Tattoos are now commonplace in almost every professional sport. You can’t watch an NBA game or a FIFA soccer match without seeing some tattooed players. Former Manchester United star David Beckham’s tattoos have a celebrity status all their own. Whenever David Beckham gets more body art it makes the national news in the United Kingdom. Breakout 49ers NFL star quarterback Colin Kaepernick gets a new tattoo every summer in the offseason and it’s always a hot topic for sports talk in the Bay Area. Tattoos are so prolific in the NBA that is hard to find players that don’t have them. The very nature of an NBA uniform is perfect for displaying body art. Exposed shoulders, a low neck line and shorts couldn’t be better for showing off freshly inked NBA stars. Over half or roughly 55% of all active NBA players have tattoos while only about 25% of the general population in the U.S. has tattoos.
Why are there so many tattoos in professional sports? There are several answers to this question. One would be that tattoos have become part of popular or mainstream culture and this culture is magnified in professional sports. Also, professional athletes now more than ever are considered to be celebrities and celebs love being in the news. There’s no better boost for a celebrity career than some press. Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence recently had her hand tattooed with the chemical formula for water in white ink. The tattoo was poorly done and almost invisible to the naked eye. However, it still made the NBC and CBS national nightly news casts. The tiny tattoo seemed to get her more press than her Oscar nominations did.
Another reason is that tattoos are expensive; especially if you want one from a well know artist. This means that getting a tattoo is seen as a status symbol in some circles like owning a luxury vehicle or drinking Cristal Champagne. How many people can afford thousands of dollars to get sleeved out with tattoos? If you just signed a multi-million dollar NBA, NFL, Major League or Premier League contract you can afford it. What better way to spend some of that disposable income than getting inked up and making the news every time you get a new tattoo? Athletes are brands so if you’re trying change your brand image to a tougher one a little ink sure helps; even if it doesn’t actually make you tougher. Also, many pro athletes will never have to work a nine to five job in their lives so they’ll never have to deal with a no visible tattoo policy when looking for employment …so why not get all the ink you want? Chris Andersen of the Miami Heat is an excellent example of getting all the ink you want. Every visible inch of his body is tattooed except his face.
If you’re looking for someone to blame or praise …look no further than Allen Iverson. Although now retired, he was the original inked up athlete. His tattoos caused a huge amount of controversy as well as debate in the NBA. He was asked to cover up numerous times and never complied. Tattoos were not part of mainstream collective consciousness way back in 1996 when Allen Iverson was drafted into the NBA. Now you are hard pressed to find an NBA player that doesn’t have any ink. The pendulum has swung completely in the other direction and in some ways having a tattoo in professional sports has almost become obligatory.
About the Author of “Why Do So Many Pro Athletes Have Tattoos?”:
Trip Albagdadi is a regular guest contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online as well as traditional print publications.