So Many Athletes Have Tattoos

Why Do So Many Pro Athletes Have Tattoos?

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, NBA, Team Sports, Trends by Trip24 Comments

David Beckham's Tattoos Make the News

David Beckham’s Tattoos Make the News

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.

The Original Inked Up Athlete

The Original Inked Up Athlete

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.

Jeremy Shockey's Eagle Tattoo

Jeremy Shockey’s Eagle Tattoo

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.

Photo Credits for “Why Do So Many Pro Athletes Have Tattoos?”:
“Original Inked Up Athlete” – Keith Allison via photopin cc

“NBA Stats” – Tumblr
“Harris Data” – Harris Interactive
“Tat2X Blog” – Tattoo Culture & Style

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  1. Peter

    Hate the tats. Someday it will come full circle and all those inked up athletes will look foolishly out of date.

  2. K

    Ronaldo The soccer player has proved that having a tattoo free body allows him to donate blood to those in need….. a much better use of celebrity. A much better example to set for kids. Imagine an ill child believing that perhaps his donated blood came from a famous athlete who is so strong and fit … What better healing power for a child!

    1. Jeff

      I’m not sure from where you are, but here in America a tattoo does not preclude you from donating blood. Only are unable to donate within six months of obtaining a tattoo.

  3. Frank Di Ruscio

    Tattoos on pro athletes should be banned. These guys represent at team, a league/ organization, and sometimes a country. Their personal ideas, or experiences or other motivational forces for the tats are not welcome on that forum. Children idolize them for their skills and prowess in their sports. Show of the training and discipline it takes to get to the big pay cheque. Not their ignorance or individuality. No one really cares. Come on people! There is no “I” in team. Set a better example for those of us who pay to see your talents.

  4. Czaree

    It is a big turn off for tattoo haters like me. These people offend my eyes and I take exception. Yes it’s their bodies but they are hurting my eyes and millions others’. Tattoos are never beautiful and like graffiti they are stains which deface the beauty of the human body. In these days of disposable culture why would someone go for something permanent like tattoos. Believe me they’ll get out of fashion and you are stuck with them and removing them will leave some marks behind. Respect for golf and tennis players for mostly staying classy.

  5. Alberto O. C.

    The NBA is now a human billboard…. no longer a positive image or role model for our kids! I no longer find any interest in the NBA, my eyes can’t take it…. the National Tattoo Basketball Association…….

    1. Author

      I guess young millionaires can’t think of better ways to spend their money. Part of me agrees with you and the other part says… it’s their bodies… I would much rather they put their money towards charity instead of constantly working on their personal branding. Tattoos definitely don’t make you tough or a better player.

  6. David

    Most soccer players are from the street. They are trying to make coming from the street cool. Most are poorly educated from inadequate parents.

  7. Carmine Cantu

    Many of the players are gang affiliated, which is no secret to American pro leagues.
    Soccer in particular, especially those from South and Central America.
    I no doubt gang affiliation is the reason.
    (Check out the neck tats)

  8. Donnell

    For the people saying kids shouldn’t look up to these people just because they have tattoos, how stupid can you be? For example Demar DeRozan came from Compton, one of the most dangerous places in the USA. He made it out of there and is now a millionaire doing what he loves. But because he decided to put ink on HIS body he shouldn’t be a role model? According to some of you he should be shunned. Also how are tattoos a stain on the human body? A lot of tattoos are amazing pieces of art work that take time and energy with people taking years of their lives to perfect their art form. Just for you people to talk trash about it because you don’t like it.

    1. Lkk

      I find it very interesting how someone that doesnt belong to any group historically associated with tattoos, would let another person (the inker) to express themselves in their skin and just become a human canvas. Any meaning you think those tattoos can have can also be expressed BY YOURSELF in a simple piece of paper.

  9. Mark

    I have 2 both on my upper arms , mine took years of thinking & have meaning ! I’m not an athlete but seems to me they are playing follow the leader , dude you made it time for a tattoo just look in a book and point!!!!

  10. Al

    As an old timer who’s followed the NBA for several years, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing so many NBA players with tattoos. But, notwithstanding this current trend, I still enjoy watching these remarkably talented athletes…I do think at some point in the future, when tattoos are no longer fashionable, people who possess the expertise to remove tattoos are going to make a lot of money.

  11. Mike Sullivan aka "sully"

    Thought perhaps it was a cultural “thing” tracing to their ancestral routes in Africa but the Article dispelled. It is refreshing to an athlete with a labyrinth of tattoos everywhere on their bodies.
    Generally speaking the NHL is still relatively tattoo free compared to the other major sports in North America.

  12. Seth

    Allen Iverson in 1996 was not even close the the trendsetter in Athletes getting inked up, however the trend did start in the NBA. Dennis Rodman had 2 NBA Championship rings already in 1993 when he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs by the Detroit Pistons for Sean Elliot. Rodman’s play had been slipping after Chuck Daly’s retirement in Detroit and he re branded himself by copying Wesley Snipes new bleach blonde hair from his recent movie”Demolition Man” and simultaneously getting “inked up”. Later on Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls and was a mainstream member to the 2nd Jordan 3-peat, the hair evolved to Green and little kids were showing up at Bulls games covered with temporary tats. So yeah all these athletes are copying a trend started by Dennis Rodman!

  13. Garry Hagen

    And does that go for females with tatts… manly? Yeah I guess if she has had a sex change maybe.. behave yourself

  14. Diana Martin

    It’s their business. People need to mind their own business. If you don’t like tattoos then don’t get them or look away. Problem solved. Much worse going on in this world than somebody’s tattoos bothering you.

  15. Rog

    I think they should make these players cover up their tattoos that’s ridiculous

  16. Dodie Russell

    Now they are researching the impact of tattoos on the immune system. Findings are pending

  17. Derrick Miliner

    Love what Diana martin said “Mind Your Business”. Don’t look if you don’t like.

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