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The Amazing Kaepernick: Play-Faking the Culture 

Wednesday, Jan 30 2013
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Kaepernick, better than most, must understand the flaws in the assumptions that glue narratives together. His narrative is one that strays from sign posts — If you're looking for a story about a player overcoming thug life, you've got the wrong guy ... Drooling over his physical tools somewhat cheapens the product ... Don't let the tattoos and everything fool you ...

His narrative is about the fallacy of narrative.

After the Sporting News column about his tattoos was published, the backlash came swiftly. The writer was "savaged on the Internet and called a racist," as the San Jose Mercury News reported. USA Today ran a story headlined "Tattoos but a fraction of Colin Kaepernick's story." Yahoo! Sports reasoned that Kaepernick's parents were "justifiably annoyed by [the] hack article." A Fox Sports story considered whether Kaepernick was "painted as a bad guy over tattoos." Sporting News' editor published a column explaining that his writer's sentiments stemmed from innocent generational tastes rather than malice. News stories tracked down the artist behind the quarterback's tattoos, noting that his business had been "booming."

Instantly, Kaepernick had changed from one writer's symbol of America's degenerate youth to a figure of America's progression, a symbol of how we live in a country where outward appearance is not a measure of a person's ability to lead. It was a serious cultural debate that we made sure to take seriously.

To the man at the center of the discourse, though, it was just another absurd conception to dress down. To tweet about. To mold into satire. As we gathered, hollering and holding pitchforks, around the columnist, Kaepernick was sitting in the tree above us, winking.


"I don't want to be categorized," Kaepernick told reporters in the week before the 49ers' NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. He meant this within the context of his abilities as a quarterback. So it's important to tidy one thing up: He is not just "a runner." He made that clear against the Packers.

In between running for more yards than any NFL quarterback, Kaepernick zipped the ball around with Joe Montana accuracy. He rifled a touchdown pass through a prison-cell-sized window between two converging defenders, a 20-yard jet stream that would have hit the receiver in the head had he not put up his hands: "That was a perfect throw," said color commentator and former quarterback Troy Aikman. He launched a parabolic dime that arced 40 yards into his sprinting receiver's palms, centimeters over the defender's outstretched fingers. "Colin Kaepernick couldn't walk it down the field and hand it to him any better than that," said announcer Buck.

By redefining the limits of a quarterback's skill set, Kaepernick effectively hit a reset button on the popular idea of what a quarterback looks like. The biracial brown kid with tattoos on his arms and a funny name is now the face of leadership, intelligence, toughness, courage, poise under pressure.

In the lead-up to the NFC Championship game, the talk of the sports world was over how the Falcons defense would try to contain Kaepernick's running ability. Experts analyzed how the Falcons had defended other athletic quarterbacks like Newton and Wilson. The Chronicle ran a feature contrasting the styles of Kaepernick and Falcons QB Matt Ryan, "the prototypical drop-back passer: tall, strong, and perfectly content to stand in the pocket and fire passes downfield."

Ryan's Falcons surged to a 17-0 lead. No team had overcome such a deficit to reach the Super Bowl. But then, as the defense keyed on the 49ers' running attack, Kaepernick orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history with his arm, anticipating over and over again the moment a receiver would turn up open within the chaotic muddle of the defense.

The game's turning point occurred with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Down 21-24, Kaepernick's squad was 9 yards from the end zone. Although Kaepernick had run just twice for a total of 23 yards, the defense remained vigilant. What better time for the stud QB to unleash his speed, the Falcons must have thought.

There was the ball in his hands. He held it out for Gore to take it. The defenders had seen this one before, probably a million times in dark film rooms. They'd seen the trick in slow motion, from multiple angles. Falcons defensive end John Abraham leaped outside to stop Kaepernick. He saw what happened to Clay Matthews. He wouldn't make the same mistake. Wouldn't look like a drunken fool, spinning in circles like that. Kaepernick accelerated toward him ...

But the ball had vanished.

Gore had had it the whole time. He sprinted up the middle of the field, through the gap that opened up when Abraham jumped, scoring the game-winning touchdown and sending the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 18 years.

Kaepernick had, once again, fooled everybody.

About The Author

Albert Samaha

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