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A Corporate Reality: Cam Newton Warned Against Getting Tattoos, Piercings

The Lion King Tattoo (photo courtesy of

Since the onset of the corporate media boom, it’s not surprising that the opinions of corporate businessman and the main stream media are merging. One would hope, however, that sports would provide some sort of a repose from these often bitter realities; that athletes would be revered for what they do on the field, and improvements they make in their personal lives to contribute to their teams.

However, ESPN’s (owned by Walt Disney) Colin Cowheard, in not only adapting but actually taking an even more demanding corporate stance pertaining to Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardsons recent revelation on the Charlie Rose Show that he admonished the Panthers’ first round draft pick Cam Newton in a pre-draft interview to avoid getting any tattoos or piercings, just closes the gap even closer between the competitive beauty on the field and corporate hegemony off it.

The Businessman’s Position

The most likely explanation for Richardson’s position, one that is arguably race-neutral, is that tattoos and piercing goes against the grain of our current corporate ethos, whereas the clean-cut image both represents and promotes the highest levels of preparedness and functionality in the office, or in this case, on the football field. In his interview, Richardson may be correct that this is a (normatively) “reasonable” viewpoint, and not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. For instance, if you go to various tattoo discussion forums, lawyers and doctors routinely express that while they have tattoos, they also understand when their bosses tell that they keep them covered at all times.

Richardson’s statement intimated a degree of absolute authority, which some rich people like to do from time to time. Instead of strongly implying that Newton should keep ink off his body altogether, thereby showing disrespect to how people chooose to express themselves with their flesh assuming it is inoffensive – a simple “if you’re going to get a tattoo, just be sure that it’s subtle and not visible” have been more commensurate with contemporary social norms, whereas (I hope) respect of different cultural and artistic beliefs are well accepted. Still, some businessman will continue to expect people to act exactly as they wish, no matter how unreasonable.

ESPN Defines Sports Royalty

While we would expect our media to vigilently defend both sides of a position, it becomes more the stuff of corporate mimicry when columnists start to define just what position is the most exalted in all of sports, and the rigid business etiquette he must follow. In defending legitimacy of Richardson’s stance against his star QB wearing tattoos, ESPN 1050 AM’s Colin Cowherd argued that Richardson was being reverent to the quarterback position as “Sports Royalty.”  According to Cowherd, the NFL QB is on a more rarefied plane than all others in professional sports, and therefore, one that demands a polished and unassailable persona: a dapper appearance and apparently with flesh void of any tattoos.

To substantiate the race-neutrality of his “Quarterback Royalty” argument, Cowherd goes on to argue that his requirements certainly do not stop at tattoos:  other NFL QBs who have denegrated the throne have been Ben Rothlessberger for various instances of unsavory behavior as well as his unkempt facial features and dress appearance, Tony Romo for wearing his hat on backwards during interviews, and Jay Cutler, for being a sullen and brusque misanthrope. On the other hand, Donovan McNabb, who despite being a very strong quarterback is now on his third NFL team in as many years and has not won a Super Bowl, has done the throne a great service through his respectful and thoughtful presentation of his responses during interviews, and presumably, through his tattoo-bereft skin.

From the cozy confines of his radio station, Cowherd wants to claim the kingdom below on the field or the hardwood, and re-establish it high above in the press booth and the top office. What he is forgetting – and sadly many of us as well – is that at least in sports, royalty is the stuff of the earth, not the airwaves. Ben Roethlisberger’s past off-the-field actions have been deplorable, but insofar as kings are made before a court of 60,000+ roaring fans, the 6’5, 241 pound quarterback’s two Super Bowl titles in three tries, his 98.5 QB rating the last two years since he has amended his personal life and became a better leader on the field, and his mythic ability to withstand defensive front-line contact to the point that linemen actually tire by the 4th quarter against him, is both the stuff of the earth and the heavens: Royalty.

Cowherd’s analogies to Cutler and Romo, both references are more to their respective behavior than what they choose to do in their personal lives, including how they choose to wear their skin. Particularly, it is Jay Cutler’s abrasive attitude which is difficult for fans and perhaps teammates to get behind, and Romo, while likeable, does have a simpering and blithe visage that sometimes makes one doubt that he’s an earnest, reverential leader.

Also fluxing is Cowherd’s exclusive bequeathment of the sports royalty tag to NFL QBs sans tattoos. Well, if that’s the case, what title doth ESPN bequeath on other sports legends? What about tattoo-sleeved, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, who is reputed for being one of the most consummate and intelligent professionals in all of sports? Going back to the NFL, what about Ray Lewis, with a defensive razing over the last decade of mythic proportions, and whose bionic arms are laced with tatoos? Not Royalty? What is Coward exactly saying about tattoos, particularly, when he states that at any other position in the NFL, be it linebacker or running back positions, they are welcome to wear as many tattoos as they while they punish their bodies and sacrifice their life expectancies on the field? 

Cowherd’s statement strongly implies that the quarterback requires leadership and character; however, on its whole, it is unduly hegemonic. It’s one thing for an elderly businessman to hold his ground on how he wants to run his business, no matter how misguided the approach.  Routinely, as sports fans, we try to ignore owners’ detachments from the ethos of the field and hardcourt, and just try to get lost in the game. However, it’s quite another thing when corporate owned media voices not only mimic, but seek to propigate Richardson’s one-dimensional corporate sentiment. Designating sports iconography by position or business image is yet another way of dissipating the majestic play of an athlete on the field or hardwood, and bequeathing an inequitable chunk of the legacy to the corporate voice, a trajectory that the beauty of sport is supposed to eclipse, at least during breaks from commercials.

About Argun M. Ulgen

When I was young, my dad and I used to watch a lot of MSG midnight replays of Knicks basketball after he came home from work. One night at 1am we grilled steaks and watched the Knicks somehow hold onto a 4th quarter lead. Sometime later, I started to fall in love with reading all sorts of literature, including sports books.The dawning of this romance came soon after my deep relationships with HBO reruns of its fine series programming, not to mention the Encore channel's more than generous replays of Scarface, came to a close. I write, but only when I don't feel like being idle. Feel free to AIM me at YoProtein (that's "Yo, Protein!") with comments or suggestions about my work. I more than welcome feedback.

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One comment for “A Corporate Reality: Cam Newton Warned Against Getting Tattoos, Piercings”

  1. New Post: A Corporate Reality: Cam Newton Warned Against Getting Tattoos, Piercings

    Posted by Sports of New York | August 26, 2011, 6:22 am

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