Colin Kaepernick and the Most Famous Tatted-Up Stars in Sports

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2013

Colin Kaepernick and the Most Famous Tatted-Up Stars in Sports

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    I don't mean to alarm you, but if you haven't already noticed, the world is awash in ink.

    Tattoos are everywhere—and they aren't going away.

    No longer reserved for burly bikers and weathered sailors, people from all walks of life have fallen in love with the art form. Teachers, doctors, your mailman—anyone and everyone might have a tattoo somewhere on their body.

    Make no mistake about it: Tattooing is an art form, and those who create these long-lasting images on human skin are most definitely artists in every sense of the word.

    It's an art form that hasn't been lost on high-profile athletes either, as more and more of the biggest and brightest stars in professional athletics are heavily inked—to the point where some have lost count of just how many they've had done over the years.

    Super Bowl-bound quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers is one of the newest faces of the NFL—and the tattoo movement.

    What other athletes that are currently honing their craft are right alongside him?

    Let's take a look.

Daniel Agger: Soccer

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    Saying that Liverpool defenseman Daniel Agger has a lot of tattoos would be the equivalent of telling someone outside of the United States that soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

    Thank you, captain obvious.

    Yet Agger's two full sleeves only tell part of the story.

    Both his chest and back are covered in ink, with his back a tribute to his homeland of Denmark, something to truly behold.

Chris Andersen: NBA

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    Recently signed to a 10-day contract by the Miami Heat, Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who is a walking tribute to tattoo artists around the world, has returned to the NBA hardwood.

    Aside from the 303 chain, there's an eagle, a phoenix, bird wings, Chinese letters, a skull with a king's crown, chain links, random tribal designs, a guy dunking a ball, dollar signs, a pit bull, a dog dunking a ball and "Honky Tonk" across his stomach.

    That's only a few of the many tattoos that the Birdman flaunts.

    There's "Screw You" on his fingers, a statement that becomes far more visible when he clenches his fists.

    But none are as loud—or somewhat ridiculous—as the psychedelic "Free Bird" across his neck, which, in his mind, was a more sensible choice than getting a Cinderella tattoo somewhere on his body.

Carmelo Anthony: NBA

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    Some people may look at Carmelo Anthony like some sort of cartoon character, but that's not the Warner Brothers logo that he's got emblazoned on his upper chest/left shoulder.

    No, the "WB" stands for West Baltimore, where the New York Knicks All-Star forward grew up.

    That's only a small fraction of the work Melo has had done.

    His left arm features an ornery-looking bulldog with its arms crossed and five aces in the background on his left shoulder; followed by his nickname "Melo" and a flaming basketball. The work continues up-and-down both arms, extending to the back of his hands as well.

David Beckham: Soccer

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    One of soccer's biggest stars, despite his advanced age (he's 37 years old, which is getting up there for any professional athlete), David Beckham's tattoos have become as well known as his skills on the pitch—or the fact that he's married to one of the Spice Girls.

    Aside from the two full sleeves he's had done, the names of his three sons are featured prominently on his torso.

    His first born son, Brooklyn, has his name running along dad's lower back. Romeo, the middle child, is on the back of his neck. Cruz, the youngest, can be found underneath a gigantic winged figure on a cross that runs across his back, thought to be some sort of guardian angel.

    Not to be outdone, his daughter's name, Harper, runs along the base of his throat.

Carlos Boozer: NBA

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    You can say a lot of things about Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer, but that he's forgotten where he comes from isn't one of them, as the Alaska native pays homage to his home state on both arms.

    On his right, a basketball player standing in front of a mountain with "God's Will" underneath. On his left, a grizzly bear, which I'd say was a far better choice than, say, an igloo, or a penguin, both among the first images people think of when talking about the northernmost state in the union.

    Courtesy of Nikko Hurtado, who has been featured on both "LA Ink" and "Tattoo Wars," Boozer now has intricately-detailed portraits of his sons on his legs.

Djibril Cisse: Soccer

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    A striker for Queens Park Rangers in the EPL who is currently on loan to Al-Gharafa Sports Club in Qatar, Djibril Cisse is one of the most flamboyant—and heavily tattooed—athletes in the world.

    From a pair of tattoos on his head to the gigantic set of wings that covers a large portion of his back, Cisse's affinity for ink is apparent.

