Media Ink: Pete Hegseth is Forever For God and Country
By Kyle Koster
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.
Fox News' Pete Hegseth is up next after David Kaplan and Seton O'Connor shared their tales of ink. He co-hosts Fox & Friends on weekends, has a part of the Constitution right on his bare arms and once got inked on-air. Hegseth took a bit to get going into the game, but has been filling up real estate at an impressive clip since initially scratching his long itch.
Kyle Koster: What's been your relationship with tattoos through the years? Are they something you always wanted to get and when did you get your first?
Pete Hegseth: I always wanted tattoos. Thankfully, my father dissuaded me early in life because what I wanted out of high school was a basketball hoop with a flaming basketball going through the hoop. All I cared about was basketball, I played basketball in college, my dad was a basketball coach.
KK: Like NBA Jam?
PH: Yeah, like that. Of course, it would have been the worst idea in human history. But when you're 17 you think it's really cool. Yeah and there was a basketball player who had a prominent barb-wire tattoo on his arm and I thought that was super-cool too. My dad was like, this is a fad, get over it.
KK: Who was the player, do you remember?
PH: Hold on, let me think. He played for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
KK: Isaiah Rider? Sam Cassell? Tom Gugliotta?
PH: It was Gugliotta. I'm from Minnesota and grew up a Wolves fan.
So I've always had an inclination to do it. But then life just got going. I was in the military and there were restrictions on tattoos so I stayed away from them. Even though lots of guys had tattoos, it just wasn't something I was focused on.
My wife, Jen, has a very small tattoo on her left bicep. When we were on vacation a few years ago I decided to get a matching one spur-of-the-moment and that was my gateway drug. Once that happened and the mystery was taken away I said this is something I've always wanted to do, let's go.
One of the production guys on Fox & Friends, his name is Aaron, had a bunch of tattoos on his arm that I thought were cool. I asked where he got them done and he pointed me down to his guy at NYC Hardcore on the Lower East Side.
KK: So the floodgates were open.
PH: It started with a cross on my forearm with a sword on the middle of it. It was designed by my wife and I to represent Matthew 10:34: " I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Then it was off to the races. I had a lot of real estate and a lot of ideas.
The first one was on my left bicep, so small you wouldn't even know I have it. Then the other ones, so far I said I'm going to confine myself to my right chest and my right arm. So I have 11 or 12 more on my right arm. I'd have it even more full if it were not for COVID at this point. I have a few blank spaces that are staring at me.
I knew inside my soul this was something I wanted to do and I've finally hit the chapter in my life that I'm able to do it.
KK: Can you sum up your motif for me? What are you going for?
PH: God and country. Units I served with in the military. My We The People is probably the most prominent I have, which is on my forearm.
When I was doing a series for Fox Nation I did an interview while getting tattooed by the only tattoo artist in Bethlehem. I got Yehweh -- Jesus in Hebrew. Also on my forearm I have a Benjamin Franklin, effectively, political cartoon from the 1760s. It's the Join or Die snake. I've got Deus Vult -- God Wills It -- which was the cry of the Crusaders ,on my bicep. I have a big flag with the AR-15 I carried in Iraq on my bicep. Then on my shoulder I have my unit crest of who I served with in Iraq. My entire pec is a Jerusalem cross. Israel, Christianity and my faith are things I care deeply about.
I'm glad I waited. I waited until things I believed in and I know will endure are imprinted.
KK: How old are you when you got your first?
PH: I must have been 37 or 38. I'm 40 now, so it's newer.
KK: About the same here. Thirty-six is when I took a jump. I felt I was fully formed now, have kids, probably confident in what I believe is important to me enduring.
PH: Correct. I think that's what it is. I know as I've gotten older I've gotten been bolder in who I am. And the tattoos are certainly a representation of that.
KK: Looking at the timeline here, you got all these after you were on-air at Fox. You strike me as a guy who likes to roll up your sleeves, and I think Google Image Search will confirm that, so what was the decision-making process like when it came to showing them on television?
PH: I thought about it but it wasn't part of my consideration in getting them. I knew that nothing I was going to put on my arm was going to be offensive to our audience. I made sure with the first couple that they basically stopped at the sleeve so I could wear a shirt and you wouldn't see them. Unless I'm waving my hands, which I'm prone to do.
You're right, though, when we do stuff outside in the non-COVID environment, I'll be wearing a T-shirt and shorts. No one ever took issue with it, so it was really more if I was comfortable with it, which I was. It's been fun. The We The People thing has resonated with people. It's featured on the cover of my book as well. It's been fun to see other people get it. It's been surprising to have people send me photos of their version of it, a lot of them in the same spot, the right forearm.
KK: Oh wow, so they say you're the reason they got it?
