OWINGS MILLS, Md.
At 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds, there’s nothing small about Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu.
That includes the massive tattoo sprawled across his wide back.
Kemoeatu’s last name is now stamped between his shoulder blades after getting the work done last summer. Kemoeatu’s brother Chris, who was a Pittsburgh Steelers guard from 2005 to 2011, has done the same using an Old English font.
Kemoeatu wanted something different with what he described as “Tongan cultural designs” placed inside the lettering. He offered some suggestions to Utah-based tattoo artist Fred Frost, a specialist in Polynesian illustrations who helped create an intricate blend of patterns and symbols.
“I told him my dad is from a fishing family so he had to push some fish in there,” Kemoeatu told FOXSports.com after Thursday’s practice at Ravens headquarters. “He did a good job.”
According to the www.tahititatou.com web site, body art in the Polynesian culture dates back to at least the mid-1700s. Among the things that tattoos represented were social rank and genealogy.
Honoring his family is what inspired Kemoeatu.
“It’s your roots,” said Kemoeatu, who was born in Tonga and raised in Kahuku, Hawaii. “It’s always being proud of where you’re from, who you represent and who you are. Your name is very important. I’m sure some people don’t care, but where I’m from, your name is everything. I just want to represent my name as positively as I can.”
Kemoeatu has represented his family well in the NFL, forging a nine-year career with the Ravens, Washington and Carolina. Leg injuries led to him being out of the league in 2009 and 2011, but Kemoeatu resurfaced with the Ravens this season and has started 11 of 13 contests entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week against the visiting New York Giants (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday).
While not as painful as the torn Achilles tendon Kemoeatu suffered in the 2008 preseason, his tattoo hurt plenty. Describing the initial sensation as someone “digging into” his skin, Kemoeatu decided to split the nine-hour process into two days rather than one lengthy session.
Kemoeatu said that hasn’t dissuaded him from commissioning additional work in the future.
“I’m looking forward to getting some more tattoos,” he said. “This is the start.”
There is one caveat.
“I won’t be getting nothing that big (again),” he said with a smile.