Kaepernick's skin appears darkened in GOP fundraiser ad

WASHINGTON — Former NFL star Colin Kaepernick did not look like himself in a fundraising email that was sent by the National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday. The message included a picture of Kaepernick that appeared noticeably altered to make his skin darker, an attack ad tactic that has been used before and is considered by many as racist.

One Democratic operative who saw the NRCC’s Kaepernick ad described it as “disgusting.”

“House Republicans are running on racism, plain and simple. It’s disgusting, it’s offensive and it should be fireable, but there’s no accountability in the Republican Party,” the operative said.

The NRCC is one of the main Hill committees run by the two major political parties. It is dedicated to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives. The message the group sent to supporters advertised a “Betsy Ross mug” and referenced Kaepernick’s opposition to the slavery-era flag.

26 PHOTOS
Colin Kaepernick through his career
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Colin Kaepernick through his career
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #10 of the Nevada Reno Wolf Pack celebrates with fans after defeating the UNLV Rebels 44-26 at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
30 December 2008: Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick (10) in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl held at Bronco Stadium in Boise, ID. (Photo by Steve Conner/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29: Colin Kaepernick #10 #10 of the North Team scrambles out of the pocket while taking on the South Team during the fourth quarter of the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29, 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Under Armour)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Colin Kaepernick # 7 of the San Francisco 49ers defends as his team plays the New Orleans Saints during their pre season game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 1: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws the ball from the pocket against the San Diego Chargers during their preseason NFL Game on September 1, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San DIego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws before a game against the Seattle Seahawks on October 18, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won 13-6. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 09: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs down the field in between plays during their game against the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park on December 9, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after running in a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers hugs a teammate as they celebrate in the locker room after the 49ers defeat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers answers questions on his tattoos during Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, January 29, 2013, in New Orleans, Louisiana.. (George Bridges/MCT via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up against the Baltimore Ravens during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Professional football player/presenter Colin Kaepernick attends the Third Annual Hall of Game Awards hosted by Cartoon Network at Barker Hangar on February 9, 2013 in Santa Monica, California. 23270_002_SK_0224.JPG (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 08: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs onto the field for their preseason NFL game against the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park on August 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 25: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles away from the rush of Fred Evans #90 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at Candlestick Park on August 25, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 26: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before a game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on September 26, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball in the first half against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts during a NFL game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field after losing to the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 02: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines against the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to facing the Denver Broncos during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
20 September 2015: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) [16242] in action during a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to playing the Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers fires the team up on the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the 49ers 31-24. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 24: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 1: Eric Reid #35, Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eli Harold #58 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
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“WHO DO YOU STAND WITH? DONALD TRUMP AND THE BETSY ROSS FLAG OR ANTI-AMERICAN FLAG COLIN KAEPERNICK?” the message asked.

Pictures of President Trump and Kaepernick appear side-by-side in the message. The photo of Kaepernick appears to have been altered to make his skin several shades darker than it is in original copies of the image. In an email to Yahoo News, NRCC communications director Chris Pack insisted, “The photo was not darkened.”

Spokespeople for Kaepernick did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

The NRCC email advertised a mug emblazoned with a 1770s era flag that supporters would receive in exchange for a $25 donation. It was a clear reference to the announcement by Nike that it wouldn’t sell a shoe model featuring the 18th century flag, which Kaepernick said he found offensive because it was used during slavery. Kaepernick, who has an endorsement deal with Nike, has become one of the more prominent African-American activists focused on racial justice. He last played in the NFL in 2016 and famously began a protest against racial oppression and police shootings by kneeling during the national anthem at games. His protests spread, and Kaepernick became a lightning rod, drawing criticism from President Trump.

Kaepernick became a free agent in 2017 and has remained unsigned. He filed a grievance against the NFL accusing it of keeping him from the league due to his activism, and the two sides reached a confidential settlement earlier this year.

12 PHOTOS
Fans show support for Colin Kaepernick
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Fans show support for Colin Kaepernick
Sep 12, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; A San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (not pictured) fan holds a sign after the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers won 28-0. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
At the start of the game protestors take a knee in support of the movement started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, outside Lincoln Financial Field, in South Philadelphia, PA, on September 24, 2017. Similar protest are staged around the nation after US President Donald Trump named Kaepernick a Son of A Bitch at a recent rally. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
At the start of the game protestors take a knee in support of the movement started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, outside Lincoln Financial Field, in South Philadelphia, PA, on September 24, 2017. Similar protest are staged around the nation after US President Donald Trump named Kaepernick a Son of A Bitch at a recent rally. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, USA - SEPTEMBER 10: Protesters stage a rally against the National Football League (NFL), supporting Colin Kaepernick, outside the Soldier Field stadium in Chicago, United States on September 10, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - AUGUST 23 : People participate in a rally against the National Football League (NFL), supporting Colin Kaepernick in Manhattan borough of New York, United States on August 23, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
01 September 2016: A fan supports San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the NFL preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers signs autographs for fans after a 31-21 win over the San Diego Chargers during a preseason game at Qualcomm Stadium on September 1, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Sep 25, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) shoots a selfie with fans outside the locker room during pre game warmups against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers signs autographs for fans after a 31-21 win over the San Diego Chargers during a preseason game at Qualcomm Stadium on September 1, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers signs an autograph for a fan prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04: A fan dressed up as Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers watches from the seats during the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the 49ers 26-6. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers interacts with fans before the game against the Buffalo Bills on October 16, 2016 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo defeats San Francisco 45-16. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Political ad makers have previously been accused of darkening African-Americans’ skin in photographs to appeal to racist sentiment. In 2015, a study of negative ads that aired against Barack Obama in the 2008 election showed that the campaign of Republican candidate John McCain consistently darkened Obama’s skin in commercials. That study also showed McCain’s skin was lightened in some ads and found those images appealed to “stereotypes” and negatively affected some voters’ impressions of Obama. During that same race, the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton was also accused of darkening Obama’s skin in ads, and liberal critics described it as “using racism” and “race-baiting.” There is a wide body of evidence indicating racial prejudice is stronger against African-Americans with darker skin, and multiple other studies have echoed the finding that some voters respond negatively to candidates with darker skin.

The NRCC’s Kaepernick ad comes as the campaign committee has faced criticism for its tactics from even within the Republican Party. In June, The Hill reported GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney told the NRCC’s chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., that “Republicans raised questions about the NRCC’s strategy during a closed-door meeting.” Their concerns included the NRCC’s usage of Trump-style mocking nicknames in political attacks on Democrats. On June 4, former Republican congressman Tom Rooney tweeted a simple message at Emmer in response to the juvenile jabs.

“This isn’t you,” Rooney wrote.

A spokesperson for Emmer declined to comment and referred the matter to the NRCC. Thus far, Emmer and other Republican leaders have defended the NRCC’s approach. GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement to The Hill in June that praised Emmer and his team for “doing what it takes to win.”

“They’re on offense and not letting Democrats get away with promising their voters action but coming to Washington and conforming to the new Democrat Socialist agenda,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the NRCC’s Kaepernick ad.

Earlier this month, Emmer similarly defended the committee’s tactics to the Minnesota Star Tribune and noted his position is “literally measured by wins and losses.”

“Our job is to define the other side of the aisle,” Emmer said. “Our guys are being as aggressive as they can to get these stories placed.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story and headline said the photo “was” noticeably altered. After it appeared, the NRCC denied to Yahoo News that the photo had been altered, and the story and headline changed to reflect that.

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