Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Media Coverage of Justin Rohrwasser's White Nationalist Tattoo Has Been Shameful

Too many members of the media have been willing to give Justin Rohrwasser a pass for his tattoo.
Too many members of the media have been willing to give Justin Rohrwasser a pass for his tattoo.

Kicker Justin Rohrwasser was selected by the Patriots in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. It was also discovered he had a “Three Percenter” tattoo on his arm, and sports media is having a really hard time framing this story, and what the “Three Percenter” tattoo represents.

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Well, that struggle is not difficult for me, as I was standing a little over a block away from Heather Heyer when she was murdered by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug.12, 2017. Do you know what organization’s members were also at that white nationalist rally? Heavily-armed ‘Three Percenters.’

We can split white supremacist hairs, but this pretty much settles the question for me.

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If you want more detail, my colleague Eric Barrow illuminates in his piece titled “Patriots Draft Pick Justin Rohrwasser’s Ignorance About 3 Percenters Isn’t Believable.” 

But his article is an exception. Most sports media have been far more generous.

“I got that tattoo when I was a teenager and I have a lot of family in the military. I thought it stood for a military-support symbol at the time,” Rohrwasser said. “Obviously, it’s evolved into something that I do not want to represent. When I look back on it, I should have done way more research before I put any mark or symbol like that on my body, and it’s not something I ever want to represent. It will be covered.”

Let’s look how some of the most well-traveled sports media headlines and framing:

  •  ESPN/ABC: “New Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser says tattoo doesn’t represent militia group”
  • Associated Press (AP): “New Patriots Kicker Says Tattoo Does Not Represent Militia Group”
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Justin says the tattoo is not what he stands for. Phew. Also, the ‘Three Percenters’ are only a “militia group,” whatever that means. Nothing to see here, move along.

NFL partner ESPN chose not to mention Rohrwasser’s tattoo on TV during the draft, most likely because he wasn’t a black athlete and didn’t grow up with a drug addicted mother, didn’t contract the West Nile Virus or didn’t face some other childhood trauma that makes ESPN execs horny.

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The AP, which feeds all local outlets and was also used by national publications on the story (see Sports Illustrated), followed suit.

Others also don’t even describe the tattoo at all, but convey Rohrwasser’s regret:

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  • Reuters: “Rohrwasser says he regrets tattoo”
  • NBC: “Rohrwasser regrets tattoo, says he’ll cover it.”

ProFootballTalk once covered tattoo stories on Johnny Manziel’s “new hand tattoo,” Evan Engram’s “new start,” and Aaron Hernandez tattoo’s impact on his legal case (understandable), but waited until April 27th to put something out. on Rohrwasser’s ‘Three Percenter’ tat, going the Reuters and NBC route with the headline: Justin Rohrwasser: Controversial tattoo will be covered.

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Not only do we have regret, but a solution. He will now cover it. Problem solved!

USA Today, CBS and the Washington Post all led with Rohrwasser saying he will “cover tattoo” but went a step further by describing tattoo as an image of a “right-wing group,” “far-right organization,” and “right-wing militia group.”

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Yahoo and the N.Y. Daily News went a little further in their headline, describing Three Percenters as a “far-right militia group” and “far-right paramilitary group,” respectively, and the only other outlet I have seen that framed the group in white supremacist language is 12Up, who said “Patriots Draftee Explains White Nationalist Tattoo and vows to Cover it Up.”

Rohrwasser is employing the “Three Percenter” version of the time-honored “young and dumb” defense, and media is mostly complying. But Twitter is picking up the slack:

ESPN’s own Bomani Jones had questions, and wanted to know why more probing questions weren’t being asked.

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Twitter sleuths estimate it was between late September and December 2015 when Justin got his tat. Perhaps Justin was inspired in November of 2015 when ‘Three Percenters’ were making news leading anti-refugee protests of Muslims coming to Idaho. It’s hard to pin down.

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In a detailed Twitter thread, “Resist Programming” details how Rohrwasser is hard right-wing in all his tastes. The thread prompted The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill to tweet: “Patriots kicker is a white supremacist. My bad, he tends to like white supremacist things. Carry on, nothing to see here.”

Journalist Lisa Guerrero tweeted: “The Pats drafting a white supremacist surprises me not at all because I once worked for them. You. Have. No. Idea.”

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Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director of National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law explains the subtext of why all of this matters.

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The owners are still illegally colluding against Kaepernick for protesting for racial equality but will draft a kicker who sports a tat of a group that is known for promoting racial supremacy?

And the same complicit media who refuse to update their free agent lists to include Kaepernick are ready to simply take Rohrwasser at his word that he didn’t know what “Three Percenter” really meant? Again, his ignorance isn’t believable.

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It’s easy to focus on Rohrwasser, and we should. But the real shame is the NFL and a highly complicit sports media who has not a care, or need, to cover or investigate a kicker with a ‘Three Percenter’ tattoo while banning players who have the audacity to want to stop police from getting away with murder.

It all really makes you wonder who else has been covering up their tattoos.

NFL owners are still colluding against Colin Kaepernick. Collusion is still a crime. My sportswriting will not be complicit in criminal activity.

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