When Mecole Hardman removes his shirt, he reveals a map of black history.
The new Jets wide receiver has a giant tattoo on his back that features the faces of significant black figures in American history and pop culture.
Hardman, 25, also has tattoos on his legs, arms and chest.
When deciding what to get on his back, he came up with the idea of paying tribute to those who paved the way for him and other black Americans.
“It’s always been interesting to me,” Hardman said of black history, “just seeing where you come from and how we got to where we’re at now. Not idolizing but appreciating those who came before because back then it was different than it is now. People are getting bigger roles now as a black person. I think it’s good to appreciate those who helped you.”
The tattoo starts with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X on his two shoulders and the words “Black Excellence” between them. Just below them are Barack and Michelle Obama with “44th” above them. Near the Obamas is an image of Rosa Parks.
Hardman did not just stick to civil rights and politics. Sports figures Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Muhammad Ali are featured, as are basketball stars Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, who are side by side. Rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur also appear. Finally, Hardman included entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey from the entertainment world. Anyone in the tattoo who is deceased has a halo over his or her head.
“I don’t know where I got the idea from to get together black figures who made a change, whether it’s music, civil rights, sports or the entertainment industry,” Hardman said.
He got the tattoo done in June in Los Angeles. The process took 7 ½ hours, and he had five different tattoo artists working on his back at the same time. Hardman received anesthesia in order to sleep through the process.
“My back was the easiest thing ever because I was asleep,” Hardman said. “When I woke up, it was done. There was no pain at all.”
Hardman said selecting the figures he wanted to pay tribute to on his back was not difficult.
“It was pretty much easy,” Hardman said. “I think when everyone thinks of female sports, you think of Serena Williams. When you think of music, you think of Pac and Biggie. When you think about civil rights, you think about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. You think about basketball, you think about Kobe, Michael and LeBron. It’s not hard.”
Hardman signed with the Jets this offseason after four years with the Chiefs. He said his new teammates were excited to see his new artwork. After posting a photo on Twitter, though, he did get some blowback from people on who should or should not be included.
“Everybody on the team loves it,” Hardman said. “People outside are like, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have gotten that one.’ Everybody on my back is a significant part of black history. Like, don’t act like they didn’t. But everyone is going to have their opinions.”
The figure that got him the most inquiries was Winfrey.
“People are like, ‘Why’d you get Oprah?’ ” Hardman said. “I don’t think people read their history of what Oprah’s actually done. How she came up and was the first black woman to do a lot of things. I believe she was the first black woman billionaire, the first black woman to own a network.”
Hardman is not done with his tattoo. He plans on adding four more faces, two on each of his sides, during the Jets’ bye week in October. The names? Denzel Washington, Michael Jackson, Maya Angelou and possibly Lil Wayne.
The Jets locker room features a lot of tattoos that tell stories. Hardman’s might be the only one, though, to tell history.
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Tony Adams’ next step
Through the first week of training camp, the biggest surprise to me is seeing the prominent role second-year safety Tony Adams has had in practice.
It looks as if Adams has a serious chance to be the starting free safety.
The plan this offseason had been to have Chuck Clark in that spot after the team acquired him from the Ravens. But Clark tore his ACL at the end of the spring and is done for the season.
The club signed veteran Adrian Amos after Clark’s injury, and it seemed as if he would step into that role. But Adams is a favorite of the coaches, and it appears they are going to give him every chance to win the job in training camp.
In what was a surprise at the time, Adams made the team last year as an undrafted free agent.
Adams did not play much on defense in his first season with the Jets, but he clearly won over the coaching staff. It will be something to watch through training camp and the preseason to see whether he can lock down the starting job.
Expectations are sky high for second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2022. With Aaron Rodgers now at quarterback, Wilson appears primed for a monster season.
Here is a look at the top seasons put up by second-year wide receivers, ranked by receiving yards:
1. Isaac Bruce, Rams (1995): 119 receptions, 1,781 yards, 13 receiving TDs
2. Charley Hennigan, Oilers (1961): 82 rec., 1,746 yards, 12 rec. TDs
3. Josh Gordon, Browns (2013): 87 rec., 1,646 yards, 9 rec. TDs
4. Torry Holt, Rams (2000): 82 rec., 1,635 yards, 6 rec. TDs
5. Justin Jefferson, Vikings (2021): 108 rec., 1,616 yards, 10 rec. TDs
6. Jerry Rice, 49ers (1986): 86 rec., 1,570 yards, 15 rec. TDs
7. Victor Cruz, Giants (2011): 82 rec., 1,536 yards, 9 rec. TDs
8. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants (2015): 96 rec., 1,450 yards, 13 rec. TDs
9. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers (2018): 111 rec., 1,426 yards, 7 rec. TDs
10. Sterling Sharpe, Packers (1989): 90 rec., 1,423 yards, 12 rec. TDs