PH: One-hundred percent. A lot of people, too. You can check my Twitter feed, stuff I've retweeted. That was certainly never my intention. As a nation, a lot of people are coming to terms with where they stand in this very polarized time. I wouldn't say it's this a massive fad but it's neat when you see someone have the same connection with our founding principles. They'll say I'm 60-something, I've never had a tattoo and my wife gave me permission to just get this one. She gave it to me as a Father's Day gift.
KK: How do you even respond to that? It's such a unique form of flattery, I'd suppose.
PH: I just tell them I love it. For me, I have had a few people who are on-air tell me that they want to get it too but would it look like I'm copying you? Absolutely not! That's ours. That's our heritage and our identity as Americans. I'm humbled by it and it's exciting to see. Again, not to overblow it as massive thing but it has happened and it is fun.
KK: Do you think there's a way tattoos help you in your reporting? Or connecting with people? Let's say you're in a diner for a live shot. Is there a way that a piece -- especially the We The People one you mentioned -- build a connection with subject? And conversely, do you think it could put someone off who may believe they have a different ideology?
PH: People who know me know were I stand. I wear my views on my sleeve anyway.
KK: Nice one.
PH: Literally and metaphorically. The reality is that tattoos have become far more prolific in our society. I have a lot of wonderful older ladies come up to me and say they don't like tattoos but mine is okay. I'm sure there is some old-school bias against them out there but I've never felt it. I try to stay in touch with the pulse of the people, going across the country doing shows with Fox & Friends. I try to relate as best as I can.
KK: Sure, yeah. At the same time, though, I know there are people who get paid a lot of money to decide what is going to play well with audiences. Has there been any conversations with the brass at Fox about where tattoos fall or don't fall in that calculus?
PH: I can assure you there was zero. No one ever said don't do that, it won't be good. They know me, they know I put a lot of thought into it. They know my values. Listen, if I were to roll in here with a neck tattoo, that might be a problem. What I have now is playing inside of acceptable real estate.
KK: What did the first one feel like? And did the second have a different feeling? How about number 10?
PH: The one I would consider my first one is the one on my forearm. The actual first one is really small and spur-of-the-moment. That was a connection with my now-wife. That special and the gateway. But when we designed the one I put on my forearm, decided to go big.
You're a little nervous. I had one drink to calm the nerves before I went in there. To look down on it when it was done, it was like that is exactly what I wanted it. And then all you see after that is blank space on your arm. That's all you see. The desire to fill it up is strong.
It was really neat and I've been in a lot of environments that are the culture of a tattoo parlor in my own life, having been in the military, locker rooms and all of that. Time slows down. You go in, you deliberate, you shoot the breeze, deliberate, pour over the design with them, make sure it's right. Tweak it, add to it. It was a familiar and comfortable environment where time kind of stands still. Then suddenly you have something that you really like for the rest of your life.
KK: Let me go back a bit. You got one on the air?
PH: It was something I had planned to do as part of the story. We were doing a story about how the Christian population in Bethlehem has been dramatically reduced. The guy running it does a lot of tattoos for Christian tourists who come to see the birthplace of Jesus. It was, one, to get the tattoo but more to tell the story of what it's like to be a Christian in Bethlehem today who has a business just feet from where Jesus was born but also the mosque that's there in Manger Square.
It was hard to concentrate but this guy's a total pro. He's used to doing things fast because he's used to seeing a lot of pilgrims per day. It was a second-floor, hole-in-the-wall shop but it was all the latest and greatest technology and he was a great guest.
KK: Where do you keep your ideas on future pieces? Mentally, or do you have a notebook where you sketch them out?
PH: It's weird. Over time I have a sense of what I might want like anyone would. Once it crystalizes I'll do some searching on my own for images I like and make adaptations that I want to them. One of the differences, I guess, is that I'm pulling a lot for existing symbols and not really altering them a lot. Except the flag on my bicep that looks like it's headed in the wrong direction but is actually how we wear it on our uniform with the stars first because that denotes charging into battle.
KK: I was just thinking about how popular the barb-wire tattoo was back in the day. Pamela Anderson. Goldberg. Andy Katzenmoyer. In a lot of ways I think it's the first piece that I ever connected with tattoos.
PH: I could see getting something like that if it were the Crown of Thornes. I'd like it to have a little bit more meaning.
KK: So when it's all said and done what will your finished canvas look like?
PH: My plan is to fill up all the open space on my right arm, and then probably do a sleeve with stars and dots filling it in a bit and then resist the temptation to go beyond that. It remains to be seen if I can resist it. When the right arm is complete and I'm satiated, I'll stop and reassess the situation.
My wife doubts if that's possible.
KK: Everyone has a plan.
PH: Everyone has a plan.