As ridiculous as this question might seem, it is actually a very important question in the world of sports especially in American sports where there is a collective bargaining system in place.
If you are familiar with football and basketball or have even caught a glimpse of some action while scrolling through your TV screens, a noticeable trend of the players will most likely be TATTOOS! It is almost becoming synonymous with these sports. A large number of players are heavily tattooed and in the NBA alone, a project in 2014 by Ethan Swan (Director of 356 Mission Gallery) who tracked EVERY tattoo in the NBA for 4 seasons revealed that 56% of NBA players were tattooed with Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons having 80% of their players tattooed.
The NBA recently issued a warning to Cleveland Cavaliers Player, J.R Smith, of a fine for every game he fails to cover up the new tattoo on his right leg.
The tattoo in question; The logo of American clothing brand SUPREME.
Why is a simple tattoo causing such problem you might ask and the answer is quite simple; Sponsorship!
The NBA more than likely has a contract obligation to protect the sponsorship rights associated with its IP(intellectual property) given to its sponsors and J.R is currently posing a threat to this with the tattoo.
J.R has taken to his Instagram to complain as expected and while many are sympathetic, here is what the problem is;
The NBA has an apparel contract with NIKE (which by the way all the NBA players collectively share in the revenue generated from this contract *side-eye J.R*) and so having a brand’s logo that might be considered a competitor displayed boldly every. single. time.
Cleveland plays will most likely be seen as ambush marketing by NIKE who apparently paid $1 billion to the NBA for this sponsorship.
Meanwhile, LA Clippers player Marcin Gortat, has been casually displaying his Jumpman logo tattoo with no fine from the NBA which when you think about it, Jumpan being a property of NIKE poses no violation or threat to the NIKE NBA Apparel deal.
Not to mention, J.R’s display of the logo can be argued to be in violation of the collective bargaining agreement signed by the NBA and the basketball players association which he obviously is a member of.
Article XXXXVII of the agreement on ‘player appearances and uniforms’ states that [Section 2(b)];
‘other than as may be incorporated into his uniform and the manufacturer’s identification incorporated into his sneakers, a player may NOT, during any NBA game display any commercial, promotional, or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification, including but not limited to on his body, in his hair or otherwise’
Reading this provision, the position is very clear as it was also in 2017 when fellow NBA player, Kelly Oubre with Washington Wizards tried to do the same with a supreme tattoo as well (the real issue here might be how much is supreme paying these guys!? might be a well thought-out marketing ploy) and the NBA took this same stance.
While there is no collective bargaining approach to sponsorship in football and it is largely controlled by individual leagues and clubs, there is no doubt that a player displaying a tattoo of the logo of a FIFA or UEFA sponsor’s competitor in a FIFA or UEFA event will have the same effect. This is simply because FIFA like the NBA and every other sport property owner has an obligation to protect the brand of its sponsors even if it might be to the disadvantage of one player.
The brand, goodwill of these sports properties, the large amount of revenue generated from sponsorship of these properties stand to be greatly affected by what might be deemed ‘just’ a tattoo if The NBA, FIFA, UEFA, NFL etc does not take such stance against the players.
While players cannot and should not be stopped from getting their bodies tattooed if they choose to, while it is absurd that there is even a debate on who ‘owns their skin’ (typing it seems creepy…lol), it does not change the simple fact that the players while on the court/pitch have an obligation to represent the brand of the property that gives them the avenue to compete and pays them to do so.
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