The fan with the O.J. tattoo - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • May 23, 2013 @ 2:42pm
Bryan LaBarron spent four years in the U.S. Navy, just completed his bachelor’s degree at Buffalo State and chose Hall-of-Fame inductee Thurman Thomas as his favorite all-time Buffalo Bill.
He’s been featured in the national media, however, for a reason that would humble even the most diehard Bills fan.
LaBarron had the mugshot of NFL Hall of Famer and former Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson tattooed onto the outside of his left thigh roughly a year ago, but a recent photo of the tattoo outside Ashker’s Juice Bar on Elmwood Avenue was picked up last night by Deadspin and today by CBS Sports and Bleacher Report.
“The owner of Ashker’s likes to have me go outside and show his employees my tattoo to make them laugh,” LaBarron said of the bizarre roots of the story.
Why O.J. Simpson? Why the left thigh? Who created the masterpiece, a terrific rendition of an image emblazoned in the minds of most Bills fans 30 years and older? We had plenty of questions.
Simpson, who is imprisoned for armed robbery and kidnapping charges (but still holds Super Bowl parties in jail), wasn’t LaBarron’s first choice, but the Bills fan was swayed by two factors: the portrait art ability of Renaissance Custom Art owner Thomas Latona and the fact that there was no memorable image of Thurman Thomas without his helmet (insert joke here).
A Bills fan since age six, the now 30-year-old LaBarron—who has two sleeves of tattoos as well—admitted his rationale behind choosing Simpson next.
“I’ve been fascinated with O.J. as a fallen hero,” LaBarron said in a phone call Thursday afternoon. “I feel like he was unfairly painted by the media to be someone different than he actually is.”
LaBarron clarified that the message of the tattoo isn’t to claim a wrongful imprisonment of Simpson—the tattoo was a mugshot from Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman murder trial, after all—but rather to pay tribute to one of the greatest running backs in NFL history and to chronicle his own fascination with the 1990s.
“I’m obsessed with the 1990s,” LaBarron said, “and the O.J. [murder] trial took place in 1994.”
Even though Bills fans wince when reflecting, the ‘90s was the golden era of Buffalo football, as the Marv Levy-led squad reached four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993—an exceptional time to be an impressionable young football fan in Western New York.
Excited by the prospect of transferring the iconic O.J. Simpson mugshot from computer screen to skin, Latona—who could have charged $85 or $90 per hour for the project—asked LaBarron how much he’d pay, and the customer chose $500 plus tip. The tattoo took nine hours—three, three-hour sessions—to complete, but it’s now a nationally-known piece of artwork.
The tattoo went viral through fairly basic connections. LaBarron’s high school friend Jason Whitney, executive of operations for a blog called Sports Kings, saw the Facebook photo of LaBarron’s tattoo and pitched the idea to CBS Sports, and then the image took on a life of its own, spreading like wildfire to many national sports media outlets but largely steering clear of the Buffalo area.
While he sounds a little bewildered by the events of the last 24 hours, LaBarron hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
“It’s kind of funny,” LaBarron admitted, “that I have to pull my pants down every time I want to show someone the tattoo.”
(Mugshot photo courtesy of the Washington Post).