C.W. Eldridge watches his television set these days and searches
for the smaller pictures inside the bigger pictures. He is the
curator of the Tattoo Archive in Berkeley, Calif., and one of
his goals is to keep an up-to-date file on all the tattoos in
sports. C.W. is a very busy man.
Every game, every athletic event, is a sort of Where's Waldo
puzzle. If a leg sticks out from a pileup at the line of
scrimmage and C.W. notices a panther crawling down the calf, he
writes down the player's name and number. If an All-Star forward
stands at the foul line and C.W. can see the word pip written
across the biceps, he follows the same process. Name and number.
If the foremost boxer on the planet unloads an uppercut
and...was that a picture of Mao Tse-tung that suddenly went
flying past? Name. No number.
The task sometimes seems almost impossible. Tattoos suddenly are
everywhere in sports. "There's never been a time like this in
our country's history," says C.W., a man who is tattooed from
head to toe. "Not in sports. Not in society. We're going through
an incredible tattoo renaissance. Not even during World War II,
when soldiers were getting tattoos for luck before they left
home, was there anything like this. Never has there been such a
broad movement for body decoration across such a cross-section
Nowhere is the movement more visible than on the playing fields
and in the arenas of the land. Who has a tattoo? Who doesn't?
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has the picture of Mao on
one arm and a picture of Arthur Ashe on the other. Orlando Magic
center Shaquille O'Neal has a Superman logo on one arm and TWISM
on the other, which stands for The World Is Mine. Jerry Rice has
a tattoo. David Justice. Riddick Bowe. Doug Gilmour. Nike CEO
Phil Knight. Dennis Rodman!!!! Rodman seems to have the contents
of the Louvre tattooed across his body.
Ten years ago, maybe a boxer or a professional wrestler could be
seen with a tattoo, but virtually nobody else. Now, wide
receivers and relief pitchers and hockey defensemen can look
like Maori warriors, lifer supply sergeants, Hell's Angels or
Lemmy, the singer from Motorhead. "Athletes are getting
tattooed, but everyone's getting tattooed these days," artist
Gill Montie of Tattoo Mania in Hollywood says. "The entire
business has changed. It's not a bad-guy thing to have a tattoo
anymore. It's like dyeing your hair. People are putting their
inside on their outside. It's always been said that tattoos are
where the elite meets the underworld. Well, athletes are part of
"Tattoos go back thousands of years," tattoo legend Lyle Tuttle
of San Francisco says. "Marking his own body might have been one
of man's first conscious decisions. Chasing an animal down for
food, making fire, building shelter, those were things he had to
do by instinct. Marking his body was something he wanted to do.
"Tattoos have always been sort of a blue-collar item in our
society," Tuttle adds. "Why that's changed, I don't know. I
guess it's just a crazy world we live in."
Each tattoo is a personal, irrevocable, lifetime commitment.
Each tattoo is a story. C.W. says most of the tattoos he applies
these days are custom works to people with their own images of
what they want on their bodies. He, too, is not sure what has
happened--MTV? A simple trend? What?--but says he is delighted
that a lot of those new, tattooed bodies finally play sports.
"These people are certainly visible," he says. "Their tattoos
are visible. You can see the arms, the legs, the shoulders, in a
lot of sports. Fans, kids, see their heroes with tattoos and
they want 'em too."
Now, there's a comforting thought.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY HEISLER MIKE PELUSO, LEFT WING, NEW JERSEY DEVILS "There were a bunch of guys, after we won the Stanley Cup, who said they were going to have the Cup tattooed on their bodies," says Peluso, 29. "Everyone else backed out." For good measure he added the IHL's Turner Cup (right), which he won with the Indianapolis Ice in 1990. [Mike Peluso's tattooed arm]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY HEISLER TREY JUNKIN, TIGHT END, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS Junkin, 34, got his first tattoo, a yin-yang symbol with two dragons chasing each other, in 1991. He hated it. He found a Vancouver artist called the Dutchman, who cleaned it up and added to it, creating an ornate tiger. Several tattoos later, Junkin had spent "around $2,500" for his artwork. He says he can live with these tattoos for the rest of his life. "It's very high-tech now, with new kinds of ink that don't dissipate like tattoos from the '50s," Junkin says. "Besides, after 10 years in the NFL, I'm not supposed to live much past 51 anyway." [Trey Junkin on motorcycle]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY HEISLER DENNIS SCOTT, FORWARD, ORLANDO MAGIC "I was never big on tattoos until my father passed, three years ago in March," Scott, 27, says. "I wanted some way to honor him." A year later, in Maui, he had a picture of his father, Dennis Sr., and his father's nickname, Feets, tattooed on his arm. "I came home and my mother thought it was beautiful," says Scott. "Then I went out and had a heart and her nickname, Libby, put on my other arm." Scott says the pictures are a source of power. He felt during the playoffs that he was playing with "the strength of three people." [Dennis Scott in front of mirror]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY HEISLER STEVE EVERITT, CENTER, CLEVELAND BROWNS "We all got tattoos together, the entire offensive line," says Everitt, 25. He was a fine arts major at the University of Michigan. His taste runs toward medieval art, filled with skulls and blood and a sense of foreboding. The tattoo in question is a dagger with a skull, running along his spine. He doesn't hide it from the rest of the world, even as the weather becomes colder. The stares don't bother him. He would have ordered something along the same lines while in college if not for the fearsome on-campus presence of then athletic director Bo Schembechler. "Even now, says Everitt, "I wouldn't want him to see this tattoo." [Steve Everitt's tattooed lower back]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY HEISLER ANDRE RISON, WIDE RECEIVER, CLEVELAND BROWNS Among the more notable tattoos exhibited by Rison, 28: his nickname, Bad Moon, given to him by ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman; his "family tattoo," which shows blood dripping from a faucet and the saying blood is thicker than water ; and the initials L and A. "The L stands for Lisa. The A stands for Andre," he says. Lisa is his girlfriend, rap singer Lisa Lopes. They are together forever on his left shoulder. [Andre Rison's tattooed arm]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREGORY HEISLER DENNIS RODMAN, FORWARD, CHICAGO BULLS "When I started, there was almost no one in the NBA with tattoos," Rodman, 34, says. "People told me, 'You won't be allowed to have a tattoo in the NBA.' Well, how many tattoos are in the NBA now?" For starters, there are 11 on his body alone. Rodman says he might cover one arm completely, or have a tattoo made in each NBA city, or try something new. Something new? "You'll see down the road," he says. [Dennis Rodman]