Sporting News editor responds: Issue in tattoo column was generational, not racial

Just catching up with this. editor Garry Howard wrote a response late Friday afternoon, addressing the furor over David Whitley’s column about Colin Kaepernick and his tattoos.

Howard wrote:

As a sports editor who also happens to be African-American, it is my job to vet each and every opinion piece to ensure that the message does not get lost and I certainly could have done more, in retrospect, to make sure it did not. In particular, the inference that many people with tattoos have been to prison, or that having tattoos is an indicator of criminality, was problematic to many readers.

Still, the overriding point of the column was there and one nationally televised discussion, in particular—on “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless—did a great job of explaining that the column was indeed more generational in tone and that tattoos in today’s society are not necessarily a great thing for young, prospective job candidates of all races.

Howard also quotes Whitley. Whitley wrote in an email:

“I fully realize sailors and Hell’s Angels aren’t the only people with tattoos these days. But tattoos still carry a negative stigma, which is why you don’t see a lot of politicians and captains of industry sporting ink.

“NFL QB represents the ultimate CEO figure in sports. And it’s been tattoo-free except for the few players who’ve lived up (or down) to the bad-guy tattoo image. Now along comes Kaepernick, a role model in the Tim Tebow category. His success would help shatter the tattoo stereotype. If old guys like me have a hard time dealing with that, too bad for us.

“That was my intended point,” he continued. “I wish I’d done a better job getting that across. What I didn’t factor in was that admitting I don’t like tattoos was going to be equated with me admitting I don’t like African-Americans. The women at the gym I referenced in that column are white. So is Jeremy Shockey. I once asked Dwight Howard if he’d ever get a tattoo, and he said no way. His aversion was based on religious ground. Mine was based on the fact I think tattoos look silly. I knew that would stamp me an Old Man. I didn’t know it would stamp me a racist.

Howard then concludes:

Hindsight always helps you see things clearer and the reaction to this—even inside our very own newsroom and the discussion I joined on Twitter last night and earlier today—has surely opened our eyes. It was not our intent to offend anyone, and if we did, we apologize.

However, we should be able to—in this day and time—have a discussion on the subject of tattoos without it morphing into a race debate when in fact, it was about a new generation doing things in a fresh and different manner.

That’s all I’m saying.

On Friday, I did a post featuring Whitley’s initial comments to the uproar. He said:

If they were old enough to read, my two adopted African-American daughters would certainly be disappointed to find out I’m a racist.


One thought on “Sporting News editor responds: Issue in tattoo column was generational, not racial

  1. You know what? It’s admirable that you keep defending this guy. But he screwed up — he didn’t re-read his writing enough to know just how racist he sounded, even BEFORE realizing how out-of-touch he sounded. Sure, it’s just “one column he screwed up.” But sports columnists spend a good chunk of their time writing how actual players and coaches screw up and don’t think twice about it, because that’s their job as sports columnists, and it’s part of the UNWRITTEN job description of athletes to be treated terribly by columnists. Well. A punter named Chris Kluhe just excoriated the guys who vote on the pro football Hall of Fame for never inducting a punter, and when Peter King said Kluhe was too harsh, Kluhe responded that it was a lot of fun, because he was mimicking the way sports columnists had treated his teammates and colleagues for YEARS. King chose not to address that. You don’t get a pass just because it’s “your job” and part of your job is to attract readers by any means necessary.

    You guys have the power. You get the press. You ARE the press. You’re as much a celebrity to your readers/viewers as the athletes. If you think you’re being treated too harshly, think about how you’re treating those you write about. You can criticize without belittling. If you write for page views, don’t complain what those page views bring up — you brought it on yourself.

    The writer in question adopted two African-American children? That’s wonderful. Now he has to make sure he’s not letting any views he has that might be racist affect his bringing them up — just adopting them doesn’t mean he’s not racist, just like having children doesn’t mean one doesn’t abuse children. I’d think much more highly of him if he saw this controversy and said, “whoa — what did I do to make folks think I was racist?” And then act accordingly. But no — he ignored what he wrote, and said, “hey — look at my life. I’m good.” No. He’s not good. It would have been so much better if he wrote a response and said: “Hey. I messed up. I hate tattoos, perhaps irrationally, and that made me forget I was criticizing a guy of mixed race and used a number of other-race folks as poor examples. That was wrong on my part.”

    That WAS wrong. Stop defending him. Let him dig his own way out. If he’s sincere, it should work. If not…

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