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Behind the ink: Athletes on the meaning of their tattoos


Union (N.J.) quarterback Doug Carter remembers feeling shaky the moment a needle first touched the back of his left arm at Skin Alternative, a tattoo studio in Hillside, N.J. But he realized there was no turning back.

For 20 minutes, he sat in stillness as a 3-inch letter “D” was sketched in Ye Olde English font — the same typeface printed on his middle school graduation certificate. He loved the style so much that it inspired his tattoo “d”esign. The outline was then filled with black ink.

Part one. Check.

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For the second 20-minute session, the tattoo artist inked a 3-inch letter “C” on the back of his right arm just above his elbow. Together, the initials represent Carter's initials and nickname, “DC”. It’s as simple as that, though his third ink he says will be much more meaningful.

Next month, Carter intends to tattoo his chest in memory of his sister, who died at birth. Along with her name, he’ll include a scripture from the Bible.

“I want everyone to know that I still think about her, and I still care about her,” Carter says.

Goose Creek (S.C.) defensive end Jalen Stevens was a self-described crybaby during his little league days. He credits his grandmother for helping him toughen up.

“She’d always tell me to start pushing myself,” Stevens says. “She was my motivation.”

Growing up, Stevens says he admired his grandmother’s work ethic and desire to always give back and help others in need. After she passed away, Stevens says he’s been set on making her proud.

“Every time I hit the weight room and the field, I pray to her,” he says.

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Stevens keeps a permanent and physical reminder at the top of his left shoulder, which serves as constant motivation.

It’s there where he's inked the dates of his grandmother's birth and death, along with birds on the horizon — a design he also wanted to serve as a signal of peace.

Stevens’ second tattoo appears on his right arm — two hands held together in prayer and delicately laced with a rosary. Just below it appears his mother’s name, Tayna, in script cursive.

 “Other than my grandma, she’s the main leader in my life,” Stevens says, reasoning his tattoo tribute. “She taught me how to be a respectful man.”

El Cerrito (Calif.) linebacker Derik Calhoun had an inking that his chest would be a painful area to get a tattoo. Yet, that hardly stopped him from stepping into a tattoo studio at the age of 14.

“I wanted to start big,” Calhoun says of his first ink, a birthday present from his parents.

Thinking through what was most meaningful in his life, he chose the word “family” to honor not just his parents, but also his football team.

“Family is my whole life,” he says. “If I didn’t have family support, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

A year later, after he’d forgotten about the irritating scratching against his skin, Calhoun received his second tattoo — a large cross on his left shoulder.

“I play with faith,” Calhoun says. “I know to always have faith in what I’m doing.”

Cedar Hill (Texas) LaQuvionte Gonzalez's love for ink began in ninth grade, when he received a tattoo of his first nephew’s name — Luther Jr. — scripted on his chest and adorned by two wings.

It didn’t take long before Gonzalez’s tally rose to 19, and he’s quick to admit he’s not done with the count. The most recent includes his son’s name, Jayden.

“I couldn’t find another place to get it so it stands out, so I just got it on my wrist,” Gonzalez says.

It was one of few available spaces, unlike around his neck, which is shaded with a drawing of Michelangelo’s Hands of God and Adam. He chose the design simply because he’d never seen anyone wear it, giving him another way to stand apart.

On the back of his right arm appears a breast cancer ribbon in honor of his best friend’s mother, who he says has been a constant support system. He surprised her with the design via a text message photo after he found out she was sick.

“She called me crying,” he says.

And on the right side of his body appears Gonzalez’s most painful tattoo — “Blessed” in large script, a word he says describes his life and ability to play football. 

 

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