The tattoo fascinates. It’s a ritual that, based on recent archaeological discoveries, likely predates the pyramids. It’s a mark that has been associated with both criminal classes and royalty, with the disgraced and the proud. Today, the tattoo has developed into a mark for those operating in creative fields—artists, musicians, and, predominantly, athletes. A 2015 Harris Poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults revealed a consensus that a visible tattoo was more acceptable for athletes than for any other occupation. Indeed, it’s a mark for Duke student-athletes. Brandon Ingram’s lanky, ink-laden arms were on full display in Cameron Indoor Stadium last year, of course; at the neighboring Wilson Aquatic Center, as part of a long-standing team tradition, swimmers and divers rallied for meets by temporarily adorning their bodies with a Sharpie replica of the iconic, stylized “Iron Duke D.” (Before the 2017 season, seniors Michael Seaberg and Kaz Takabayashi got the permanent version.) While every tattoo carries a story, it seems that athletes may get something more from the art: a sense of camaraderie, or a motivation to embrace during crucial moments for a mental edge, or even a peace from expressing themselves physically before they step onto the field. Here, members of the Duke track team explain their modern takes on this ancient practice.
Jasmine Hill's tattoo: A long text detailing how she aspires to carry herself. She admits readily that it wasn't a drawn-out decision but, rather, representative of the "free-will attitude" that can define people who get tattoos. "I think it's more about the impulse––not just about getting a tattoo, but how you live your life in general."
Ashton Huey's tattoo: An outline of the evolutionary tree "from archaebacteria to eukaryotes." (Huey is an evolutionary anthropology major.) He chose the placement tactically, so that it's visible when he's competing but hidden during job interviews.
JR Smith's tattoo: The Bible verse James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
Kyle Francis' tattoos: A dreamcatcher, is a nod to his grandmother of Wintu tribe in Northern California; a mandala, on the inside of his bicep, representing the Buddhist idea of self-unity; a peacock on the back of his arm, which both kept the combination cohesive and emphasized humilty. "When you think of the peacock, the feathers are up. In mine, the feathers are down—a reminder to stay humble."
Robert Rohner's tattoos: A tribute, including a Bible verse and Air Force wings, to his grandfather; a "funky concept" tattoo devoted to his mother, who is "obsessed with frogs," and late uncle, a fan of wildlife, that merges the amphibian with a hawk; a self-tattooed eyeball on his heel (the location chosen, he says, "just so I can cover it up if it looks bad").
Rivers Ridout's tattoos: The text of Bible verse Philippians 4:13; on his chest, a quote from his mother about kindness and a psalm of life; a pair of wings with the word altius (Latin for "higher"—applying to both personal conduct and jumping); a solid black band with four gaps representing his three brothers and himself.