Colin Kaepernick is half-black, half-white and all tatted up. He is your counterculture all-American QB, communicating through body art instead of social media. He sprints into your living rooms Sunday night with blinders on, oblivious to the pressure and expectation for a 25-year-old starting merely his 10th NFL game.
He has a soul patch on his chin and a chip on his shoulder from birth, and if people keep asking him if he “feels” for Alex Smith, who took the 49ers to the NFC championship game a year ago and lost his job to Kaepernick only after he was concussed during a game, one day he is going to just blurt out the hard truth:
Sure, I feel for Alex. But I feel a lot more for me, the kid who everybody passed on all through life — the kid whose birth mother was too young, scared and alone to take me home.
Barely recruited out of tiny Turlock in central California’s farming region, he finally got a scholarship offer from Nevada, where you’d think becoming the first player in NCAA history to throw for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 more would amount to more than being the sixth quarterback taken in the 2011 draft.
But this was Kaepernick’s lot in life from the beginning, when the mixed-race child was given up for adoption and taken in by a white couple in Wisconsin, becoming the only family he acknowledged — giving him a life an unwed teenager could not.
Asked Wednesday if he has run into awkward social situations, Kaepernick nodded, adding, “We would check into hotels and there’s always someone asking me if I needed help when I was standing with my parents,” he said, half-smiling.
When ESPN’s Rick Reilly said, “You’ve been so loyal to them and in not speaking about the other thing. You feel like it shows respect?”
“Not speaking about what?” Kaepernick asked.
“Your birth mother.”
“Um, I mean, I don’t see that as loyalty,” Kaepernick said. “I see that as my family. That’s all I know.”
The other side to this tale was unearthed by Yahoo Sports’s Jason Cole earlier this season, who gave a Colorado nurse named Heidi Russo a forum to express the immense pain and guilt she feels over having given up her son for adoption to another nurse at the hospital where she worked 25 years ago, when she held her baby one last time before handing him to Teresa and Rick to raise and nurture.
While Kaepernick’s parents recently reconnected with Russo, who yearns for a relationship with Colin and has attended several of his games, Kaepernick doesn’t want to open that door.
“That’s not something I think about,” he said when I asked whether we have the right to peel back those layers for him. “I’m worried about my family.”
Translation: Heidi Russo might have grown into a great, responsible woman with the best of intentions, but when she gave Colin up, she gave up the right to call herself his mother.