A month before Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews reported to training camp, the urge to ink hit him once again.
Over the past few years, the 27-year-old has added more than 20 tattoos that each hold a special meaning to him, but Matthews’ latest tattoo — a portrait of former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama strategically placed on his lower right leg — is recognizable to all, and has been the most recent topic at the center of preseason football chatter.
“I’ve gotten some positive feedback, but it’s been mixed,” Matthews said. “My wife was telling me to check out the comments because they’re crazy. It just shows you where we’re at as a nation. I saw a lot of negative comments that were disgusting, but people are entitled to their own opinions. I don’t judge anybody, I didn’t grow up judging people, so it is what it is.”
The new ink wasn’t something Matthews had exactly planned when he went to visit his tattoo artist, Gino, at his shop in Miami Gardens, Florida. The visit was designated to touch up some of Matthews’ old tattoos. With encouragement from Gino to add a new piece of permanent artwork to his body, Matthews began thinking of what would hold the most meaning to him.
He thought about his 1-year-old son, Zayden and 1-month-old daughter, Penelope, who is still adjusting to the world around her. His children were the sources of inspiration for the first half of his tattoo, which depicts a Greek god and goddess hoisting the world above their heads entwined with the words, “The World is Yours” — borrowed from the 1983 cult classic, Scarface.
In that moment, Matthews also thought about the first family, who had been an inspiration to him, and one he hopes his kids will aspire to model.
The 2008 election was the first time Matthews was eligible to vote. Playing a small role in Obama’s election and celebrating the victory gave Matthews an opportunity to revel in the fact that there was a man in the White House who looked like him. Being told he could be the president of the United States, often expressed by adults to children, felt less like a myth.
“I think it meant a lot to not only me but to the black community and minorities in general because there were so many leaders in this nation that were all the same,” Matthews said. “The hopes were high when we saw the Obamas make it to the highest you can make it in this country.
“This was the first time we had seen other than ‘the norm,’ or what the nation considers ‘the norm.’ That’s why all of this is so important. That’s why I have a tattoo that tells my kids the world is yours. It took 43 presidents before we saw someone like Obama and it lets my kids know anything is possible.”
Matthews’ first reference photo was one of the pair dancing at the 2009 inaugural ball, but the framing wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the designated space on his leg. While scrolling through more photos of the Obamas together, he settled on one that captured Barack Obama in the foreground with his held slightly tilted upward, and Michelle Obama behind him, gently resting her head and hand on her husband’s shoulder, both gazing at the 2016 National Christmas Tree Lighting. Since then, Matthews has proudly displayed the tattoo that took six hours and cost more than $1,000 to complete.
“I wear shorts a lot and I kind of want people to see this and my children to see this when they get older,” Matthews said. “I want them to ask questions about it and I can give them knowledge. I’m glad that this will be on my leg and part of me forever.”
Matthews has never met the Obamas, but would be thrilled to have an opportunity to talk to them and show off his latest ink.
“I don’t know how I would react [if I met them],” Matthews said. “You never know how you’d react when you’re meeting the president of the United States, no matter who it is. I’m pretty even-keeled, but I’d obviously tell them what great role models they are and thank them for everything they’ve done. During that moment, I’d definitely show them the tattoo and see what they thought. I just think it’d be a great encounter. If that ever happened, I think it’d be cool.”