Nick Nolan said he never thought about getting a tattoo at this stage in his life but considered it a possibility in the future. That was before his brother, Mike, was shot and later died from his injuries at the age of 23.
Nolan has a tattooed portrait of Mike on his left arm, including a replica of the elder Nolan’s chest tattoos scaled to fit.
“He loved (tattoos),” Nick Nolan, 18, said of Mike. “He always said he was going back to finish (a piece) and keep going.”
Tattoos often get a bad rap, especially when showcased on teenagers, but memorial tattoos of loved ones tend to be a free pass on judgement with teens and tats.
“People think if you have a tattoo on your forearms that people aren’t going to hire you, that it looks disgusting,” Nolan said. “People will have their opinions.”
Mike Tracy, whose family owns the wildly-popular Candlelight Inn, said there is no tattoo policy at the Scarsdale-based restaurant. Even though Tracy is not a fan of tattoos, he said they are not a factor when it comes to potential employees.
“There’s no tattoo policy, and obviously (tattoos are) very popular and a lot of kids and people have them now, which is fine,” he said. “I judge by the content of their character, not their skin.”
Tracy, head coach of the Edgemont varsity girls basketball team, also removes his personal views when on the sidelines.
“Personally, I think they’re too young, but I wouldn’t put my views on a decision that a player would make,” Tracy said. “That’s up to the parent and the daughter. That’s not my place as a coach.”
‘If you can go to war, you can still get tattooed’
Dr. David C. Lane, professor of sociology at the University of South Dakota and author of a forthcoming book called “The Other End of the Needle,” said tattoos have been growing more acceptable over the years, particularly in sports.
“If you go back to a picture of a (professional) basketball team from, say, the 1950’s — find me a tattoo,” said Lane, who is himself heavily tattooed. “Now, all of sudden, I think it’s hard to find people that don’t have tattoos in the NBA.”
The legal age to get tattooed in New York is 18, according to the New York State Public Health Law, but teenagers in the market for ink can go to neighboring New Jersey or Connecticut, where only the consent of a parent or guardian is required.
J.R. Maloney, owner of Vanguard Tattoo in Nyack, has been a tattoo artist for more than two decades, working on people of all ages and from all walks of life. Maloney tries to avoid inking teenagers if he can, but sees no issue with the legal age.
“If you can go to war, you can still get tattooed,” said Maloney, a former Marine. “That’s just how it is.”
Saunders varsity boys basketball head coach Anthony Nicodemo got his first tattoo — a parrot wearing a Yankees cap and drinking a margarita — inked on his calf about four years ago. When Nicodemo started coaching 19 years ago, he had a vision of what kind of coach he wanted to be, and it didn’t include having players with tattoos.
“You want to be like the Bobby Knight guy — ‘No tattoos, no long socks, no sleeves, no this-and-that,’ — and then over time, as we developed ourselves into a program here, it doesn’t bother me. It’s a kid’s personal expression,” said Nicodemo, who completed his seventh year at Saunders this winter. “For me, early on you wanted this certain level of discipline, and then you kind of realize there’s more important things than whether a kid has a tattoo or whether a kid wears socks a certain way when you’re trying to build a program.”
Nicodemo said the school he works at, The Reach Academy in West Harrison, does not have any staff rules governing the visibility of tattoos, but he doesn’t think he would get a tattoo “blatant for everyone to see,” given his role as an educator. Nicodemo said it’s “small-minded” to judge someone solely because they have a tattoo.
“If you look at a person — I mean, I have a tattoo. Does that change anything of me? Absolutely not. I have three degrees, and make good money, and am a coach and a role model,” he said. “Just because I have a tattoo doesn’t mean anything.”
‘Remember, it’s forever’
Taylor McCarthy’s college essay was written, in part, as a way to persuade her parents to allow her to get a tattoo.
The 18-year-old all-state volleyball player for John Jay wanted a small orange heart on the outside of her index finger in memory of her friend, Andrew Gurgitano, a Harrison student who died last year and loved the color orange. McCarthy’s parents were “very understanding” after reading the essay, but she had to deal with skeptics that included some of her teachers before getting the tattoo.
“They started thinking of me on the back of a motorcycle or joining a gang or something like that,” she said. “I had a couple of people try to convince me not to get it and they were like, ‘Remember, it’s forever.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of the point.’”
Now permanently etched into her skin, McCarthy is glad she went through with the decision, although it will likely be the only ink she gets for the foreseeable future.
“It’s something I can look at when I get upset,” she said. “I can’t imagine anything else I would want on my body permanently for the rest of my life.”