Scripted for Success

Why Colin Kaepernick could change the face of pro football

Timothy White

A year ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a backup; now, after replacing Alex Smith mid-season and leading the 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl victory, he is one of the brightest stars in the NFL. He even has the top-selling jersey in the league.

In the new issue of TIME, Kaepernick talks about the new generation of quarterbacks changing the NFL, and opens up about his unique family history. Kaepernick , whose birth mother is white and whose birth father is black, was adopted by a white family from Wisconsin when he was a baby — the family moved to California when Colin was 4. After the Kaepernicks lost two infant sons to heart disease, they decided to adopt, knowing that another boy would be at risk for heart defects; to honor them, Kaepernick has partnered with a charitable organization, Camp Taylor, which serves children with heart disease. Kaepernick's birth father is not publicly known, and he has never met his birth mother — and explains to TIME why he's unlikely to do so any time soon.

Kaepernick also delved into the sociology of the quarterback position. He's not only out to win Super Bowls — he's also out to shatter stereotypes. "To me, when people say, 'Oh, you're a freak athlete'" — he pauses — "it's bittersweet. It's a huge compliment to say, O.K., you have physical abilities that are kind of above and beyond. But at the same time, I feel like it diminishes the mental side of the game. And I think it takes away from the time we study the playbook, the time we spend in the film room and the preparation we put in." Does race explain why dual-threat quarterbacks like himself, Robert Griffin III of Washington, and Russell Wilson of Seattle — all black — are more likely to be labeled "freaks" than, say, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts? "Its a touchy subject, 'cause I never want to take it there, where it seems like it's all about race," says Kaepernick. "But I feel like that's something that comes along with the territory of being a black quarter-back. When you have success — 'Oh, you're a freak athlete.' Not, 'Oh, you're a good quarterback.' And I think that's a barrier that needs to be broken down."

Are fans — especially white fans — conditioned to expect "clean cut" quarterbacks, with no tattoos? (Kaepernick is covered in ink that includes bible verses and words like "Faith" and "Respect") "I think it's a perception that's been around for a very long time, It's a perception that I want to break. I don't want people to think you have to look a certain way or be a certain mold to be able to be a quarterback."

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