a tattoo? Whether he got it to be artistic, to memorialize someone or some event in his life, or simply because it looks cool, its not his body and I don't think we have any reason to pass judgement on anyone just because of something they may have on their body (Unless its a Bears tattoo then you should laugh at them for poor life choices).

Philly the Dane's picture

Well said, Mr. Garda. Here, here. Nice to see more thoughtful commentary on chtv.

Point Packer's picture

I really enjoy the Avenue Q song at the end. Love that musical. Bout to see it in Seattle.

primetime's picture

If you get a tattoo dont you have to spend spend time with a tattoo artist? I bet those conversations are amazing. ah,duh,i dunno, cool...

Andrew Garda's picture

actually the artist who did mine (and looked like Nagler, to my unending amusement) was a very well-educated and well-spoken man.

So again.... tell me why Whitley's column isn't offensive?

primetime's picture

Can you pick Powerball numbers?

Evan's picture

What does this even mean?

Jack's picture

I read Whitley's column and it does not strike me as being racist. He's simply lamenting the fact that tattoos, which he obviously dislikes, have become so pervasive in the NFL that QB's (traditionally relatively tattoo-free) are now sporting them.

Evan's picture

That's not what he said though. He's fine with NBA players having tattoos, but he some reason draws the line at QBs (a position historically dominated by white dudes).

To be clear, I didn't say nor do I think the author is racist - I dont know the man. But I do think what he wrote was.

Jack's picture

"Whitley defended himself against accusations of racism, saying: 'If they were old enough to read, my two adopted African-American daughters would certainly be disappointed to find out I'm a racist.'

“It didn’t occur to me that admitting I’m not a fan of body art would be admitting I don’t like African-Americans.'

Andrew Garda's picture

adopting African-American daughters has NO impact on what he wrote. He equated tats with gang bangers and jail birds. As the vast majority of both in our country are African American, what was he thinking?

Even if he doesn't believe it, he shouldn't have written it. Having kids who are not the same race as you doesn't tell you what it's like to be them or absolve you of writing stupidity.

There was a great scene in the show Parenthood where a mixed race couple were talking about needing to discuss with their son why some people treated him differently because of his skin. And try as he might, the dad (white) just could never understand what the mom (black) was saying because he NEVER experienced it.

Whitley can have all the African-American children he wants-he, nor I nor any white make-will ever understand what they go through.

Andrew Garda's picture

It's interesting to me, reading the comments a few days later, that very few people who dislike the column seem to have read the second half of it, where I talk about the discussion of perception we COULD have, of why we feel a certain way based on how someone looks and how I myself face that debate with my current job.

About how we, as people, react to 'different'?

So what about it?

Chad Toporski's picture

It seems a lot of people also stopped short at this sentence:

"Unlike some, I’m not going to say Whitley is a racist. I think he fell into some racist traps, spouted some really stupid crap and thought he was being funny."

And yes, I think you're absolutely correct about the fear of being different. Many people can't cope with that idea at all.

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