Sports Illustrated's coverage of this issue paints the situation as a dingy, seedy, sordid mess. Tattoo parlors, free drugs, infantile coddling and catering to players; it all coalesces into a disgusting nigh-Dickensian tale of athletes being content on thrones over a kingdom of ghetto street qualor, instead of reveling in their role as knights of the collegiate gridiron.
The last page and a half of the article detail how young kids trade away a piece of their accomplishment for corporal mutilation. It's all really very nice. In the grand scheme of things, tattoos are not torture, nor are trophies the actual triumphs. They are simply symbols of accomplishments or visions. But trading a jersey or cleats, a tangible representation of struggle and perseverance toward a wholesome, productive end, for a tattoo--a tangible representation that is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, offensive or blasphemous--simply blows my mind. Labeling such a trade as "ironic" would certainly understate the difference in value of these two goods.
I myself am not that far removed from times in my youth where I regularly made "bad" (more accurately "impulsive, uninformed, and potentially dangerous") decisions. These NCAA rules are not always set up to protect players, and modern college programs demand performances and commitment far beyond the conception of the 1950s student athlete; the scheme bears some updating, to say the least. But the "no merchandise for trinkets" rule should bear little, if any, scrutiny. Kids do not have the wherewithal to withstand the temptation to trade a Big 10 Championship ring for a tattoo. One is a permanent reminder of a laudable accomplishment, justifiably praiseworthy in its own right. The other is a fleeting, passing desire for temporary, ephemeral satisfaction. The rule is in place to prevent kids from trading truly great, noteworthy items for base ones--whatever the item in question may be.
But the tattoos certainly put the icing on the cake--or the ink on the page, as we have found here. The needle and the damage done indeed.
Why Colonel Sartoris?
Allow me to explain the puzzling title. Colonel Sartoris is William Faulkner's greatest character. He exemplifies those values that his society cherishes, namely tradition, patriarchy, courtliness, and courage. Though modernity's slow march tries to strip him of these things, Sartoris continues to live as he always has, knowing that "the past is never dead. It's not even past." He seeks order in the honorable folkways and mores of his forbears. Let us not forget his example.