Either he’s blowing smoke, or he’s not.
Justin Rohrwasser has made what seems to be a heartfelt response and apology for a tattoo on his left forearm that created a firestorm of reaction this weekend.
It could’ve been a fun story for Capital Region sports fans: kid from Clifton Park; played his senior season on the combined Holy Trinity program primarily based at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons; drafted out of Marshall University in West Virginia in the fifth round by the New England Patriots.
As a placekicker, no less.
The snap, the hold, the follow-through … three points.
But the No. 3 now hangs over Rohrwasser in a way that had the Catholic Central High School graduate scrambling in damage control, answering questions about the tattoo during a routine media conference call on Saturday, then following up with a short video interview with WBZ Boston TV reporter Steve Burton that was posted Monday night.
In that clip, he apologizes for unwittingly associating himself with the actions of a group called the Three Percenters by virtue of having picked a tattoo that represents the far-right militia and anti-government movement (that claims it’s not a militia and anti-government organization). The symbol is the Roman numeral III encircled by 13 stars, a throwback to when a supposedly small percentage of American colonists opposed British rule by taking up arms in the Revolutionary War.
On Saturday, Rohrwasser said he would cover the tattoo, but by the time he was interviewed by Burton, he had changed or at least clarified that he intended to have it permanently removed.
And when he said, “It’s shameful that I had it on there ignorantly,” the better part of your nature wants to believe him. Of course, it’s way more complicated than that.
Certainly, Rohrwasser, whose Twitter account is now private, must want the whole story to go away. (His agents at RSR Sports Management did not respond to my email request for a phone interview.)
Whether his account fully holds up or not, we’re still left with the cold reality that groups like this continue to gain reinforcement in mainstream society through ignorance and casual acceptance. That’s why it’s disturbing that Rohrwasser could get this tattoo and not know what it stands for, if that’s what happened. And that it took this long for anyone to point it out.
It’s worth noting that the Patriots failed to recognize that there was this much potential backlash, if for no other reason than the self-serving aim of pre-empting bad publicity.
It’s also reasonable to question, even if Rohrwasser didn’t know the Three Percenter background at the time he got it, whether someone had at least brought it up in the last four years or so since then, especially after what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017.
He pleaded total ignorance this weekend, that he believed the symbol to be a tribute to the U.S. military, but if that’s the case, how did he settle on an image used by what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls anti-government extremists? There was no shortage of other choices.
At Charlottesville, the heavily armed Three Percenters showed up at a Unite the Right rally at which there were counterprotestors against the white supremacists and neo-Nazi ralliers. Dozens of anti-racism counterprotestors were injured, and one of them, Heather Heyer, was murdered when self-avowed white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into a group of people.
The Three Percenters tried to disassociate themselves from the racists and hate that fueled that rally, but the group’s name somehow continues to manage to spring up in the middle of stories like this.
Police officers in some cities have been disciplined for having Three Percenter tattoos; a man supporting the movement’s ideology was arrested in 2017 with a van filled with explosives in Oklahoma City; and, Three Percenters came with their big guns to Oregon in 2016 “to protect the peace” in a standoff between law enforcement and a militia that was occupying federal buildings.
In a story posted on Masslive.com on Monday, two of Rohrwasser’s black teammates from college defended him and denied that he was racist.
There will be those who don’t believe Rohrwasser has anything to apologize for, based on their support of the Three Percenter movement, or simply the notion that we’ve all made dumb mistakes when we were young.
“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,” he told WBZ.
He also said, “I’m going to learn from this. I’m going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that’s not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out.”
It will be interesting to see how he takes ownership of it.
Whether you have a problem with the tattoo or the Three Percenters, Rohrwasser says he has a problem with it — now.
And he’ll be able to prove it by showing that this isn’t all just a matter of convenience.