Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular among today's pop culture. Many young adults use their bodies as canvasses reflecting their freedom of expression. To naysayers, visible body art is a professional no-no, with some making exceptions for artists, musicians or athletes.
With that backdrop, the Memphis Grizzlies tonight (Feb. 21st) are moving to do something that seems to be a first in NBA history. The first 5,000 fans to enter the FedExForum for the game against the Los Angeles Clippers will receive a clear sticker with "GRIZZLIES" inscribed on it. The sticker is to go on the necks of fans in honor of new fan-favoriteJames Johnson.
Acquired from the D-League on Dec. 16, Johnson quickly staked his claim to fan support with his athleticism and the spark he delivers off the bench. He is averaging 8.2 points per game and leads the league in three-point blocks.
Johnson sports a neck tattoo with his son's name and date of birth (NAYMIN 3.10.13). Naymin was born six weeks early, fighting for his life in intensive care.
"Life changed for me after that," Johnson said. "Life wasn't about only me anymore. After that day, the head on my shoulders was different from what it was before."
Naymin pulled through and is weighing in at 24 pounds heading into his first birthday.
"The tattoo he got wasn't a symbol of toughness," Grizzlies chief operating officer Jason Wexler said. "It was a transformational moment in his life, and that resonates with our fans and fits in with everything we are."
While tattoos used to be somewhat controversial, Wexler said many fans now embrace the stories that are on players' bodies.
However, for several fans, not so much. The Grizzlies' decision to honor Johnson through his neck tattoo in the name of fun has made recent headlines as well as sparked conversation within the local community.
So, is the neck tattoo promotion sending a negative message? Put to an informal survey on Facebook Thursday, the inquiry yielded 90 percent of the responders saying they believed that the tattoo promo sends a negative message about Memphis. Some strongly believed it wrongly justifies body marking that they say has hindered so many youth trying to obtain jobs outside of music, the arts and sports. While very few believed it is about race, the majority agreed it is more about today's culture and the stereotypes youth face.
Yannik McKie, chair of the inaugural Journey of Hope Gala and executive director of the McKie Foundation, spends his days and nights mentoring at-risk youth.
"If they really cared about this man or his struggle they would have donated some money to his favorite charity or something positive like that," McKie said. "But instead of really helping the community they decide to hand out neck tattoos to 5000 people that would run if they saw somebody walk by them with a neck tattoo. Why not just hand out some baggy jeans or a fake gold grill why you are at it!"
There are some who are simply indifferent and have no problem at all with the promotion, but they feel out of all of Johnson's many talents, there could have been a better way to honor him and Naymin.
Grizz fans Randall and Shalandus Garrett are split. Randall thinks it is fine. "People are making a big deal out of it. You don't have to put the tattoo on your child's neck if you don't want to," he said. Shalandus said she personally doesn't care. "But there could have been a better way to represent a player other than his tattoos."
As for Johnson, "I'm just honored," he said.
"I hope no one takes too much of offense to it. I hope everybody lets their kids wear them. It's a fun thing. It's not go get a tattoo or embrace tattoos or anything like that. It's a fun thing and I'm honored to have it and I hope everyone comes out and supports it."