It dates me to recall an era when tattoos were still something of a novelty in popular culture. But, yes, once upon a time, Allen Iverson seemed intent on turning his limbs and torso into an inky narrative. They were, if nothing else, kind of interesting, an attempt to memorialize the violent circumstances of his youth. For a while, Iverson posed as basketball’s answer to Tupac Shakur, he with the words "THUG LIFE" famously tattooed across his belly.
Unfortunately — my opinion, of course — the trend didn’t die with Shakur. Dennis Rodman’s assortment of markings and piercings became an unmistakable insignia of some internal tragedy. Then there was Mike Tyson, who sought solace or signification in tattooing himself with images of those he considered to be role models. It was as if he could graft their spirits to his flesh. The images included Mao Tse-tung, Arthur Ashe and Che Guevara.
One out of three isn’t a bad batting average, but I think it’s safe to say the tattoo thing didn’t really work out for Iron Mike.
Then again, at least Tyson’s tats were connected to some vague purpose or ethos, which is more than one gets from, say, the image of Abraham Lincoln indelibly drawn on DeShawn Stevenson’s throat. Sorry, DeShawn, people aren’t laughing with you.
Still, you get some points for effort. It takes an awful lot to be noticed these days, and that’s my biggest problem with tattoos. What was once fashionably rebellious is doomed to become a cliché. Tattoos are no different. Everybody has them.
Just the same, who the hell is Jerry Richardson to tell Cam Newton not to get any tattoos?
The two met in early April, at Richardson’s home in Charlotte, when Newton — on his best behavior — was still campaigning to be selected by the Carolina Panthers with the first pick in the draft. As Richardson recounted the other day on "Charlie Rose," their interview went like this:
"Do you have any tattoos?"
"No, sir," said Newton, who was only the most investigated Heisman candidate in college football history. "I don’t have any."
"Do you have any piercings?"
"No, sir. I don’t have any."
"We want to keep it that way," said Richardson. "We want to keep no tattoos, no piercings, and I think you’ve got a very nice haircut."
How to characterize a conversation like this? Paternalistic? I think that might do. But susceptibility to the overly paternalistic may in fact be Cam Newton’s real problem. After all, he’s said to be a young man who let his daddy pimp him out to the highest bidder.
But back to the Carolina Panthers. If the Yankees have their long-standing prohibition against facial hair, shouldn’t Richardson be able to impose his grooming preferences as standards? Sure. Standards, yes. But not double standards.
In other words, if you let Jeremy Shockey and Steve Smith have their tattoos, don’t broach the subject with Newton. For all the yes sir, no sir stuff, Cam Newton should be coming to a realization right about now. He’s a grown man. He can do what he wants as long as he doesn’t break the law and pays for it with his own money.
In other words, don’t be like Terrelle Pryor. If ever there were a cautionary tale regarding the perils of tattooing, that’s it. I mean, look what happened to the poor guy. Neither Roger Goodell nor the NCAA could fashion a punishment as cruel as that which now awaits Pryor: exile in Oakland.