Tattoos mark distinction for many artful Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

If the football field is Dawan Landry's stage, then the Ravens strong safety's body is his canvas.

Aside from being blessed with quadriceps as thick as tree trunks, abs that you could wash clothes on and biceps that have earned him the moniker "Puffy" from teammate Bart Scott, Landry bears seven tattoos on his 6-foot, 220-pound frame.

The three most prominent are an angel and the words "In God's Hands" on his left shoulder and biceps; a lion emerging from fire on his right shoulder and biceps; and a scroll with the biblical verse Philippians 27:1-4 on his right pectoral.

"All of my tattoos reflect myself," he said. "I'm a man who believes in faith. I'm just always looking to motivate myself."

Bob Baxter, editor-in-chief of Skin & Ink magazine, said that while tattoos were a hit in the military during the Vietnam War, the recent explosion in popularity among athletes can be traced to sports figures like Dennis Rodman and Mike Tyson.

"It's a show of machismo," Baxter said. "It's a declaration of who they are."

Myrna Armstrong, a professor at the School of Nursing at Texas Tech's Health Sciences Center who spearheaded a study on working women with tattoos, said tattoos are a way for athletes in team sports to proclaim their individuality.

"It's what makes you feel unique," she said. "They want a permanent symbol that helps shape their identity."

From casual observation, it appears that at least half of the players in the Ravens' locker room have tattoos, and that it's not a generational thing.

Among the players 30 or older, linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Derrick Mason, quarterback Steve McNair and tight end Daniel Wilcox have tattoos.

From rookie offensive tackle Marshal Yanda's tribal marking on his right biceps to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's name on his own back, the styles of tattoos vary nearly as much as the players themselves.

What's distinctive about the tattoos is the intricacy of detail inscribed with each body marking.

Perhaps the most complex tattoo belongs to wide receiver Demetrius Williams, whose Spider-Man tattoo on his right biceps features color (Spider-Man is wearing his red-and-blue costume), action (the hero appears to be leaping off Williams' arm) and dimensionality (the web from which Spider-Man is jumping seems to be spreading out away from the skin).

It took Williams three trips and a total of about five hours in tattoo parlors in Oregon and California to complete the tattoo, but he said the pain was worth it.

"A lot of people see it and like it a lot just because it's not a gory tattoo and it doesn't look like I'm going to kill somebody," Williams said, adding that the tattoo is partly an homage to his father, who was known around his neighborhood in California for deftly climbing the backstop to retrieve baseballs. "It means something to me, and people like the web. They like Spider-Man."

Rookie return specialist Yamon Figurs underwent a six-hour procedure to have a goat representing his zodiac sign, Capricorn, and a long inspirational quote tattooed on his back in December to honor his late grandfather, Charlie Frazier.

"My grandfather told me that [quote], and he died [in 2003]," said Figurs, who has three other tattoos. "I think it's the best one. It means more to me than any of the others."

Tattoos have been around as long as societies have existed. In many primitive cultures, tattoos were used to distinguish class and status among its members, clearly delineating the leaders from the warriors, the warriors from the gatherers and so on.

But Baxter and Armstrong acknowledged that there is still a stigma attached to tattoos and those who bear them.

Linebacker Mike Smith has six tattoos and is most proud of a cross and Polynesian markings on his left shoulder and biceps because he got it with his brother, Daniel, who has a similar cross on his left biceps.

But Smith said he deliberately did not get the tattoo extended past his elbow.

"If I could get one all the way down my arm, I would. But I just know the business world and how people think," he said. "There will be times when I'm at the supermarket and I'm wearing a sleeveless shirt and people will kind of look at me funny."

Cornerback Ronnie Prude, who has "GOD SON" tattooed on his upper back as a symbol of his Christian faith, got his first tattoo of praying hands on his right biceps when he was a student at Fair Park High School in Louisiana. His parents' initial reaction?

"They were like, 'What the heck is this?' " Prude said. "But they weren't too upset about it. A little, but it wasn't too bad."

And tattoos are not a fad like long hair and baggy clothing, Armstrong said. Temporary tattoos and a doll accompanied by tattoos are marketed for children and pre-teens who are waiting for the opportunity to get the real thing.

Mark Clayton is planning to get his first tattoo soon. The wide receiver wants to get the words "Cry now, smile later" inked onto his abdomen or his arm.

"At first, I was scared to get it because I thought it would hurt," he said. "But the guys have said, 'Man, don't worry about it. It's cool. It's not that big of a deal.' So I'm getting one."

An article yesterday on Ravens players' tattoos misidentified the biblical verse inscribed on strong safety Dawan Landry. The verse is Psalms 27:1-4.The Sun regrets the error.
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