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.
Yesterday was NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan. Today is Seton O'Connor, director of operations for The Dan Patrick Show. O'Connor came out of the gates early and often, amassing some pieces in his early 20s before taking a break and gathering his second tattoo wind. He recalled the time he used his body as a savvy promotional vehicle, the most painful real estate on the body, and how a certain dad joke will live forever.
Kyle Koster: Tell me about your relationship with tattoos. What was your first?
Seton O'Connor: I got my first tattoo at 18. I was a big fan of this band called Operation Ivy. The guitarist had the word unity written on the lower back of his jacket. That was my first tattoo, unity written across my lower back. I had plans to make it into a much bigger piece across my whole back but to be honest it hurt so much I never went back.
KK: Is that the most painful one you've gotten then? Or was it because you were 18?
SOC: Well, it was my first so it's new and different but the lower back is especially painful. I think that was the worst one I got, pain-wise. I had a hard time sitting for that. I don't think it really took all that long but I remember thinking: damn, dude.
KK: So you liked music enough to have it inspire your first piece. Did you have aspirations of going into the music industry?
SOC: Yeah, I grew up splitting my time between playing sports, listening to music, and skateboarding. I think that's a pretty common story. You get into skateboarding and music and then a couple tattoos follow.
KK: I'll go out on a limb here and guess you weren't thinking about them standing in the way of you getting future jobs.
SOC: No, I definitely wasn't thinking about future employment. But I didn't really get a visible tattoo until well into my time at the Dan Patrick Show. I was in my 30s by the time I got the first one below my shirt-sleeve line. All the rest of them were on my upper arms. By the time I was aware it was a detriment -- or could be a detriment to employability -- I already had a good job.
KK: Okay, so did you have the simulcast at that time?
SOC: Yeah, we had the simulcast. And actually my first tattoo below the sleeve line was part of a sponsorship we did for the show. I want to say it was Spike TV. They had just started doing a show called Ink Master and they came to us looking to do something as part of a sales integration. As the conversations went on, I thought, Why don't I just get a tattoo with one of the contestants? They loved it and used it as part of the sales package. I remember thinking there was no way they could fire me now because they made money off of my tattoo.
KK: See, now that's smart. What'd you get that time?
SOC: I got an updated version of a sacred heart on my right arm.
KK: And how many do you have total?
SOC: I probably have a dozen, maybe more. I'm not really sure.
KK: Why did you have such a big gap between 18 and your thirties?
SOC: I got a few right out of the gate, up until I was 22. Then I took some time off. Mostly because I was really broke and getting into the business, trying to build a career. I didn't have a ton of money to spend on tattoos. Once I was a bit more stable, I got back into it.
KK: Are you happy that you waited until you were a bit more formed to get the more visible pieces?
SOC: I'm certainly more confident in myself as a person and my place in life. I can't say I like all the tattoos I ended up getting as an adult and in my thirties. Some I want to cover up and change because of the quality of work or I just want to go in a different direction with my arm or something like that.
KK: What does it feel to have a tattoo that you don't like? How often do you think about it? It can't be great.
SOC: There's nothing that I regret in terms of, like, my ethos or who I am as a person. It's more of it was supposed to look like an eagle and it kind of looks like crap. I think at a certain point when you're getting a lot of tattoos, at the beginning everything has to have all this meaning, you put all this thought into it thinking it's going to be the most epic tattoo ever. Then the more you keep getting them you're like, eh, screw it , just put it on there. I'm at the point where I want them to have meaning and look good but I'll just get another one for fun.
KK: That's interesting. I only have a few so if there's any blemish or imperfection it drives me insane. I'm putting way too much pressure on myself. Guess that's the difference between making, like, your third Major League start and your 30th. I need to become a veteran.
SOC: My most recent one is on my left arm and it's a skull wearing sunglasses and instead of saying Bad to the Bone it says Dad to the Bone. I have a 10-year-old son and my life revolves around him and taking him to soccer practice. We just thought the phrase was hilarious, especially with a skull and sunglasses. Ultimately the tattoo is on there for me and not really other people.
KK: That's the most extreme length I've heard someone go for a dad joke. You were pretty much at the pinnacle of a career in terms of places you might want to go when you got your more visible ones. But was there any trepidation about showing them on the simulcast? Do you remember any discussion at all about it?
SOC: It was sort of part of the simulcast. It was really more of was I comfortable showing my tattoo, not so much are we allowed to show them. It was part of the content of the show, so to me it was just as relevant to the show as football is because it's a show about us as people living in the sports world.
I can't say there was any trepidation. You know, Dan has tattoos. The way I really got to know him was traveling to different sporting events and producing the radio show there. We were in Los Angeles for the USC-Nebraska game and we spent one afternoon in Santa Monica and we got tattoos. So for it to be an issue on a show with someone who I'd gotten tattoos with just seemed so foreign to me to consider.
KK: Does he have a lot?
