Chinese Tattoos and the Black Athlete

By Gregory

Once limited to sailors, bikers, and loose women, tattoos have become the hippest cachet of a generation under 40.  So much so, it’s the rare individual, male or female, that doesn’t own one.  The style of tattoos ranges from the animate to the inanimate pictorial, and they all have something to say about the person on whom they appear.
Some make a statement of hatred, a la skinheads or the Aryan brotherhood, some boast of self-importance as in Shaquille O’Neal’s superman tat, some make obscene assertions of prior criminal activity, such as, a spider-web tat on the elbow implicit of murder, and others simply express the beauty of a butterfly.  Fairly recently, however, there has been a trend to tattoo oneself with Chinese characters.  
It is unclear when and how this came to be, but Madison Avenue would envy the ad campaign unleashed by individual sports professionals–specifically the Black ball player, in promoting such tattooing.  Instead of the obligatory gold chain, tooth, or pendant, now, for all to see like a lit-up neon billboard – this seems to be the latest craze.  Adorned coat of arms, these players, particularly basketball players with their sleeveless jerseys, are able to display an array of tattoos from the leg to the neck.  Will these be the new enigmatic-gang signs that aren’t readily decipherable—thus their attraction?  Not to worry, that would require learning the language.  Not as scary as it first sounded…hmm.
Some of the “Hall of Chinese Character Fame” notables vary from Marcus Camby, who claims to be the originator of the Chinese character trend in the NBA, to Allen Alverson and Larry Hughes, who share similar Chinese characters meaning Loyalty 忠, to Shawn Marion’s three characters meant to mean “The Matrix” but doesn’t, to Marquis Daniels totally indecipherable three characters on his left inner-forearm.  The danger with such forays into a pictorial writing system–so permanently inked onto ones body–is that the characters may be wrong, and worse–nonsensical!  The client is at the mercy of the tattoo artist’s knowledge of the language to ensure the accuracy of the character, and that should be disconcerting.

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