For Jordan Burroughs, Every Tattoo Tells Its Own Story
by Lynn Rutherford
Jordan Burroughs doesn’t know how many tattoos he has, but he remembers getting his first as if it happened yesterday: It was in July 2005, the summer between his junior and senior year of high school.
“It was an interesting time,” Burroughs, now 35, says. “I felt like it was kind of this passage into manhood for me, because I knew a couple of buddies in my peer group that were a year or two older, that had tattoos.”
His parents, Janice and Leroy, had ink of their own but weren’t crazy about the idea for their youngest child. Still, Jordan was a good student at New Jersey’s Winslow Township High School, a three-sport athlete committed to University of Nebraska, where he had been offered a wrestling scholarship. So, after a prolonged debate, they gave their go ahead.
“I remember them taking me and signing off their approval,” he said. “I have my initials ‘JB’ and a set of wings on my back, and it cost 150 bucks. I remember going home that night, showing it off to all my friends.”
Burroughs’ wrestling career took flight, and with it his craving for more ink.
As the accolades piled up — two NCAA titles, a Pan American Games gold, the first of what is now six world titles and, most notably, a 2012 Olympic gold medal — so did the art.
Each tattoo represents where he was, that moment in time.
For Burroughs, the tattoos were about telling his story, and maybe venturing out a bit outside of his tightly disciplined athletic life.
“There’s kind of a rebellious spirit that’s still associated with tattoos,” Burroughs said. “While I’m glad I don’t have them in particular areas, when I see people that have tattoos on their face and on their necks and on their arms and hands, I admire it. It takes a lot of courage to do that, to be fully who you are and unapologetic about it.”
Burroughs respects each artist who created the canvas.
“You could go to your local gallery and see some of the local painters, or you could go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa,” he said. “It really depends on who’s doing the artwork in terms of the depth and the complexity, but every one of them tells a story, bad or good. It could be like, ‘Man, that day I had 50 bucks for a tattoo, I went out with my buddies and made that last-minute call.’ And then sometimes, it’s, ‘I was on the waiting list for a year.’ Each of them is a lot more than what you see.”
Several, though, stand out as special, including one on his chest that reads, “Dream and do it.” His body became his vision board.
“That was always a mantra I lived by, to believe that the crazy goals I have for myself are possible if I was just willing to put the amount of work in,” he said. “Then there are the Olympic rings. As soon as I made the team, I went and got the rings, on my left arm. … And then about four or five months later, I became an Olympic gold medalist.”
There is one more hill for Burroughs to climb in his storied career: qualifying for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, a feat made more challenging with his loss to Chance Marsteller in the non-Olympic 79 kg. weight class at the Final X last month in Newark, New Jersey. The defeat meant he did not qualify for the world championships to be held in September in Belgrade, Serbia.
“I am changing weight classes; for the last three years, I’ve wrestled at 79 kilos, or 174 pounds,” Burroughs said. “And now I’m going back down to where I won my Olympic gold medal, which is 163 pounds (or 74 kg.). And I just got on a scale and I’m at 187 pounds, and so I’ve got some work to do.”
Time, once again, to dream it and do it.
For the last 10 years or so, though, slipping into a tattoo parlor on a whim has been off the table. Since tying the knot in 2013 with with Lauren, a writer, Jordan’s tattoos are joint decisions.
“The bulk of my tattoos were done pre-marriage, but now — my wife, she has to stare at them, too,” Burroughs says with a laugh. “And she’s like, ‘I don’t know if I want you totally covered, I like your bare skin.’ But for me, it’s one of the few ways in which you can always express yourself in a permanent way.”
One of the tattoos Lauren fully endorses is that commemorating each of the couple’s children: son Beacon, age 9; daughter Ora, 7; daughter Rise, 3; and son Banner, 2. Both Beacon and Ora wrestle. The family recently moved from Nebraska back to the east coast, where Jordan trains at the University of Pennsylvania in downtown Philadelphia.
“The (tattoos) I have in reference to our little ones are really important to me,” he said.
But how will he react if his kids start asking for ink of their own?
As it happens, that question comes up sooner, rather than later. Hearing dad’s conversation with this reporter, Ora cried out, “I want one!”
“That’s my daughter — I think both (Beacon and Ora) want one,” Burroughs said, a bit ruefully. “Because they see their dad with them, and they see their favorite athletes with them.”
And it seems as if that long-ago debate Jordan had with his own parents may reemerge, this time with pre-adolescents.
“I’m still in a space where I don’t know if I want to give them freedom to make their own decision, but I’m probably going to push them to not get tattoos,” he says.
For now, at least.