SOC: A handful. He's got one on his ring finger, one on his wrist. They're pretty small.
KK: Have you gotten any negative feedback from viewers?
SOC: There's people that you know don't like you, just like in any job. It's mostly shots like you think you're so tough or cool because you have tattoos when it's the furthest thing from the truth. One guy called me the Motley Crue of metal.
KK: Really? You don't really seem like an easy enemy in sports media.
SOC: Any time that you put yourself out there, there are going to be people who don't like you. And me being the only guy on the show who has tattoos makes me an easy target.
KK: What about positive feedback?
SOC: People who are into tattoos want to know what artist you go to. In the same way they like to take shots at you for different reasons, they'll find reasons to connect with you. Whether it's through sports, or music or skateboarding or tattoos. It's one of those things that helps bring people together.
KK: Are there more people working behind the scenes in the industry that have them than when you first started?
SOC: I have a hard time separating it out because I tend to see tattoos in all walks of life. We had a meeting once with someone who was our largest sponsor at the time and this guy came in and he was in charge of this massive division. There was an all-hands-on-deck meeting snd this guy came in. He was young and it looked like he just came from the barbershop, he had this hard part going, was completely sleeved-out, tattoos. He had them on his neck and everything, this big executive.
KK: You mentioned bonding with Dan over them but when you're out and meet someone else with tattoos, does it feel like you're part of a club, that you have something in common with them?
SOC: Maybe it's one of those things that subconsciously puts you on another level with that person, like, that commonality. I kind of have a little idea of who this person is, though I don't know if it's fair to be superficial like that.
KK: What about making it easier connecting with a guest?
SOC: Just at this last Super Bowl in Miami, I was waiting for a segment to start with Dak Prescott and we started comparing tattoos. You try to make people feel comfortable while they're waiting. You could tell that his were pretty new.
KK: Maybe it's simplistic but when I see someone with a tattoo I figure they were pretty cool for at least a half-hour. They were able to let go of control and let it happen.
SOC: There are some people in the world who don't understand the want or desire to get a tattoo. They can't fathom what was so special about this one thing that a person put it on their body forever. I get that too. Just because someone can't understand it doesn't mean that it's not completely valid. Again, like I said, the tattoos are there because I like them, not because I want you to like them.
KK: Right, it's interesting. I think my frame of reference for tattoos was largely negative growing up. I thought the people who got them were impulsive and unserious, etc. In reality, there's usually a tremendous amount of thought that goes into it. You could almost look at it as commenting on another person's body in a way that didn't really even fly 15 years ago and certainly doesn't now. I guess, to me, it's odd that it was accepted for people to be so judgmental about them for so long.
SOC: You actually hear things now like it's actually more rebellious to not have any tattoos. People are wondering if we've taken the rebellion thing a bit too far. I always thought I wasn't really rebelling against society, I just wanted to get this lion on my forearm. I liked the way they looked and I wanted them on my body.
KK: Have you had any changed or removed? I've heard that is super painful.
SOC: No, and you know, I've noticed that 10 years ago I could sit a lot longer for a tattoo than I can now. Even the stuff I don't love as much now I have some decent memories -- like maybe a friend did it. Ultimately it's part of the journey, part of the story. The good, the bad, the in-between of what got you to this moment right here.
KK: Right. It's a story of your life and a frozen moment of time. You could look at them as a Rorschach test, too. One day it hits you different than the previous. It's in the eye of the beholder just like any other art.
SOC: And ultimately it's all part of the story, what led you to this point right now.
KK: That's deep. Deeper than I was expecting to get. Can I ask which one of your pieces is your favorite? Or is that like having to pick a favorite child?
SOC: Well, aside from the Dad to the Bone one ... the heart I got as part of the integration is really good and the same guy, Tommy Helm, in Long Island, also did this lion on my forearm. He did a really great job with the shading and coloring. He's a great artist.
KK: It sounds like you've seen a wide variety of to get your work done. How many in total?
SOC: Been to five different artists, maybe. Some of them have been done by friends. My friend Sugar, the last two times I've seen him he's given me one. I don't get to see him very often. That's really cool.
KK: So what do you tell your son about tattoos?
SOC: My son tells me he doesn't want any, he thinks mine are cool but he says he's not going to get any. I'll be fine either way if he wants one or not. It's his life. There are a couple, though, that are for him, he likes those a lot. I've got that Dad to the Bone one, there's a Dropkick Murphys song that we really like. The lyrics of the song are I've got your name written here on a rose tattoo and then one day I just got a rose with [my] wife and son's name written on it. He thought that was awesome.
KK: The takeaway here is that the easiest way to make a 10-year-old think you're cool is to get a tattoo. Super easy. Although that could change in a few years.
SOC: Yeah, sometimes I worry about wasting all my cool years when he's too young. I should have been doing the Dan Patrick Show when he was 15-18 years-old. When [he] was 5 it didn't mean as much.