    Yet trying to make sense of what they all mean is nearly impossible. From his initials to skulls to tribal designs, there's something for everything on the nearly full canvas that is his upper body.

Kevin Durant: NBA

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    You might be thinking "Kevin Durant? What's he doing here?!?! He doesn't have a lot of tattoos—check out his arms! They're bare!"

    While that's largely true, just because we can't see his ink on a nightly basis doesn't mean that it isn't there.

    Click on the video link to hear the superstar break down the work he's had done—and its significance.

Josh Hamilton: MLB

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    Baseball's most ballyhooed free agent this winter, Josh Hamilton's five-year, $125 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels ensures that the slugger and his ink will have an even bigger profile now that he's moved into one of the biggest markets around.

    Hamilton, who has a history of substance abuse, has more than 20 tattoos on various parts of his body, including his legs, chest and back. None of them are more noticeable than the blue flames shooting up his forearms, the only clearly visible ink when he's on the field.

    Yet Hamilton isn't a fan of all the work he's had done, bemoaning the pair of devil's heads on the inside of his elbows when he spoke to ESPN's Tim Keown:

    He extends his arms and shows the devil heads. "I really regret these," he says. "They're a real hard reminder." It was one of the guys he met at the tattoo parlor who introduced him to cocaine. Soon he went from thinking, I can't do this, I'm Josh Hamilton, to thinking, I can do this because I'm Josh Hamilton. "At some point," he says, "I crossed a threshold."

    Just maybe, in Hamilton's case, the pair of devil's heads are more a blessing than a curse; a reminder of where he's been—and how far he's come since those dark days.

Aaron Hernandez: NFL

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    New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft was honest when Mass Live's Nick Underhill asked about one of his superstar tight ends, Aaron Hernandez, shortly after rewarding the then-22-year-old with a five-year, $40 million contract extension: 

    "I just think he's a super player, and really a first-class guy," Kraft said. "Some people might see all the tattoos on him and think. Maybe 10 years ago I was in that class, (now) I think, 'Wow, this guy's a good guy."

    Hernandez, who has more than just the tattoos visible on Sunday afternoons when he takes the field, has used parts of his body as a tribute to his late father, who passed away when Hernandez was only 16 years old.

    Most notable, on the underside of his left forearm, is a life lesson his father left him with: "If it is to be, it is up to me," something that Hernandez has taken to heart, as he told CBS Sports.


DeSean Jackson: NFL

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    One of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL, some would say that Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson is a bit cocky and arrogant at times.

    When you listen to him explain some of the many tattoos that he's gotten over the years, you'll understand why that might be the case. (Click the video link above if you've yet to do so.)

LeBron James: NBA

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    Arguably the most polarizing athlete in the world—yet unquestionably the greatest basketball player on the planet—LeBron James' tattoos are not only plentiful, but a source of material for those who vehemently dislike the Miami Heat forward.

    It could be something as small as his initials on either tricep, or the "Witness" and "History" that run vertically down his right and left calves, respectively, that sets off his detractors.

    It becomes difficult to argue against them, seeing as how King James has "Chosen 1" running across his back and shoulders, just where you'd expect to see a player's name on his jersey.

    That's not the only ink we don't see on a nightly basis: LeBron has something that sort of resembles a sphinx—others have speculated it to be a lion or dragon—on his chest, along with other work that was done on his lower torso, starting at the rib cage.

    Click here for a detailed look at all of the work that the three-time NBA MVP has had done over the years.

Chris Johnson: NFL

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    Remember when Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson ran for 2,000 yards back in 2009?

    He does too, and it's something that he'll never forget, as he's got "CJ" and "2K" underneath wings on his traps, his self-appointed nickname of "CJ2K" after reaching that goal.

    There seems to be a pair of eyes on his chest, though what they signify—along with much of the other work that he's had done over the years—remains a mystery.

Stevie Johnson: NFL

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    Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson has always been different. 

    At least that's how he's felt.

    Never shy to show off the work that he's had done, on his left pectoral you'll find a small boy leaning against a street sign that says "Memory Lane," a basketball in one hand and a football in the other.

    But this isn't your normal boy; instead, it's a boy who looks sort of half-human, half-alien, and it was done by design, as he told Tim Graham of The Buffalo News:  “The kid looks like that because he’s alienated,” Johnson said. “That’s me.”

