too many words by laura lemay

no facial tattoos in cycling

David Clinger is a pro bicyclist. He’s ridden with US Postal and Italian team Domina Vacanze. This year he was recruited for local US pro team Webcor. This was a good thing for both him and the team. Things were looking pretty happy for Mr. Clinger.

Except that he showed up to the Webcor training camp in January with full-face maori tattoos{.broken_link}. And the team had what could be called a royal fit. Concerned about sponsor reaction and citing the part of his contract that called for him to act “with an appropriate level of professionalism,” team management threatened to fire him from the team unless he had the tattoos removed.

As a compromise and so that he wouldn’t miss too much of the season in laser surgery, Clinger will get the tattoos from the lower half of his face removed. His helmet and sunglasses will cover the tattoos on the upper half of his face.

So: was David Clinger a dumbass? On the one hand, pro bicycling is not known for its acceptance of unusual appearance. Goatees and double earrings is about as alternative as bicyclists get (of course, we’re talking about a sport that features shaved legs, institutional anorexia, and shorts so tight you can determine the cyclist’s religion. But I digress). Clinger surely must have known Webcor would have kind of an unhappy reaction.

On the other hand, he’s certainly getting a whole lot of media attention for himself and for the team. And of course his tattoos are not going to affect his talent as an athlete in the least. And it was the team manager who had a cow — they never even asked the actual sponsors what they thought.

On the third hand I’ve seen it argued from the other side — bodymod folk — that Clinger is a dumbass because his knowledge of the Maori culture was kind of sketchy, that he didn’t understand the significance of the tattoos and is thus disrespectful of the culture from which they derive. That David Clinger got these tattoos apparently on impulse and that he caved immediately in getting them removed once Webcor squawked indicates that Clinger was not worthy of them in the first place.

As unique and interesting as the tattoos are, and as much as I understand the impulse to push the barriers of individuality, I’m the dumbass camp. When it comes to your job you have to know how much of an individual you can be. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs where tattoos above the neck are going to be acceptable. Cycling definitely isn’t it, and I know that just from watching it from the outside. You can choose to be weird, but then your employer can choose not to employ you. Sorry, Dave: bad decision.