Are tattoos glamorous or glorious, or both? Is the body really just another canvas for an artist to portray his work? Are tattoos the best example of buyer's remorse of all time?
However you look at them, tattoos in the NFL are now mainstream. In fact, being "tatted up" is now less of the exception and more of the rule.
"Its a trend thing", says 49ers wide receiver Arnez Battle. Arnez has a tat to memorialize his late baby brother Brandon on his left arm. "I think that young America has gone to tattoos as a way of expressing themselves, and for me, every tattoo has a meaning."
If you were to stroll through a typical NFL locker room, finding an inkless man is like trying to find Waldo on a cereal box.
What used to be associated with drunken sailors on shore leave or hardened convicts has become as common as shoulder pads and face masks in todays NFL.
"Its part of the infusion of prison culture", says noted sports sociologist Harry Edwards, who onced worked with the 49ers. "From wearing the pants low....all of that points to prison culture. And prison is gang culture. What you used to see on Hell's Angels or any other outlaw fringe, so-called "sets", now has infused the youth culture. And with the hip-hop culture, it is not just flashed, but flaunted. At the end of the day, everybody wants to be cool. If one tattoo is good, then an excess is great. As the lady in Scarface said, Nothing exceeds like excess."
Here is Michael Robinson's take, the backup 49ers running back: "I cant sit here and lie and say and say all of mine mean something, but the majority of them do. Some of them are just because I felt like it at the time. Some of them are just because I needed to fill in space. Seriously. When you do tattoos and start putting them in places, they start to look funny if you dont tie them together. You need fillers." His right arm is his whatever arm, a continuous work in progress of lines, doodles, and designs. "I just let my tattoo artist go with it, but right here....I have got a bullet going through it because there is a lot of killing in Richmond. I got my first ink when I was 18, when I was able to go out with mom. At first she was like Oh My God!, but then I got her name inked and she suddenly calmed down."
Jarod Cooper, special teams ace from the Raiders says its not just about the players. He held a fan contest to see who in Raider Nation had the best work. Ironically, a Kansas City native won the $1,000 prize and game tickets with a back covered in Raiders art. "I think he is in prison or something", Cooper cracked to the SF Chronicle. The second place winner was Juan Orozco of Yuba City, California. He has a graveyard tattoo with referee Walt Coleman hanging from a tree with "Tuck Rule" underneath it.
In a post-9/11 world, New York Giant tightend Jeremy Shockey arrived at training camp two years ago with a massive and ornate bald eagle in an American flag covering his right arm. This tat took 16 hours to complete. "It speaks for itself", he told reporters.
Tim Dwight, a Raiders widereceiver, has "Give me freedom or give me death" stenciled into his right arm in Chinese.
JaMarcus Russell, the number one overall pick at QB for the Raiders had "The Chosen One" tattood on his left arm before his senior year in high school. "As a kid, I was always bigger than everyone and at that level had a little more talent. Growing up, you go through your ups and downs and I kind of felt like God had chosen me to do certain things. As a kid going to church, my pastor always told me he saw something special in me."
Harry Edwards sees the emergence of Dennis Rodman, who combined tats with piercings to become a mad genius of self-promotion in the mid 90s as the forebearer of the NFL's current ink-stained landscape. At one point in time you had a big Afro if you were black and hair long enough to play the lead in "Shaggy Dog" if you were white. Now it is tattoos. They never think that one day they may not want that devil on their neck crawling out from under their shirt."