The running man

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  Colin Kaepernick before the 2013 season opener. Photograph by Daniel Hartwig .

Colin Kaepernick before the 2013 season opener. Photograph by Daniel Hartwig.

The football season is still going strong, but already I’d like to give Colin Kaepernick – whose San Francisco 49ers take on the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Jan. 12 – the Tim Tebow Award for Most Unjustly Criticized Quarterback. 

Really, people, what’s with all the hate? I understand that haters gonna hate and that the Interweb is the medium of hatred, where anyone can hide behind the venom he or she spews. But really, the criticism of Colin – ranging from “overrated” to the d----- word, which I despise – absolutely baffles. It is, of course, the inevitable byproduct of his having risen quickly and been embraced by the media. Still, that doesn’t explain it.  Earlier this week, I was reading this post from Raphael Denbow:

“I love when people point to Kaep's ‘ego.’ Always code for black dude thinks he's a hot shot. Nobody talks about Cutler's ego, Rivers' ego, Brady's ego. Never!! The black dude has to smile and be meek to be accepted. That's bull---. DUIs? Nope. Raping girls? Nope. Drug problem? Nope. A million kids all over the place? Nope. Standoffish with the media? Nope. He's a model citizen from all accounts. Why hate the kid?”

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Part of the hatred of Colin revolves around the idea that he can’t be easily labeled. He’s not either/or, which our binary way of thinking just loves, loves, loves. (Merci bien, Claude Lévi-Strauss.) He’s a quarterback who runs (on a team that produced one of the greatest running quarterbacks, Steve Young). He’s black and white. He’s covered in religious tattoos. He seems to be a traditional guy guy. (Obligatory post-Super Bowl visit to the Playboy Mansion? Check. Curvaceous lady friends? Check.)

And yet, his tattoos – which he displays readily, almost defiantly as he did at Lambeau Field in the needling cold – and his appearance in ESPN’s most recent Body Issue suggest that he is unafraid to offer himself up to the unseen public as both art and sex object. That’s a role that we assign in our culture to women in service of the male gaze.  But here’s Colin in “The 5th Anniversary Body Issue Portfolio (2009-2013)” – sprawled out on a black leather couch against a moody blue backdrop, a quintessentially masculine setting – yet propped up on his elbows, looking out at us with big doe eyes in the tradition of the best female pinups.

In my second novel, “In This Place You Hold Me,” which I’m working on now, we meet a quarterback, Quinton Day Novak, whose identity is wrapped up in knotty issues of race and sexuality.

Is it possible that Colin confounds our notions of both?