Tattoos on the arm of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Call it football’s worst idea since helmets without face guards and the ten-dollar beer. In the wake of the murder charges levied against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, there is talk that NFL teams may hire “police tattoo experts” to examine the body ink on NFL players for gang affiliations. CBS Sports columnist Bruce Feldman reported that yes, this is actually being considered. As Feldman tweeted, “Spoke w longtime NFL personnel man who said in wake of Aaron Hernandez teams may use police experts to check prospects tattoos”. (Hernandez, as has been widely reported, had the word “blood” tattooed on his hand, a reference some say to the Bristol Bloods gang, although Hernandez denies any gang involvement. This photograph of a teen-age Hernandez was also unearthed, although he looks more like he’s posing for a Halloween party than a night of gang activity.)
It’s difficult to express just how awful an idea this is on every conceivable level. Other than give confidence to Rush Limbaugh to repeat one of his favorite racist nuggets—“The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and Crips without any weapons”—hiring police to treat players like possible gang members would accomplish nothing.
Let’s leave aside the attendant irony of the NFL with all its concussions, compromised medical professionals and sea of shattered bodies, being concerned about any culture of violence that surrounds their game. Hiring police tattoo “experts” rests on the assumption that NFL locker rooms are riddled with gangs. This assumption, in league that’s 70 percent African-American, is the very definition of racist. Why? Because there is no evidence whatsoever to support this. According to the FBI’s statistics, an NFL player is five times less likely to run afoul of the law than your typical 22- or 34-year-old. Such an inspection process would merely act as the collective criminalization and intimidation of people who are supposed to be your employees, and do—even in America—have rights on the job as workers.