Writer Falls For Obvious “NBA Tattoo Cap” Hoax

Maybe you caught this week’s cover story in the PHOENIX NEW TIMES, a 5000-word screed on the culture of tattoos in the NBA. It’s a pretty standard piece, until you get to the part where David Stern talks about the proposed “tattoo cap,” which would force teams to limit their upper arm and neck tattoos to 61 percent for the roster as a whole. Pretty groundbreaking stuff, right? It raises all kinds of issues of marketing, personal responsibility, thug culture, racism and individual freedom. And you’d think the player’s union would have thrown a fit. Here’s the problem: none of it is true.

Robert Swift Sonics tattoos

All right, maybe we shouldn’t be going to an alt-weekly for our sports coverage. But the alt-weekly really shouldn’t have their former music editor on this story, if she’s going to take message board posts as gospel. Because that’s pretty much what happened here.

A satirical article posted on a user’s personal blog on FOXSPORTS.com a year ago had all the juicy details:

NEW YORK.  Encouraged by the success of its business-casual dress code in reforming the league’s “hip-hop” image, NBA officials today announced that they will push for a “tattoo cap” when the current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2011 season.

“We feel it is important that our players not scare the bejesus out of affluent demographic groups with gangsta-style tattoos,” David Stern said at a press conference here today.  “Otherwise we might as well name the next two expansion franchises the ‘Crips’ and the ‘Bloods’,” he added, showing off his “street cred” to the admiration of NBA beat reporters.

Under the proposed cap, teams would be limited to a total tattoo coverage of 61% of the upper arms and necks of players on their twelve-man rosters.  Teams could free up cap space by trading a power forward from an “urban” school for a shooting guard from Brigham Young or a flat-footed center from Gonzaga.

Pretty funny. But still, obviously a joke. Maybe NEW TIMES reporter Niki D’Andrea fell for the super-professional inclusion of a dateline, because she then wrote this:

Anybody with tons of tattoos is subject to criticism, and NBA players are no exception. In February 2008, the NBA announced it would push for a “tattoo cap” on players when its collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2011 season. “We feel it is important that our players not scare the bejesus out of affluent demographic groups with gangsta-style tattoos,” NBA Commissioner David Stern told Foxsports.com. The proposed cap, as strange as it sounds, would require teams to limit their roster as a whole to 61 percent tattoo coverage of the “upper arms and necks.” So if a team has a couple of players covered in tats, conceivably two or three players with flesh as pure as a baby’s butt would be needed to offset.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how rumors start. You’ll soon be getting forwarded this as part of a chain e-mail, and if it gets forwarded to 10,000 people, the NBA will donate money to cancer research!

Thankfully it got nipped in the bud when blogger Alana G called the author out on it: “Besides the fact that a tattoo cap is (hilariously) ludicrous, there is the matter of David Stern using the word ‘bejesus.’”

The paper quickly ran a correction and explanation. Obviously this should’ve been caught by the editor and the fact checker, but it shouldn’t have gone that far. A quick Google search would have shown that no legitimate news outlet carried this story, and a quick common sense check would have raised a few red flags.

But I’m not going to go and decry old media just yet, and not just because that’s where my bread is buttered. When a Blogspot site breaks the news that Alex Rodriguez failed a steroid test, then we’ll talk.