    Growing up in the Hunters Point section of San Francisco, Johnson's athletic ability and determination kept him from following the path of so many around him, who became part of—or victims of—the street gang violence that was all around them.

    Johnson has never forgotten where he came from.

    Even now, as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL, it can be said that Johnson's flamboyant style and heavily inked upper body makes him stand out from the crowd even more than he did back then.

Colin Kaepernick: NFL

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    Kaepernick's dual-threat ability as the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers isn't the only thing that's taken the football world by storm.

    The sophomore sensation's collection of tattoos have as well.

    While we can only see the ink on his arms when he's on the field—exacerbated when he breaks the plane of the goal line and gets down to "Kaepernicking," where he kisses both biceps—biceps that have "To God the Glory" on the left and "Faith" on the right.

    "[It] is kind of my way of saying I don't really care what people think about my tattoos," Kaepernick told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. "I got them for me and to show people this is what I believe in. And God has brought me this far. He's laid out a phenomenal path for me and I can do nothing but thank him."

    From "Against All Odds" scrawled across his chest to "Though an army besiege me, my heart will not be afraid" on his left shoulder, a version of Psalm 27:3 on his left shoulder, they all pale in comparison to the masterpiece on his back.

    Across his broad shoulders, from the base of his neck to his waist, we find an intricate mural of angels and demons, something that took 18 hours and multiple sessions for tattoo artist Nes Andrion to complete, as the duo told Wetzel.

    As Kaepernick and his 49ers prepare to face off against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, his tattoos are certainly going to be one of the many storylines leading up to the NFL's grand finale.

Natasha Kai: Soccer

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    While she hasn't donned a United States uniform on the soccer field since 2009, there isn't as high profile a female athlete that has as great an affinity for tattoos as Natasha Kai.

    Kai, who is thought to have well over 60 different tattoos on her body—including two full sleeves—and most of the work has been done by artists in her native Hawaii.

    One of only three openly gay athletes on the 2008 United States Olympic Team, Kai's right rib cage serves as a notice to her partners in life: “Appreciate the Moment. The most precious treasure on earth is MY heart…When I share it with YOU, protect it as if it was your own…”

Matt Kemp: MLB

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    A perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp wasted little time paying respect to his late grandparents—or sharing his memorable tribute to them with the world:

    If it wasn't for my grandparents I wouldn't b where I'm at 2day! #RIP #PaPa @juncha

    — Matt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) January 13, 2013

    Done by 23-year-old Jun Cha, the intricacies of the work—from the lines in their faces to the wrinkles of their clothes—makes this truly one of the most spectacular tattoos I've ever seen, and it proves once again that tattoos are as much of an art form as drawing or painting.

Rey Mysterio: Wrestling

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    One of the WWE's most successful and popular superstars, Rey Mysterio has incorporated his faith, his friends and his family into the significant work he's had done on his body.

    He pays homage to his wife and children with multiple designs, including two skeletons on his left calf that, when you put them together, according to Mysterio, form a heart that says "Love till Death", cementing the vows he shared with his wife on their wedding day ( "'Til death do us part").

    His faith is represented by the rosary that encircles his neck, with a cross dangling from it in the middle of his chest. On his left forearm, you'll find a Gothic cross with a  tombstone and the initials "EG"—a tribute to his late friend and former WWE star Eddie Guerrero.

    Also on that arm, a large "619", representing not only the area code in San Diego, where he grew up, but his finishing move as well. Cameras followed Mysterio to the tattoo parlor when he was getting that done and filmed the process, which features Mysterio going more in depth about his love of the craft.

    Most notable among all of his ink, however, is the large spine running down, well, his spine.

    He explains his thinking behind that one on his website:

    "Eighty percent of the falls we take are on our backs. I thought it would be cool to design a tattoo on my spine showing how each vertebra should be aligned. Something I found cool is that when they filled it out on me, they said everything is pretty much as it should be. So it’s all pretty much in place."

    There you have it.

Randy Orton: Wrestling

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    A third-generation professional wrestler, Randy Orton is a nine-time World Champion and one of the more heavily tattooed superstars in the WWE.

