Some are covered with them. Others have just a few. They can be saturated with meaning and emotion, or merely the result of an impromptu bonding experience. But one thing's certain – they are addicting.
Tattoos. It's hard to watch a sporting event without seeing at least one, probably more, decorating an athlete's arms, chest, back or legs. The body transformed into a canvas. The art advertisements of what's important in the players' lives.
Much can be learned about a person through perusal of what they deem significant enough to permanently etch on their skin. Or even through what they later decide might not have been that important after all.
"I may regret a couple of tattoos, but it makes up my character and who I am," Ravens tight end L.J. Smith reflected. "Yeah, do I think I'm going to be this 70-year-old dude with tats on him? That's who I'm going to be. My grandkids are going to wonder what they mean, and I'll tell them. You never know what type influence you have on people."
He may tell his grandchildren of the intricately-drawn angel slaying a demon on his left bicep. It's his favorite tattoo.
"It symbolizes me staying away from negativity and making the right decision, not letting negativity come into my life," Smith explained.
The tight end waited until he was 21 years old to get his first tattoo – his initials, an "L" appropriately placed on his left tricep, and a "J" on his right. Since then he has added more outpourings of his spirit to his arms. To L.J., the pictures on the outside are a reflection of the emotions on the inside.
He calls his left arm his "good side" and his right arm represents the "bad side." Its most recent addition is a mouth, one of his only tattoos with any color.
"I got that after my season last year," he revealed. "I was just so frustrated and so angry. It has a tear coming out of it, and it has the mouth that's like, 'Ahhhh!' And that's how I felt. I felt emotional – like I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry. So I got that one."
While tattoos may reflect emotional pain, it is also true that getting one causes physical pain.
"It's a weird addiction," linebacker Terrell Suggs recounted. "They hurt like hell, depending on which spot you get them in, but you always go back."
His most explicit and artistic tattoo, the one he calls his "tribal," can be seen running up and down his left arm. The "declaration of his independence" took about 37 hours to complete.
"Every second hurt, but I kept going back to do it. I had to hurry up and rush it, and before it was healing I was going back. It's crazy," 'Sizzle' recalled. "I'm glad my tattoo artist had to take a lot of cigarette breaks."
Suggs got his first tattoo when he was 17 years old.
"I wasn't even old enough to get it," he remembers. "My mom took me. My first two or three tattoos, I went with my mom. I'm such a mama's boy."
Interestingly enough, his first tattoo – a picture of his dog placed on his chest – is one he would choose to replace if he could do it all over again.
"I'd get my mom," he said. "My mom's face over my heart with 'Queen of Queens' written on top of it, because Jesus Christ is the 'King of Kings' and my mother, in my eyes, is the 'Queen of Queens.'"
"Anyone who says a tattoo doesn't hurt is lying," wide receiver Marcus Smith agreed. "It definitely hurts. But it's more of a burn than anything else. If you can take it for ten seconds or five seconds, then you'll be all right because it stops. You get used to it."
All five of Marcus' tattoos were done in Las Vegas at the trendy Huntington Ink, a tattoo shop owned by a close friend of his, John Huntington. One of the designs spans his back and shoulders – an art job that took over 12 hours and several special trips to Nevada to complete.
It was four years in the making, started his freshman year of college at the University of New Mexico and finished this past Memorial Day weekend. His four others were done in between that.
"All of them are either initials, where I'm from, or have to do with death or stuff in the family, significant events. I definitely don't regret any of them," Marcus said.
Like Suggs, Marcus' most precious tattoo has to do with his mother, who suddenly passed away in September of 2007.
"The one that means 'mama's boy' on the right side of my ribs is my favorite," he mused. "I got it before a lot of things happened with my mom. I'm glad I got it and I already had it on me. That definitely means the most to me."
Family also plays a role in the tattoo choices of center Matt Birk, even though it didn't always.
Look down to his left ankle and there is a football with an "H" in it, a remnant from his college days at Harvard. It was a decision made at a juvenile age, and one that's possibly laced with a tinge of regret now. To counter that, though, he currently boasts the names of his four children – Madison, Sydney, Ava and Grant – on his left arm.
"Tattoos were, and I think they are still, illegal in Massachusetts," he said. "So a bunch of us drove down to Providence, RI. We all got different Harvard tattoos, which at the time seemed like a pretty good idea. Now, you know, it's all right. I guess it's a part of me. Obviously my kids' names mean a little bit more.
"I had the one tattoo that I wasn't crazy about, so I thought I'd like to get something that I do like," he recounted of his decision to get more ink.
Tattoos are a visible expression – words, emotions, feelings – that can't be hidden. They're permanent. Whether a lot or a few, premeditated or spontaneous, tattoos represent stories that beg to be told.