Jets RB Washington's trading card for the 'birds'

Updated: November 15, 2006, 4:38 PM ET
Associated Press

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Leon Washington jump-started the New York Jets' running game with his shifty moves and gamebreaking speed.

The rookie running back has also created a stir among sports trading card collectors with a questionable photograph.

A Bowman "Signs of the Future" autographed card, issued by The Topps Company, Inc., features a photo of Washington from the waist up in his green Jets jersey with his arms folded across his chest -- and appearing to make obscene gestures with both hands.

Washington said Wednesday there was nothing naughty about the photo, which was taken during a shoot with Topps a few months ago. He said he was making an 'E' with both hands to honor his hometown, but some fingers are hidden under his armpits.

"We're glad to see that Mr. Washington has clarified the meaning of the hand gestures. But at the end of the day, to the average person looking at the card, it looks like something else."
-- Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi.

"All it is is that I'm from the east side of Jacksonville -- that's my community," Washington told The Associated Press. "It looks funny, but maybe I should've taken the picture a different way. That's all it really is -- nothing more than that."

The apparent obscenity has increased the popularity of the card, which is fetching nearly $100 on eBay, and Topps is offering collectors the chance to return the card and receive another in its place after saying its release was an oversight by editors.

"Were glad to see that Mr. Washington has clarified the meaning of the hand gestures," Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi told the AP. "But at the end of the day, to the average person looking at the card, it looks like something else."

Topps earlier released a statement condemning the card, saying the company didn't "condone this type of behavior to be photographed for its trading cards." Washington said Topps hadn't yet contacted him, but was confident he would be in touch with the company soon to discuss the situation.

"We think it's irresponsible and disappointing that the trading card company didn't contact Leon or the organization for clarification prior to issuing the statement," Jets spokesman Ron Colangelo said.

"I was a little disappointed because I don't want to send that sort of message across to the fans or anybody like that," Washington said. "I'm not that kind of person and that's not even my character."

Washington said he received a handful of calls Tuesday from friends asking about the card.

"People were like, 'What's up with that picture you took shooting the bird?' And I was like, 'Man, I can't even remember the last time I shot the bird -- that's not even me to do anything like that,"' Washington said. "So, I took a look at the picture and remembered taking it. I was coming out of a tunnel or something like that and somebody yelled, 'Hey, take a picture.' So I took it, not thinking it would come out like something like this here."

The card sold for around $12 on eBay a few days ago, but is now averaging around $80 and selling for as high as $99.99.

"For a card like this that's not a limited edition card, this is a phenomenal increase," said Elon Werner, spokesman for Dallas-based Beckett Media LP, which first reported the story on its Web site Tuesday.

Beckett constantly tracks values for trading cards and other collectibles, and said the Washington card is a huge hit.

"This card will be the hottest card on the football side for this quarter at least, and probably for the half-year," Werner said.

The incident brought back memories of previous trading card foul-ups, including the 1989 Fleer card featuring Baltimore's Billy Ripken, who had an obscenity scrawled on the knob of his bat, and a 1972 Topps Billy Martin card in which the then-Detroit Tigers manager appeared to be making an obscene hand gesture.

Washington has been a big surprise for the Jets this season, stepping in for the injured Curtis Martin and leading the team with 432 yards rushing. The fourth-round pick out of Florida State has also become a fan and media favorite with his friendly, easygoing demeanor, along with his game-changing skills.

"Just knowing Leon and his background, we have no doubts in what his intentions were," Colangelo said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press