Commentary

The confounding world of athlete tattoos

Guns, incorrect Bible references and lack of humility highlight pro inkings

Updated: November 14, 2009, 2:47 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Garrett W. Elwood/NBAE via Getty Images"I shall fear no man but God." Um.

This is the time of year when parents all over America take their children to the nation's sports facilities, sneak down to courtside and show the youngsters how dangerous it is to drink and ink.

How else do you explain Golden State Warrior Stephen Jackson's hands? Not the hands at the end of his arms. The tattooed hands on his chest and stomach, holding a handgun, praying. I am not kidding -- two hands praying with a gun between them. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

What is the message Jackson's stomach is trying to leave us? "God, please help me knock over this Kwik Stop?" "This is the Glock the Lord hath made?" Neither. Jackson says it represents him praying that he doesn't need to use a gun again.

Damn, Stephen. Where's your commute, Fallujah?

How else do you explain Kenyon Martin's lips? Not the lips on his face -- the lips on his neck. They're fire-hydrant-red women's lips, smooching there for all time, a permahickey. They're a tracing of his girlfriend's lips, the rapper Trina. I hope they stay together. Because hell hath no fury like a woman who has to stare at another woman's lips every day and night. You're talking turtlenecks in July.

You need look only a foot farther to see something even more puzzling on K-Mart, whose skin is a kind of human bathroom stall -- his ornate "I Shall Fear No Man But God" scrawled on his back. Uh, see Kenyon, the thing is: God isn't a man. Did you mean, Fear No Man. Fear God? That's the unfortunate thing about tattoo guns: no delete key.

Still, this is not as bad as the tattoo that Washington Wizards G/F DeShawn Stevenson added this past offseason -- a Pittsburgh Pirates "P" on his cheek. The only problem is, it's backward. Did you do it yourself in a mirror, DeShawn? Because it looks like a 9. "If you're standing [farther away] it looks like a P," Stevenson told The Washington Times in what has to be the leader for Dumbest Quote of 2009.

Um, nope, still backward, DeShawn. From close-up, from far away, from the Hubble telescope, still backward. Luckily, it's only on your face.

Many NBA tattoos seem to have all the foresight of a 4 a.m. Vegas wedding. Why else would Orlando Magic guard Jason Williams have "W-H-I-T" on the knuckles of his right hand and "E-B-O-Y" on the left? How often does a person arrange his fists side by side so that people can read them? Answer: Rarely. Which is why Williams must get these two comments quite a bit:

(1) "Nice to meet you, Whit."

(2) "E-boy? Is that a scouting Web site?"

Why would Celtic Marquis Daniels keep a tattoo of a guy blowing his brains out on his right arm? For the holidays? Why would LeBron James have "CHOSEN 1" scrawled across his back in a font usually reserved for MAN WALKS ON MOON? If a person really is The Chosen One, would we really need a tattoo parlor to spread the news? Why would Chicago Bull Brad Miller have the Saturday morning cartoon character Scrappy-Doo -- Scooby-Doo's nephew -- tattooed on his arm? (Apart from the obvious intimidation factor, of course.)

Every tattoo parlor should come with a proofreader. This might have prevented Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless from tattooing "GODS" on one triceps and "GIFT" on the other. Quarless may be God's gift to football, but not to punctuation. It lacks an apostrophe, to say nothing of humility.

And why would Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks get an ornate Chinese character tattooed down his leg without having a Chinese person in tow? See, Marion thought he was getting his nickname, "The Matrix," but instead got something that -- crudely translated -- comes out to "Demon Bird Mothballs." Still, it would be a very good intramural team name.

Boo-boo tattoos are everywhere. Why does Gilbert Arenas of the Wizards have the Barack Obama slogan "Change We Believe In" inscribed on the fingers of his left hand when (A) he forgot the word "can" and (B) he said on his blog he wouldn't even vote? Why would New Orleans Saint Jeremy Shockey have a massive bald eagle and an American flag tattooed on his arm that -- when half-covered by his jersey sleeve -- looks like the Sam the Eagle Muppet? Why would Suns guard Jason Richardson have the And1 shoe logo tattooed on his arm when anyone with Junior Mints for brains could guess what would happen next? He signed with Reebok. And 1 more player who didn't think before he inked.

Of course, not all athlete tattoos are colorful proof that unbridled vanity will wind up slapping you and your ego around the school yard. For instance, Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat has a giant map of Florida on his back. This is very useful for Haslem's friends.

Haslem friend No. 1: I think we're lost.

Haslem friend No. 2: Hey Udonis, lean forward.

Haslem friend No. 1: See? When we got to his coccyx, we were supposed to go toward Coral Gables!

Nor do we guess every humiliating tattoo on athletes is Seagram's related. For instance, we think we know what happened to MMA fighter Melvin Costa. Written in elaborate scroll underneath his belly button, it says -- and may God take my eyesight if I'm lying -- "I Have A Small Penis."

Melvin, how many times have we told you? Never fall asleep at the tattoo parlor.


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