A Bossier City casino is accusing social media users of doctoring photos to suggest that a Halloween costume contest winner donned blackface for a Colin Kaepernick-inspired look tied to NFL player protests.
Several Facebook users shared the post, sparking negative comments alleging racism and prompting the casino to remove the post. The casino issued a statement Sunday:
"The winner of the costume contest was awarded his prize based on the popular votes of the guests in attendance, and not by our property staff. Since that time, photos have been altered which misrepresent the contest winner as appearing in black face — which he was not.
"As a company that embraces inclusion, we apologize to all those who are offended."
Some of those commenting on Facebook said the use of "blackface" in the costume was offensive. Others simply said the costume was in poor taste. "Guess we reward racism now," said one comment. Said another: "Everything about this is disgusting."
James Pendarvis, the man who wore the Kaepernick-inspired costume, said he did not wear blackface or any makeup to make his skin appear darker.
He said he darkened his beard using Just for Men hair dye, to more closely resemble Kaepernick, and put eye black on his cheeks — the black bars often seen on professional football players' cheeks.
Pendarvis, a 53-year-old repairman who said he has lived in Shreveport for most of his life, blamed the dark appearance in the pictures on bad lighting and on his naturally dark complexion. He is white.
"A lot of photos that night were under very low light conditions," he said in an interview conducted via Facebook messages. "I'm very tan to start. And had a lot of big hair on. People these days are looking for anything they can to label someone a racist. I'm not."
Pendarvis said his costume was inspired by Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who in 2016 started sitting or kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Many more players adopted the practice this year. Remarks by President Donald Trump helped draw attention to the protests.
On the front of Pendarvis' jersey was the word "Krapperdick," a play on the quarterback's last name. Pendarvis' costume included an adult diaper worn outside the pants, and he wore a wig to match Kaepernick's hair.
Behind him, attached to Pendarvis' waist, was a fake body dressed like a solider. When he knelt, the soldier appeared to remain standing. When Pendarvis stood, the soldier appeared to be picking him up.
The costume was meant to express his displeasure with players kneeling during the national anthem and had nothing to do with race, Pendarvis said.
"I feel like it's an insult," he said of the players' kneeling. "I understand why they are protesting. It seems if it's okay for him, or players to do this. Why against our country?"
Pendarvis initially shared photos of himself on his own Facebook page. The negative response prompted him to delete them as, he said, too easily misunderstood and darkened.
He said costumes like his are everywhere. He compared his Kaepernick look to costumes depicting a young girl in a cardboard box being deported by Trump.
"As a society we have freedom of speech. But yet, I get hammered for a costume," he said. "Yes, distasteful to some, funny to others. Our country should be worried about ways to peaceful protests and ways to better our nation. ... It's getting to a point where no one can say anything about anything."
A Horsehoe Casino spokeswoman did not respond when asked what made the casino think the photos of Pendarvis had been doctored.
Pendarvis was one of four contest winners the costume contest. The winners took home a share of $1,500.
Lloyd Thompson, president of the Shreveport NAACP chapter, viewed photos of Pendarvis in costume at The Times' request.
He said Pendarvis should have been more sensitive to the national debate surrounding Kaepernick and NFL player protests. But Thompson also said he was not greatly concerned by the costume.
The event and backlash probably won't impact the casino's gambling population, said Judy Williams, president of Williams Creative Group, an advertising agency in Shreveport. But people will be watching the business' events closely, she said.
She said that the casino needed to respond strongly to claims of racism on social media, but that she couldn't speak to why the casino believed photos of Pendarvis were doctored.
"I did think they needed to be aggressive," Williams said. "The bigger issue there is racial divisiveness ... there's no place for that."