Permanent Impressions: The Kaepernick Case


Last week, JP Pelosi tackled the quarterback controversy in San Francisco. Now he tackles the controversy over the quarterback’s tattoos.

In case you were too busy obsessing over Tim Tebow’s ribs this weekend, you may have missed the controversy surrounding another young NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. If you did, a brief recap is in order. It’s bad enough the controversy that was sparked by how Kaepernick assumed the starting quarterback role for the San Francisco 49ers, about which I wrote last week, now a writer from The Sporting News has employed an analogy about his tattoos in which he compares them to those of prison’s most fashionable inmates (sorry, Fox, I just patented the idea for a reality show), and the web community picked up its digital pitchforks and stormed the binaries. An ugly public lynching ensued, in which reviews ranged from “misguided” to “racist”.

Maybe all the hatred is warranted. Maybe the new socialized media would say this is how the majority quash the opinions of the minority. This is how we as a society incite the necessary anger to crush those we disagree with, even when we don’t clearly know their motive. And yet, in doing so, aren’t we undermining free speech we value so dearly?

The thing about the internet is that it fuels debate like no other forum in history. Not even that philosophic soap boxer Socrates initiated the doozies we have today—though had he owned a Twitter account I’m sure servers would have melted.

Sometimes the debate is healthy, other times it rivals the verbal scraps you have with your father at Christmas about quitting college to open a mobile taco van. (I still say food preparation has its virtues).

The NFL, as a source of controversy, as opposed to just an entertaining game, is increasingly stirring this type of anger, at least among those needing a reason. Whether it’s the league’s confusing stance on player safety—undermined by its desire to slate more games—or the divisive nature of Tim Tebow, who has prompted greater criticism than men who have logged 100 times the on-field minutes, the virtual community is prone to simmer. Because it can.

In an effort to numb my disappointment in these recent internet affairs, let’s fight fire with fire: Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos might make it into the NFL Hall of Fame. That’s right. I submit that you could not conjure a better looking bronze bust than that of a man with the ink-worked torso. Let’s give the NFL’s sculptors something to play with shall we—a challenge like no other they’ve faced. Oh sure, John Madden’s coiffure required an expert hand, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend Namath’s nose was a cinch. Patience and focus cannot be underrated in the visual arts.

Similarly, Kaepernick’s body art would require some thought in its HoF reproduction. After all, it would need to represent both a highly skilled athlete and yet another mass media talking point, one that prompted a so-called sportswriter to fill his column-space with superficial assertions, and in turn, enrage fans who seem more concerned with words than sticks and stones. Kaepernick’s a big boy folks, I’m sure he doesn’t care less what critics think of his image.

But that’s the thing about the internet isn’t it? It claws at your chest and rips out your insides like that creepy high priest in The Temple of Doom (now there was a man with some body art).

Now, I don’t agree with what writer David Whitley presumably whipped up on his Blackberry while sitting in traffic, possibly desperate for a real conversation starter amid such speculative web gems as the injury status of Jay Cutler’s mustache (“probable” by the way) and whether Ryan Tannehill’s wife is “hotter” than Tony Romo’s. But nor do I really care. It was one of those untethered thoughts that likely popped into his head when nothing else did, and the publishers, for whatever reason, ran with it. That doesn’t make it right, but in permitting it to ignite the worst in us, to allow the high priest of the web to hypnotize us into thinking even more vitriol is somehow constructive, well it’s as foolish as writing the article in the first place. Save the pitchforks and torches for something that matters, is all I’m saying.

With the exception of a wayward pitch against the Rams, Kaepernick is playing well. He may just end up in the Hall of Fame on the merits of his talent. I hope he does. Otherwise, what are we really talking about here? Other than using the guise of piety to chastise a columnist we don’t know, about something so inconsequential that we’ll forget about it next week and, in the meantime, forget about the stories that matter.

The internet encourages us to speak out, providing a platform to question injustice and demand truth. But too frequently we are fanning the flames of judgement, acting inappropriately to enforce our own views of the world, and drawing conclusions that are hasty and potentially dangerous. So maybe, for the sake of the football fans among us, let’s steer the conversation back to next Sunday.

Photo: Tom Gannam/AP

About JP Pelosi

JP Pelosi is a sports writer and the editor of Why Football Is Cool, a blog about pro football trends, ideas and culture. He has written for The Globe and Mail, The Virginian Pilot, Inside Hoops, The Bleacher Report and Technorati’s football blog The Gridiron Grind.

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