Maybe it’s a sign of the times, a result of new-found independence or just a form of expression. Whatever the causes, the University and its athletic teams have seen an increase in the number of tattoos worn by its students in recent years.
“I think it’s just sort of a phase that is going through the country right now,” women’s swimming and diving coach Jean Freeman said. “It surprises me that so many have it. They want to have something unique or different. … When everyone does it it’s not so unique and different.”
Although Freeman, who has coached at Minnesota for the last 24 years, has seen an increase in tattoos amongst students and members of her swimming team during the last three years, she has a hard time understanding why.
“I don’t like it,” Freeman said with a laugh. “I don’t like doing that to your body. I just don’t know why you’d want to do it when it hurts so bad. Why would you want to do something like that? I don’t get it.”
Even though many coaches have a hard time understanding why their athletes choose to get tattoos, few of them try to stop the athletes from getting them.
“Earrings, tattoos, body piercing, same thing as far as I’m concerned,” men’s swimming coach Dennis Dale said. “I guess I don’t have real strong feelings on it. It’s unfortunate that they don’t have some other way to express themselves, but if they want to do it, they can do it.”
Earlier this year, Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins made waves with the media at the Final Four with his comments about players with earrings and tattoos showing a lack of discipline. Several of Haskins’ players have tattoos and wear earrings, however. Haskins does not refuse to recruit athletes who have tattoos, and he only asks them not to wear earrings during practices and of course games to show respect for the sport.
Many people in sports don’t see anything wrong with decorating their bodies with tattoos, though.
“Personally I don’t mind them,” junior Gophers swimmer Jeremy Rients said. “I don’t think there is anything that wrong with them, depending on what it is and where you get it.”
Several members of both swimming teams at Minnesota have small tattoos of water-related things, such as sharks, dolphins and even an octopus. Most, however, have them placed conspicuously on parts of their body that are easily hidden.
“Some people that do it, do it in a discreet manner, and they do it so that it’s not very noticeable,” Dale said. “But when I see somebody like a Dennis Rodman, I just look and think, ‘Well, there’s one weird puppy.'”
The reasons for getting tattoos can range from personal expression, to team spirit in getting a tattoo of the school logo, to even peer-pressure and group bonding exercises.
“It’s kind of one of those things back in the old days where a bunch of sailors would get drunk and go do it,” Freeman said. “It kind of reminds me of a peer-pressure type thing more than an individual choice. I think if people think about it, they may not do it.”
Rients considered getting a tattoo, but decided not to because he thought he might regret it someday.
“This winter I told a couple of people that if we won the Big Ten championship, I’d get one,” Rients said.
Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team finished second to Michigan at the Big Ten championships in March. Rients is not making any promises about what he’ll do if the Gophers win the Big Ten next year.