Permanent Expression: Part One

Kings players use tattoos as their own form of self-expression

Friday, 12.16.2011 / 1:38 PM / Features
By Deborah Lew  - LAKings.com Staff Writer

Tattoos have become an artistic outlet for commitment and individuality.

Self-expression is something that visibly defines an individual. The way a person steps out of the house in the morning with a particular hair style, clothing choice and morning beverage all say something about who the person is as an individual.

These choices, however, are changeable by day, and many times, even again by night.

Tattoos, on the other hand, are not so temporary, and will often come with a more profound back story than the pair of sunglasses you were lucky enough to pick up on Black Friday.

Whereas the uniforms of football and basketball players are generous enough to show off body ink, hockey players are significantly more covered up. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t stories to be told underneath all that equipment.

Kings defenseman Matt Greene was 23 years old when he got his first tattoo, and has since accumulated a collection of them -- all on his left thigh.

“You’re committed to whatever you put on your body,” says Greene. “Tattoos are strictly for the person who’s doing it, they’re different for everybody and that’s the beauty of it.”

So what, exactly, is Greene committed to? One of Greene’s tattoos is the quote: “A rising tide raises all boats.”

Says Greene: “It’s about positive thinking.  If something is good for your team, then it’s good for you, and it’s good for the people around you.”

Greene’s philosophical side doesn’t end with that tattoo. Greene also has the quote, “Good gets better” in permanent ink, as a reminder that things can get better, even if they’re already going well.

Plans are currently in the works for Greene’s next tattoo, which will be an anchor that to him represents something that keeps him grounded.

“A lot of people have similar tattoos or similar things on their bodies, but at the end of the day, no tattoo is exactly the same as somebody else’s, it’s whatever it means to you, whatever you make it,” says Greene.

Greene’s teammate, left wing Kyle Clifford, knows exactly just how meaningful tattoos can be, as he has three of his own…and counting.

Clifford, who grew up in a Catholic home, has the Bible passage, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,” (Romans 12:12) written on his lower neck.

“It’s one that really caught my eye,” says Clifford, who got his first tattoo at the age of 15. “It’s about everyday life and it kind of gets you through it. When things are good, be happy, and when things aren’t, be patient.”

Map coordinates of Clifford’s hometown, Ayr, Ontario, adorn his ribcage, a tattoo that is especially significant to the second-year NHLer.

“It helps me never lose my roots, it’s where I came from,” says Clifford, who is 20 years old. “I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money so it just kind of helps me and reminds me, keeps me grounded, and all the values and everything I learned is kind of tied into that tattoo.”

The death of a close friend, whom Clifford grew up playing hockey with, inspired Clifford’s third tattoo of his friend’s jersey number and roses. One of Clifford’s training partners, he passed away suddenly last year due to an enzyme he was born with that didn’t properly break down proteins.  Clifford’s tattoo is a tribute to his memory.

In this day and age parental reaction is a legitimate concern for teens considering permanent body art, but neither Greene nor Clifford dealt with any resistance from their parents after getting their tattoos.

“My parents have always been pretty supportive. They think if it means something to me and if it’s that important, then go for it. It’s art and it’s part of everyday society,” Clifford says.

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, whose mother has a tattoo of her own, was told by his mom at the age of 14 that he was too young to get a tattoo.

“She said ‘if you really want it next year, we’ll do it,’ so I kept asking after that and when it was my 15th birthday we went for it,” says Bernier.

What he got was a tattoo of a goalie on his back, and the significance needs no explanation.

Two years later, Bernier and his brother, Marc-Andre, who is three years Bernier’s senior, got matching tattoos on their ribcages, the term ‘brother forever’ written in Chinese characters. This tattoo happens to be the one Bernier is most partial to because of its meaning and connection to his brother.

Bernier’s current tattoo project is a lion on his shoulder that is not yet complete, but represents his horoscope sign, Leo. Bernier is in the process of creating a design for a new goalie mask, after which he will begin work on designing his next tattoo.

*Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part feature.  Check part two which will spotlight Trevor Lewis, Colin Fraser, Trent Hunter and Drew Doughty, as well as information for the 2nd Annual Ink at the Rink Contest presented by Rocco’s Old School Tattoo Balm while also hearing from the man behind Rocco’s and his thoughts on hockey and tattoos.