Sports Stars with Tattoos 

It was recently revealed that Michael Jordan, back in the limelight due to Netflix’s documentary showcasing the glory years of the Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance, has a tattoo. Kept hidden for most of his active years, the ink is of an omega-shaped horseshoe.

It symbolises a commitment to the African-American fraternity Omega Psi Phi, of which Jordan was a member when he was studying at the University of North Carolina. His love of cigars did not translate to love for body art however, and that remains the only piece of ink on his body. 

However, other major sports stars have offered their skins up as canvases for artists over and over again. Let’s take a look at the greatest lovers of ink and sports excellence alike. 

The bad boy of basketball

Photo: PETA

One of Jordan’s old teammates from the Bulls, Dennis Rodman, is not exactly shy of the needle. The somewhat controversial but brilliant athlete sports a significant number of tattoos. Two of them are in honour of his time with the basketball champions, portraying furious bulls about to clash with each other over his chest. 

On his back, he has a large tattoo of a woman pulling on the skin of her genitals with her teeth. It is hard to describe, really, go Google and look for yourself. It’s definitely the most outrageous on this list. But Rodman also used shock value for good causes. In 2005, he starred in PETA’s highly publicised rather-go-naked-than-wear-fur campaign, with the heading “Think Ink Not Mink.” 

Other than the bulls and the full-back scandalous female, Rodman has tons of smaller, seemingly random tats. There is a ton of tribal elements, mixed with a cross, an ankh, letters, stars, dice, motorcycles, a giant squid, and an outsized sun with a shark bursting through the middle. 

Family first 

Switching sports lets take a look at legendary Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi. There is nothing random about the ink of the 33-year old Barcelona forward. His very first tattoo is a portrait of his mother, Celia, on the left side of his upper back. Rumour has it that he was so afraid of the pain that he made his wife, Antonella, get one first. 

On his left calf, the striker has the infant handprints of his son, who was born in 2012, with his name, Thiago, written in between them. Messi’s left lower leg is pretty covered, with some fully blacked-out parts. This was done to cover up a piece with a dagger with wings, which he was apparently taking some heat from the Internet for. Also on his calf, and why wouldn’t there be, are some footballs. Furthermore, his legs also hold the birthdates of his three sons.

Photo: Claudio Reyes/Getty Images

Messi also has the eye of his wife tattooed on the inside of his right arm. Oh, and he has the shoe of her lips done in red just below the waistline. Plus, they have corresponding king and queen crowns.

Other than that, there is a lot of religious iconography on Messi’s skin. A rosary, a rose window, and a large tattoo of Jesus with a crown of thorns on his shoulder. But, there are also more traditionally Eastern spiritual symbols, like the lotus, and clocks and cogwheels, representing relationship to time.

Hawaiian, Olympian, and full-sleeved

Another heavily and gorgeously inked footballer is Natasha Kanani Janine Kai, Olympic gold medalist with the US national team and hailing from Hawaii. Tasha, as she is known, grew up in a Mormon community and got her first tattoo at 18 on a dare. Being Mormon, she had to hide it, but one day when she was playing football and she went for a dive her jersey slid up to reveal the ink on her lower back.

Her parents were pretty chill about it though, and her dad requested her next ink be their names. So she went out and got those. And those of her siblings. And nephews. And her partner’s. 

She has the obligatory Olympian rings just below the nape of her neck, and a few others related to football. Or, as Natasha would call it, soccer. But what really stands out are her full sleeve and leg traditional Polynesian patterning with symbols of protection and storytelling. Some, she says, are even done in the traditional way, with whalebone, rather than needles. 

While we cannot show her newest ink – it keeps adding up, you know how it goes, you can access some beautiful shots of it here.

Missing a few of your favourites? Don’t worry, we’ll continue the list in the next post.