I don't think Sporting News columnist David Whitley is a racist. Racism, like alcoholism, playing golf, or any other scourge of our existence, takes energy, work and organization. You have to be able to see racism not just in obvious things, but in the smallest things imaginable. It takes real work to be that consistently crazy -- misguided, insane work, but still.
David Whitley is too lazy for that, and calling him racist would be an affront to hard-working, creative racists everywhere. (Say what you will about racism: it takes tremendous amounts of mental energy. Not skill, but energy.) David Whitley is lazy, and has been lazy before: in discussing same-sex kissing in public, in writing about Ndamukong Suh and the Lions, and now in writing about Colin Kaepernick's tattoos, and whatever arbitrary meaning he can attach to them. (Hint: they're just for convicts, just like they were in 1982.)
Whitley would excuse this by claiming to be a curmudgeon, the aging, grumpy, and sharp-tongued bastard among excitable young folks pointing out the uselessness and hypocrisy of life as we know it. This would be fine if he had the chops to be a curmudgeon in the tradition of H.L. Mencken, Dave Barry, Florence King, Dorothy Parker or the lord supreme of curmudgeonry, Ambrose Bierce.
*Bierce topped them all with the ultimate death: suicide by disappearance, because the rest of humanity wasn't even worth notifying about the method of death, much less where the body is.
Whitley can't claim curmudgeon as a defense for a simple reason: he's not smart enough, and certainly not brave enough. The brave thread to pull from the Kaepernick story would have been detailing tattoos as one facet of a changing American identity: multiracial, harder to define than ever before, and perhaps wearing some body art. Whitley clearly missed the part of the 1990s where everyone got tattoos, including Guy Fieri.
That would be moderately brave. Being braver still would be an admission that the "Dutch Boy" past of NFL quarterbacks was always a lie willingly believed by the columnists themselves: that black athletes were shunted away from the quarterback position for no other reason that they were black, and that the bold lie of those corporate quarterbacks of yesteryear concealed Kenny Stabler, Joe Namath, and every other undercompensated alcoholic who drank to calm the ringing in their heads, and took prehistoric methamphetamine to wake up in the morning. And ever braver would be admitting that some part of that still appealed to your worst, weakest instincts.
That is one direction a curmudgeon could take, but David Whitley is not a curmudgeon, and never will be for one simple reason: the last person a curmudgeon would trust is the curmudgeon themselves. Everyone is suspect to the curmudgeon, a constant work to see what's in front of one's nose, as another noted curmudgeon once put it. Doing this requires a lot of time, effort, and bitter work. Maybe David Whitley should become a devoted racist; it certainly requires more of a work ethic than what he does now.