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

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

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.