The stigma of tattoos has been mellowed in the last ten to twenty years, especially in the world of sports. Everyone from swimmers to female boxers seem to have a little something inked somewhere on their bodies, and arms, legs, neck, hands, and even faces get decorated on a regular basis. Tattoos in certain places might still be taboo in mainstream society and might be a barrier to employment in certain sectors, but certainly that kind of corporate, buttoned-down mentality wouldn’t apply to our freewheeling athletes, would it?
Actually, it does, because many leagues consider tattoos to be part of the uniform. In fact, in many sports tattoos are covered in collective bargaining agreements, league committees, and official rulebooks. Take Major League Baseball, which, like the Marines, frowns upon “sleeve” tattoos. Justin Miller of the Florida Marlins (the same guy who has “I [heart] Billy Koch” tattooed on his rear end) has been told to wear long sleeves while pitching because his many tattoos could distract the batter. His response: “For me, my left arm shouldn’t even be counted as a distraction. It’s not part of my uniform, it’s part of me.”
Joel Zumaya and Felipe Lopez usually wear at least semi-long sleeves while playing, although it’s not clear whether they do so based on a higher directive from MLB to cover their arm tattoos (Zumaya, Lopez, Lopez again), or because they just enjoy that style.
As with most things in sports, sponsorship, advertising. and money come into the equation as well. Mike Juhasz of the Calgary Stampeders was told by his coach to cover his Nike swoosh tattoo since Nike was a competing sponsor of the league. One has to wonder if something similar would have to be done if this young man ever made it to the NBA. (Incidentally, LeBron James had to cover his tattoos while playing during high school.)
You wouldn’t think tattoos would be a huge deal in the world of auto racing, right? But Kimi Raikkonen took some heat for a tattoo of a little sun he got on his wrist. Nothing much came of it, but the media fixated on the topic, and Ferrari boss Jean Todt finally said that if a sponsor was that upset about the tattoo then they would just change sponsors.
Then there’s the strange world of temporary tattoo advertising, which has grown into the even stranger world of real tattoo advertising — and which, of course, got its start in sports. Bernard Hopkins collected an extra $100,000 paycheck for putting a GoldenPalace.com temporary tattoo on his back during his 2001 bout against Felix Trinidad, and soon the boxing world was up in arms about the prospect of fighters dancing around the squared circle like sweaty billboards. (Temporary tattoos in the ring were eventually banned since they could be a distraction to the judges and because the ink could come off and get in the opponent’s eye.)
Soon, the juggernaut of sports marketing jumped on board and a New York man planned to ambush the NBA with selected players wearing temporary tattoo advertisements during three selected games in 2001. After hearing about the plan, the NBA quickly put an end to the plans while threatening fines and suspensions. Rasheed Wallace also considered wearing a temporary tattoo for a candy company but eventually backed out because he “didn’t want to use his body as a billboard.” I’m sure it had nothing to do with David Stern at all. Really. The league maintains that players are not allowed to wear any stray corporate insignia on any parts of their bodies, which are considered part of the uniform.
One of the few places that temporary tattoo advertising has survived is in beach volleyball, where players can often be seen wearing multiple corporate logos while diving around in the sand. Having concentrated on, um, other aspects of women’s beach volleyball, it didn’t occur to me until lately that they were wearing temporary tattoos on their arms. Having not watched any men’s volleyball, I had to do a quick search just to make sure that they were taking part in the “Body For Sale” trend as well.
Tangential Bonus Material: Don’t forget, these are wonderful Father’s Day gifts… Bet you didn’t know that Sean Salisbury has/had a “No Fear” tattoo on his ankle (bottom of page)… Check out this article for all the legal ramifications of NBA players wearing temporary tattoo advertising… Many Japanese sports clubs forbid tattoos altogether because they are associated with gangsters, but they tend to let them slide if they are not visible to the other members… According to a very informal survey, the Harley-Davidson logo is the most popular trademark tattoo on the west coast. For more tidbits about logos and tattoos read this… Still interested in NBA players and temporary tattoo advertisements? Listen to this NPR interview from 2001… Sweet looking American flag tattoo on some player in the upcoming video game The Bigs… Here’s a transcript from an Outside the Lines episode where they discussed tattoo advertising… Gallery of athletes and their tattoos here… Another gallery of athletes and their tattoos here (6 and 10 are personal favorites).