As man and boy I have followed football. Not soccer. Football! If you cut me, I would bleed blue. I’m Chelsea through and through! Usually at some ungodly hour, I watch the latest and greatest showcase their silky skills down the wing, in the box or right down the middle! These abundant skills are paired with an abundant display of amazing body art. Sleeves, necks, torsos and thighs. It’s not such a recent trend either. Since the ‘90s (or maybe earlier), more and more players have been displaying their tattoos loud and proud. Many of the game’s nouveau millionaires have some remarkable body art to show off on the field and in the nightclubs.
Becks was the original tattooed icon. He made the art-form cool whilst bending it around a six-man wall. He unveiled his first tattoo, the ‘Guardian Angel’, in 2000. He now has 55 and counting.
Tattoos are a prominent part of today’s game of football, as they are in current society. Whether they are works of art, religious allegiances, meaningful messages or propaganda, each player has the opportunity to showcase them to millions of viewers. In some instances, displaying their tattoos has benefited others.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic rivals Beckham as being the most-inked icon in the footballing world. He has 50 names alone inked on his upper body. This might seem odd and unorthodox, a little like the man himself. The names reference the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) and the 805 million people who suffer from hunger. The 50 names hint at a massive global problem. World hunger is our planet’s biggest ‘disease’. When he played for Paris Saint-Germain in 2015, Zlatan revealed ‘the 50’ when he scored after just two minutes into the game. Taking off his shirt so early in a game and receiving a yellow card put him and his team at risk for the rest of the match. However, for Zlatan, disclosing the message was far more important than the penalty. In a WFP interview he exclaimed, “Whenever you hear my name, you will think of their names. Whenever you see me, you will see them”. Zlatan’s gesture was supported by an awareness clip that attracted 1.2 million hits by the end of the unveiling weekend. Today, that number is over seven million.
Tim Howard, former Everton and USA’s national goalkeeper, is another decorated activist. Under his shirt, a mosaic of images and family references are integral to the overall design. However, Tim doesn’t display any activist pieces, as ripping off one’s shirt is an infrequent part of a goalie’s game. Instead, Tim models for groups to highlight his backing. He has unveiled his torso for PETA and their “Ink, NOT MINK” campaign. PETA is an important charity to Tim, as he despises the inhumanity towards the animals that are killed by the fur industry and that's what inspired him to raise awareness of the cruelty, to hopefully make a difference.
Both players have had their fair share of media attention throughout their respective careers. They have chosen to use their decorated bodies to help important causes they truly believe in. They were able to spread their charities‘ manifestos on a global scale faster than the charities could have managed alone, with various media at their disposal. In this day of ‘nosebleed-inducing player’s salaries’ I applaud both who genuinely strive to use their status and their reach to make a difference on and off the pitch. This is proof that a picture is worth a thousand words!
The campaign has started a conversation with world leaders as well as people all over the world about prioritizing the problem and try to solve it. Because hunger can be eliminated in our life times.