    As you can see in the video above, Orton keeps the meaning of most of the ink on his body a secret, but we can be sure that faith and family, as with other athletes on this list, played a large role in some of the work that he's had done.

CM Punk: Wrestling

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    The self-proclaimed "Best in the World", CM Punk is as big a superstar as there is in professional wrestling—but his tattoos are almost as well known as his exploits inside the ring.

    From the Cobra insignia on his right shoulder to the slightly off-kilter pepsi logo on his left, Punk's torso is pretty much full of ink.

    There's "Straight Edge" written across his stomach, a testament to his "straight edge" lifestyle, something that he also brings to the forefront with "Drug Free" on his knuckles—"Drug" on his right hand, "Free" on the left.

    Those who believe Punk has no sense of humor would be mistaken, as the sleeve on his left arm reads "Luck is For Losers," but it features multiple symbols of good luck. A four-leaf clover, a rabbit's foot and a horseshoe are among the charms that can be found within the intricate designs.

Ryan Roberts: MLB

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    A versatile ballplayer who can play corner spots in the infield or outfield, Tampa Bay's Ryan Roberts got his first tattoo when he was 18 years old, a cross on his arm.

    As he told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, "I was really not planning on getting anything else."

    Obviously, those plans changed.

    Now, with more than 30 different tattoos, "Tatman," as he was named by fans while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is one of the most visibly tattooed players in all of Major League Baseball.

    From the Japanese characters on his neck that mean "Family" to the phrase "God gave us a fairy tale" around his collar, a tribute to his daughter Hudsyn, Roberts hasn't gone out and haphazardly had work done simply because he could.

    "Everything means something special in a way," Roberts told Smith. "Anything significant in my life is on my body." 

    It doesn't get much more significant than faith and family.

The Rock: Wrestling

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    When he's not busy making movies, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is still beating down foes and winning championships in the WWE.

    The self-proclaimed "People's Champion," who happens to be the current WWE Champion, The Rock's ink has evolved over the years, well past the bull horns on his right arm, signifying the "Brahma Bull" moniker that he's adopted over the years.

    Check the video out for a first-hand look at, and explanation of, the significant work that he's had done to the right side of his torso.

CC Sabathia: MLB

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    A physically imposing figure at 6'7" and nearly 300 pounds, CC Sabathia has won more games since 2001 than any pitcher in baseball.

    But that's not the only place that Sabathia has an edge over his counterparts—he's as heavily tattooed, if not more so, than any other pitcher in MLB.

    Each of his arms is covered in a variety of designs, including a tribute to his late father on the underside of his right forearm.

    Most impressive, however, might be one that few get to see—the larger-than-life "Sabathia" scrawled across his broad shoulders.

    It's a good thing that baseball players have to wear uniforms and the game isn't played shirts vs. skins, for Sabathia would have to cover that one up.

    The Yankees don't have names on the backs of their uniforms.

J.R. Smith: NBA

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    Short of going for the Mike Tyson look with a large tattoo on his face or having work done on the palms of his hands, there literally isn't anymore room on J.R. Smith's upper body for another tattoo.


    That's a problem for this self-admitted tattoo addict, something that perturbs him to this day, as he told The New York Times this past December:

    “I was actually kind of mad because I wanted to do so much more stuff to it, but I had no more space,” Smith said when asked about the extensive work done on his back, work that includes "Just Klownin" across the middle and the words "Always," "Loyal" and "People" across his shoulders.

    There's the word "Blessed" going vertically down his abdomen, followed by the iconic "Jumpman" logo and Michael Jordan's No. 23 jersey from his days with the Chicago Bulls. A drawing of his mother, surrounded by "Mama's Boy" on one pectoral, a drawing of Black Jesus on the other.

    Among the ink on his arms is a tribute to his grandparents, visible on each forearm.

Patrick Willis: NFL

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    One of the best linebackers in the NFL, Patrick Willis has led the San Francisco 49ers' defense to becoming one of the best in the league, something that will be on display on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.

    Willis is a beast when he's on the field, and his combination of size, strength, speed and agility make the "prototype" underneath the football on his left pectoral all the more accurate.

    Should he ever deliver a hit that leaves him unsure of himself, he need only look at the inside of each bicep, where the words "I'm" and "Me" serve as a constant reminder of who he is.