Columnist criticizing Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos off-base

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The San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick has won his first two games since replacing quarterback Alex Smith as the team’s starter. He will make his third start Sunday when the 49ers face the St. Louis Rams.

You’d be hard-pressed to find criticism of Kaepernick’s play on the field — but this week, a Sporting News columnist found a way to criticize something that has nothing to do with the 25-year-old’s game: Kaepernick’s tattoos.

The column’s opening line, (written by David Whitley) makes an immediate comparison between Kaepernick’s ink and inmates at a California state prison:

“San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is going to be a big-time NFL quarterback. That must make the guys in San Quentin happy.”

Whitley didn’t stop there:

“[Kaepernick] is the CEO of a high-profile organization, and you don’t want your CEO to look like he just got paroled.”

Whitley also draws a line between the tattoos of white quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith and the tattoos of black quarterbacks Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor:

“I realize not all NFL quarterbacks are pristine. Ben Roethlisberger has a “COURAGE” tattoo on the right side of his upper body. Smith has one honoring his Serbian heritage. They can’t be seen when the players put on their uniforms.

Then there are Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor. Neither exactly fit the CEO image, unless your CEO has done a stretch in Leavenworth or has gotten Ohio State on probation over free tattoos.”

In other words, not all tattoos are created equal.

Shortly after the column was published, Jason McIntyre of influential sports blog The Big Lead tagged Whitley as a “racist” and nearly all hope for constructive criticism or discussion was lost.

Instead of acknowledging that his column was ill-informed, untimely and offensive to many, Whitley chose to deflect. Whitley chose to declare his non-racism.

Whitley chose to reveal he has two black daughters through adoption.

Finally, via Twitter, Whitley chose to sarcastically refer to himself as “David Duke,” the former KKK grand wizard:

As is the case in countless quotes and statements involving race directly or indirectly, the “I am not racist” defense was invoked. Sadly, the sports world is no different.

To make such a simplistic argument — that somehow because Kaepernick has tattoos, he’s comparable to a prison inmate  or unworthy of being a starting NFL quarterback — is way off-base. And not supported by anything remotely close to reality.

This is yet another example of unfair treatment that is too often the burden of black quarterbacks in the NFL. (And no, because Whitley mentions Doug Williams in his column as an example of a quarterback who didn’t have his “arms covered in ink,” it doesn’t absolve him from the stereotypes he’s perpetuating.)

In September, the Charlotte Observer mocked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton just a few weeks into the NFL season. Its editorial cartoon depicted Newton as revealing a ‘Hello Kitty’ logo on his chest instead of an ‘S’ for Superman, and some slammed it for being racially biased.

Kapernick’s parents told USA TODAY they were “annoyed” at the column criticizing their son’s tattoos. Writer Robert Klemko notes that the tattoos on Kaepernick’s biceps are actually Bible verses.   

Kapernick has yet to comment on the controversy surrounding the column. (Don’t worry, plenty of reputable sports blogs, writers have rightfully panned it.)

But that’s probably for the best. After all, he has more important and substantive work to focus on — leading his team to their ninth win and remaining atop the NFC West division.

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