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Thursday, August 25, 2011
Stop spilling ink over Cam Newton

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

So if Cam Newton throws a non-tat-to-tat TD to Steve Smith, does it count in Jerry Richardson's world?

Jerry Richardson
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson asked Cam Newton about tattoos, but personal expression hasn't disqualified other players from playing for his team.

We'll attempt to answer that pivotal question in a moment. But first, this Carolina Panthers pregame image for your approval: Jeremy Shockey.

Any other questions about the basic invalidity of the tattoo curse?

If you follow the NFL much, Richardson's words don't shock you. They barely have the power to surprise. Richardson, the Panthers' 75-year-old owner, has at least a recent history of saying things that make people go "hmmm," especially during the NFL's labor scrum, and he's certainly far enough along in life that he isn't legally required to care what you think about it.

So the revelation that Richardson basically instructed Newton not to get a tattoo or body piercing before making him the No. 1 pick in the draft -- it's not actually a this-week revelation, by the way, but more on that in a minute -- need not really register. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Newton will eventually tattoo up if he feels like it. He'll eventually pierce an ear or some other part of his own body if he feels like it. The fact that he wasn't tattooed or pierced when he had a pre-draft meeting with Richardson in early April is a fairly solid indicator that, so far, he doesn't feel like it.

Jeremy Shockey
Jeremy Shockey's tattoos were well documented before he signed with Carolina.

Beyond that, what Richardson thinks is utterly irrelevant. Richardson is like any NFL owner in the sense that tattoos and piercings probably look better to him on a winner than a loser, but either way, he isn't going to fire his new starting quarterback over some spilled ink.

And I have plenty of reason to believe that Richardson is savvy enough to know that himself. His own comments -- not the ones you heard this week, the other ones -- make that clear.

Richardson's overt parenting of Newton kicked up headlines just now because he told the story to esteemed listener Charlie Rose, but it's no secret. Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer captured the entire exchange in a wonderful story published back in April, the day after the Panthers selected Newton and essentially embraced both the quarterback's talent and his checkered past.

Included in Sorensen's column was, yes, Richardson asking Newton whether he had any tattoos or piercings. Newton said he did not. When the two met again after Newton had been selected, Richardson said, "Did you get crazy after the draft and go out and get any tattoos or piercings? Do I have to check you for anything?"

"No sir," Newton replied.

Now, that exchange, held out all by itself, makes Richardson sound a little like Foghorn Leghorn, a characterization I tend to enjoy. But it really does miss the mark. Richardson has a few more levels to him than it might appear, and perhaps that's just the inevitable layering of life. Either way, it's worth a mention.

Cam Newton
In terms of NFL stats and body art, Cam Newton is a blank slate.

In that initial meeting with Newton before the draft, Richardson had other things to say. As he relayed the story to Sorensen, he said he told Newton, "Things have been said about me that aren't true and that I don't like. I know things have been said about you."

"I'm not a choirboy," Richardson added. "I never said I was. And I don't want a roster of 53 choirboys. I told Jeremy Shockey, 'Don't change your personality. It'll be good for the team. I could do without the tattoos, though.'"

But, as Richardson well knows, the tattoos are a part of Shockey, which absolutely did not prevent the owner from overriding the wishes of his own front office when it came to procuring talent. Beyond that, if Newton should hook up with Smith for a touchdown pass, he'll be throwing to a player who, very technically speaking, doesn't pass the Jerry Richardson clean-cut test.

If Smith has something in the tank, there's a pretty strong feeling that he won't be called into the principal's office to discuss his personal illustrations. Cam Newton, too. And if the first-year quarterback can tattoo a few wins on Carolina's schedule, I suspect that the owner of the team will step back and call it all art.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. His next book, "The Voodoo Wave," will be released in August by W.W. Norton. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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