By Barry Janoff
October 30, 2013: "I took a beating for having tattoos when I played. Now everyone [in the NBA] has them." — Allen Iverson, an 11-time All-Star during his 14 years in the NBA, during this retirement speech on Oct. 30.
Ray Rice, JR Smith, Brittney Griner and Ryan Sheckler (pictured) are among the athletes whose new tattoos will be featured in My Ink, a 12-part documentary series from AOL, produced in partnership with Mandalay Sports Media and the first production via an AOL alliance with ESPN.
AOL said the series "continues to significantly bolster its premium sports video offerings, highlighted by its premium video syndication agreement with ESPN," which launched on Oct. 13."
The deal with ESPN enables AOL to feature ESPN video, including news, highlights and analysis across AOL's owned and operated and partner sites. This includes the show pages for My Ink, which AOL said would feature "relevant ESPN videos tied to the series and series talent."
AOL's first original sports series, Flat Out, was released in mid-September in partnership with Nascar Productions.
The first six episodes of My Ink will break this week on MyInkSeries.com. They include features on the body ink of Baltimore Ravens NFL Super Bowl XLVII champion running back Ray Rice, skateboarding icon Ryan Sheckler, New York Knicks shooting guard JR Smith, WNBA star Brittney Griner, UFC fighter Benson Henderson and Nascar pit crew member and CrossFit star Christmas Abbott.
AOL said that future episodes would focus on Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson and Olympic gold medal winner and pro soccer player Sydney Leroux.
According to AOL, in each episode, a featured athlete will share with viewers "an intimate look at their lives and their body art." The series will follow each athlete as they visit with their favorite tattoo artist, "experiencing first-hand the process they go through in selecting their next piece of ink and witnessing them get it tattooed then and there."
"I've always had a high tolerance for pain," Rice says in his episode as an tattoo artist applies a needle to his body to create a Super Bowl champion tattoo on Lewis' arm.
"I have an attitude when I play on the court — I'm a little rough around the edges," says Griner (pictured) in her segment, in which she gets a tattoo on her left arm that she says is "a tribute to my love of nature."
“All-star athletes have compelling stories to share, whether it’s about their sport or the tattoos beneath their jersey," Gabe Lewis, head of AOL Studios, said in a statement. "My Ink captures these personal stories, letting fans get to know their favorite sports figures on an intimate and uniquely aesthetic level.”
According to Mike Tollin, co-chairman of Mandalay Sports Media, "My Ink offers the rare opportunity for intimate and revealing portraits of our favorite athletes. We think this is great storytelling and a chance to see these performers like you've never seen them before."
“All-star athletes have compelling stories to share, whether it’s about their sport or the tattoos beneath their jersey."
The My Ink series seems to live up to ESPN's expectations of what it's alliance with AOL would produce.
“AOL’s network will provide sports fans a truly engaging online experience with ESPN-produced and ESPN-branded premium video,” Matt Murphy, ESPN svp-digital video distribution, said when the ESPN-AOL alliance was unveiled. “We see a real opportunity in our ability to curate and syndicate locally relevant content to AOL’s vast network of local sites.”