There is a story behind every tattoo. But, there are few tattoos that tell the story on their own. This offseason Donte Whitner had some stunning artwork inked onto his forearms.
Whitner sat down in a Cleveland, Ohio tattoo parlor for two sessions to get his forearms tattooed. His right arm took five hours; the left took four and a half. For Whitner the tattoos are a representation of the good and bad that he has endured growing up.
Designating his right arm for the good and his left arm for the bad, Whitner allowed tattoo artist Jimmy Williams to illustrate the ideas that Whitner had for his tattoos.
"I wrote these things down; it was so easy to do. I just wrote them down and let him free hand it," said Whitner.
Of all the artwork on his right arm Whitner had an extensive story on his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr. On the top of his right forearm are the words 'Thank God for Ginn'. Ginn was the man who inspired Whitner to transfer to Glenville high school in Cleveland so that he could pursue football seriously.
"There were times when I was going to high school when he would get me up at five in the morning to come in and lift. I would go to school all day, then I would go to basketball practice and halfway through basketball practice he would get me and take me up to track practice and after school I would have to go to a personal trainer," said Whitner.
Whitner's tribute to his coach and school are completed with the Glenville logo on the underside of his forearm. Whitner has a lot of football related artwork on his right arm; a football cleat, his initials with a number 20 and a number eight with wings to represent the spot he was picked in the draft.
In addition to the football memories, Whitner has a cross and his mother's name as a tribute to the woman that raised him and his four siblings as a single mother.
The most prominent pieces of artwork on Whitner's good arm are his mother's name and his tribute to his high school coach. And it was those two individuals who kept him from the potential pitfalls that were displayed on his left arm.
His left arm is a tribute, of sorts, to his father. The largest pieces of artwork on Whitner's "bad" arm are a smoking gun and a jail cell with a man's silhouette behind the bars.
"My father spent a lot of time in prison and it had to deal a lot with guns and drugs. Those are things that I come from and it would have been so easy if coach Ginn and these other people didn't keep me busy all the time. It would have been so easy to end up in the wrong situation," explained Whitner.
What sums up the images of drugs, violence and jail on his left arm is the phrase 'lost time'. To accompany the phrase there is an hourglass that Whitner says represents the time that is running out with his father.
"I think my father spent 16 years of my life in prison. Basically I didn't spend a lot of time with him and that is why I have lost time on there because those are years that you can never make up," said Whitner. "He is in his fifties and there is not too much time left."
His mother is also featured on his left arm, as he has a single eye crying over the whole arm to represent the times that his mother worried about him growing up. Although his left arm is very negative it is a way for Whitner to remind himself of the path he could have taken.
"These are things I never want to forget. These are things that helped me day to day knowing where I come from and things I could have been doing," said Whitner.
There was no specific reason for Whitner to get these tattoos this offseason as he admits to thinking about getting the artwork done for a long time. Proper timing allowed Whitner to sit down and have the numerous memories tattooed on his arms.
The tattoos have also provided Whitner with a life lesson. When he looks down at his arms, Whitner is reminded that his actions have an effect on his two young children. The extra reminder lets Whitner know that he must always set a good example for them.
"I have two children now and I know the decisions I make, whether I know or think it is going to affect them, it will affect them, even though they may not be vocal about it," said Whitner. "The decisions you make on a day-to-day basis not only affect you but others around you."
One thing that Whitner made sure to do was leave room on his right arm. Above all the artwork on his good arm there is room for future additions to the tattoo.
"I do plan on adding. I plan on making some Pro Bowls and winning some championships," said Whitner. "I plan on adding my kids' names."
The only thing that Whitner can hope is that he is making a trip to 6th and St. Clair in downtown Cleveland sooner rather than later to add another memorable moment to his good arm.