Media Ink: Mike Golic Jr. On Getting Inked South of 21 and the Elbow

For all the changes and loosening of ties in the world of on-air fashion, it is still quite rare to see a sports media member showcasing their tattoos while doing a studio show, simulcast, or live hit. Even in the year 2020, with so much changing, visible ink stands out, especially on exposed arms. The list is growing but it is still a select club.

I reached out to several personalities whose artwork caught my eye during their shows to ask them about something that can be at times both intensely personal and what they want to speak about the most. They told me behind-the-scenes stories of their decisions to take the plunge -- and in many cases -- continuing to take it over and over again. They opened up about the meaning behind their pieces, the oft-meandering relationship with tattoos and what, if any, impact they have had on their careers.

These conversations revealed disparate experiences and approaches to having one's body serve as a canvas. Though they are all different -- they share a place in a club that may turn out to be made up of trailblazers as time passes and attitudes change.

Today we turn to Mike Golic Jr., one of the Golics on Golic & Wingo on ESPN and future inhabitant of the 4 p.m.-7 p.m. radio slot. His arms are nothing short of ornate and were the most noticeable thing about him until his recent fascination with wearing short shorts. The former Notre Dame guard spent his college years amassing a healthy amount of ink and learning some valuable lessons about process. Once in Bristol, he only grew more bold.

KK: How did you break the seal?

MGJ: The very first one I got, I was 19. I got a winged cross on my arm, the type you can walk into any tattoo shop in America and pick right off the wall. My grandfather and uncle both died the same year so their initials are inside that one. I had always wanted to get them. As anyone will tell you, the first one is like your first album: you spend a lifetime leading up to it and thinking about it. The difference is: there's not really a sophomore slump with tattoos, you usually get right back in the chair with no problem.

KK: How soon did you start accumulating them and putting some crooked numbers up?

MGJ: I racked up most of them during college. If I thought of something I'd sit with it for a few months mentally and make sure I still liked it. That seemed like a long time in between for a college kid. Now it might be years in between.

My arms looked a lot different when I left campus in 2012 than when I got there in 2008. I had a sleeve on my right arm all the way done and the outside of a sleeve on my left arm done.

Mike Golic Jr.
Stanford v Notre Dame | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

KK: So the fresh-faced freshman looked like he'd done a stretch by the time he was a senior.

MGJ: Yep. A college football locker room is a great place if you want a lot of peer pressure pushing for more tattoos.

KK: Are there certain types for different position groups? Are there lineman tattoos and skill position tattoos?

MGJ: I never thought of it like that. Although, I do remember growing up watching a special on Notre Dame football and they showed John Sullivan, who was the center there at the time, he had a leprechaun flexing on his arm. To me, that's a very hand-in-the-dirt, offensive line tattoo. Sadly I don't have anything that ties me that deep into the trenches.

KK: Which was the most painful?

MGJ: The forearm hurt the most because she did so many times. She would do one pass at it, then go over the top. By the third pass I'd been in the chair for 11 hours and my skin was just raw. And anytime she got near the elbow was tough.

KK: The dreaded funny bone zone.

MGJ: A lot of it has to do with being comfortable just sitting there too. You want to be able to turn and then they hit a nerve and it just gets you bad. The weird triggers in your body are nuts.

KK: Did you have a storyboard? A plan for what the finished product was going to look like?

MGJ: No, I never had a plan. The one guy I remember watching and thinking it'd be cool to be tatted-up like was Nick Hardwick. He had both his arms done really colorful and vibrant. I always thought that looked so great as a football player. I finally got to meet him at this last Super Bowl and fangirled my ass off when I did.

There was never really a theme to all the artwork, though. As I went along, if I encountered something that spoke to me, I'd try to find a place that could execute it.

It's funny, I got all the work from my elbow up done by a guy in Connecticut by the same process. I would bring something in that I liked and tell him where I wanted it. He'd draw it up in his style and then do the work. After I got to ESPN I got everything from my elbow down done on the right side by a different process by a different artist.

For that, I told her all the ideas and she picked the imagery and location. Obviously, I had the final say but the way she explained it was that she wouldn't come to my work and tell me how to organize a sports show, so why would you come in here and tell me how to hang the artwork on your body? I've been doing this for two-plus decades every day. It's my job and I know the best way to put this on you.

When she said that I thought it made a lot of sense and I handed over all the creative licensing to her and was a lot better for it.

KK: That's wise. I definitely have one or two that are the product of being impulsive and not getting better feedback from an expert up front.

MGJ: The two most common questions I get about mine are what do they mean and do you regret any of them? I look back now and it's kind of like you said, I could have done better. That's what I always tell people. As vain as it sounds, make sure you like the way they look if the meaning starts to change as your life inevitably does.

