Fans noticed something very odd during the China vs. Wales match on March 22– some of China’s soccer players had skin-colored athletic tape on their arms and others wore long sleeves. Then last Monday, against the Czech Republic, the same thing happened. Shortly after that, the Chinese players acknowledged that the Chinese Communist Party had issued new rules in regards to what was allowed on television, and as it turns out, tattoos are not. The Chinese Football Association has also reinforced this restriction.
The announcement of the “no visible ink” rule brings disappointment in the professional sports world, and it’s because tattoos and sports go together like avocado and toast or like the Kardashians with a TV film crew. The two things are an expected duo. Though there has been controversy in the past regarding whether or not players with tattoos appear professional, the look has since been normalized and more or less accepted. In fact, some of the most popular sports around the world are notorious for having tattooed players. Let’s look at the main three.
From David Beckham to Lionel Messi to Tim Howard, pro soccer players are no strangers to tattoos. Beckham is without a doubt one of the most tattooed soccer players. He has over 40 of them, including inked portraits of his wife and sons. Messi also took the familial route with a few of his tattoos. The first one he ever got was of his mother, and after his daughter was born in November 2012, he got her handprints on his left calf. Howard is the world’s most tattooed goalkeeper with his whole chest covered. His tattoos include his kid’s faces as well as religious symbols. The list goes on. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gregory Van der Wiel, and Clint Dempsey are among the many players who gave into the tattoo temptation.
Seeing a player with a tattoo in the NFL is like finding out the original movie was better than the sequel. It’s no surprise. Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Dak Prescott and Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles are but a few in a sea of many who have gotten inked. Similarly to the pro soccer players, a large majority of pro football players get tattoos with a purpose in mind. Behind Prescott’s cartoon lion is a story. His mother would draw this lion when he was a boy, and when she passed away from colon cancer in 2013, he got it permanently inked on his body. Von Miller has tattoos entirely covering his arms, but for him, each one is special and reminds him of a specific time in his life. As for Chris Long, his tattoos represent his struggles but also his celebrations with his football career.
Probably the first sport that comes to mind in terms of players with tattoos. Inked players in the NBA are a common sight, to the point that tattoo advertising is being considered a possible reality. Although the Coca-Cola symbol squished in between names of loved ones isn’t exactly tasteful. Point being, that’s how prevalent tattoos are in basketball. Steph Curry, Lebron James and Allen Iverson have all gone under the needle. Curry has matching Hebrew tattoos with his wife that reads, “Love never fails.” James has a variety all over his body including his mother’s name and a quote from the movie Gladiator that signifies his outlook towards his work ethic, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.” Iverson has the initials of his family members, a set of praying hands, and a quote that says, “Only the strong survive.”
If nothing else, tattoos give people insight into the minds of the players. Tattoos allow the players to say who they are without having to ever once open their mouths. The meanings can range from sentimental to silly; nonetheless, whether the player flaunts them for show or draws comfort from their mother’s cartoon lion, tattoos are necessary in their own specified ways. These inked images are stories players carry with them, a protest for individuality and an acknowledgment of ownership.