I'll roll over and look at something and think you know what, getting that tattoo south of 21 wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done.

KK: But at the same time it is something you did do south of 21 and part of your life's story. It can remind you of that time in your life.

MGJ: That's exactly what I tell people too. I made the decision when I did and I have a little visual map of all of it. It's a time and a place. You do the best you can, when you can.

KK: Plus, once you start getting them you realize they aren't the end of the world. When you see you don't change as a person based on them. I don't know why I thought I would but realizing you're the same person was a revelation.

MGJ: Exactly. And at the time I was starting to get them I was looking around and seeing a lot more adults out in society with tattoos. It wasn't just bikers or people in dive bars. It wasn't just guys who were in the military. You know, my grandfather had the first tattoo I ever saw, he got it while serving. It wasn't just limited to a small group. After being marginalized and stigmatized by older generations, you started to see it become normalized.

I certainly didn't need any permission but seeing it in everyday life made the decision a bit easier.

KK: You obviously have a unique experience being the son of Mike Golic. Did you always have aspirations of following in his footsteps and did a long-term plan give you any cause before getting a bunch of work done?

MGJ: Oh yeah. I have always known I wanted to do something in sports media. That's originally why I went from the elbow up. It was sort of drilled into my mind that tattoos were unprofessional and all that -- not by my dad, just the way society operated back then. There was always some of that in the back of my mind. After I got the job I got comfortable with taking the work down to the place I wanted to.

KK: Plus, I'd imagine you were likely wearing a suit for studio gigs anyway.

MGJ: The plot twist is that since then there have been times when I'm doing a studio show and it becomes a more relaxed dress code. I remember doing Outside The Lines with Jason Fitz and that's the serious journalism show at ESPN, it's buttoned-up in its legacy. They wanted us to show our personality and our tattoos. If anything they encouraged us. It's a very interesting sign with where we're at with all this.

KK: You mentioned Fitz and there are a few others at ESPN who have such visible pieces. But it's still fairly rare.

MGJ: I'm pretty sure I know a few SportsCenter anchors who have them but they're always wearing suits so they're covered. Fitz and I are in a unique place where we're on camera enough that people know what we look like but also do a ton of radio and digital where it's dressed-down more often.

KK: What's been the viewer response to your look?

MGJ: I have never gotten a negative response outside of the people with dog avatars and nine numbers after their name. Most people really like them, especially the one on my forearm. It's a really beautiful face of a woman and really well-done. They tend to notice that one since it's such a prime piece of real estate.

They'll ask me what the tattoos are and what they mean to me. One thing that happens, too, is when I was on the road I'd go to a Starbucks and nine out of 10 times the barista working there would grab and twist because they wanted to see the face.

KK: You think you've ever inspired anyone to get the same thing?

MGJ: Not at this point. But people I know from Twitter and more often in real life will come to me with tattoo questions. What to get, what to look for in an artist, all that. So I can be a resource. And I'll joke with my close friends who are going to get their first that I'm so far in at this point that I'll go and get one at the same time. The more the merrier.

KK: When's the last time you got one and how many more do you envision in your future?

MGJ: The last time I got one was probably four years ago now. It was my second year at ESPN. That was my forearm and it took over the course of a year. I think I sat for 38 hours on that one. It was exhausting and expensive so I've taken a nice hiatus since then. I do want to finish the left arm, though, bring the sleeve all the way down. I have a thing about symmetry so it will bother me if I have one all the way down to my wrist and the other stopping at my elbow.

KK: When you do that, will you wait and do a big, singular reveal? Or would you show it in progress?

MGJ: A big reveal would be tough because the woman I would want to go to moved to Salt Lake City, I think. So that'd require some travel and a lot of months of wearing long-sleeved shirts.

KK: Who would be the funniest person to show up at ESPN one day with a tattoo?

MGJ: If Randy Scott showed up one day with a big chest piece, I'd lose it.

KK: But he's funny enough to do that, right?

MGJ: Absolutely. He would see the comedy so I wouldn't put it past him.

KK: Maybe you could swing a fantasy bet with tattoo stakes with Matthew Berry.

MGJ: A prime candidate. Another one that would be great would be my dad because he'd be surprising. We're a family of five and he's the only one without tattoos.

KK: Uh-oh. Does he get ganged up on?

MGJ: Not really. He always jokes that he has surgery scars from when he plays and that's all the body art that he needs. I think that's the way he was brought up that they never interested him. But he never cared if me and my siblings got them. He said it was our decision and if we could live with it, so could he.

MEDIA INK SERIES

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