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We found the O.J. Simpson tattoo dude: 'It's not a joke'

OJtattooLatona2By Tim Graham

The man with the O.J. Simpson mug-shot tattoo on his haunch has been found.

And we didn't need Kato Kaelin's help to track him down.

Bryan LaBarron got the tattoo on his left thigh and hip about a year ago, but the image suddenly became famous when a Facebook photo went viral Wednesday night.

People around the world -- the photo has appeared on ESPN, Yahoo! and Deadspin.com among other mainstream outlets -- have been dumbfounded over why someone would get the booking photo from Simpson's 1994 double-murder arrest permanently tattooed on his body.

"It's not a joke," LaBarron said. "I just try to live life, and I'm into what I'm into. But I want all my tattoos to have meaning."

LaBarron, 30, is a Navy veteran and Buffalo State student from Hornell. He has several tattoos, including the Bills' original red buffalo logo on his left ankle.

About a year ago, he popped into Renaissance Custom Tattoo on Main Street in Buffalo to have some more work done by owner Thomas Latona. LaBarron wanted to get a portrait of a Bills player and initially decided on Thurman Thomas.

"Ironically," Latona said, "we were looking for a picture of Thurman Thomas without his helmet. But we couldn't find anything that worked. Other than a jersey number, you can't really tell who Thurman Thomas is by looking at his face."

After several days of thought, LaBarron and Latona decided on Simpson.

LaBarron found the mug shot symbolic. He describes himself as being "obsessed" with 1990s pop culture and considered 1994 to be a pivotal time in his life.

That's the year the Bills went to the last of their four Super Bowls. Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide. And Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife and her friend.

"That year was the end to a chapter in a lot of ways," LaBarron said.

Latona said: "This was not a 'Ha ha, this is going to be funny. I'll pull my pants down in the middle of the bar,' or 'I'll bet you a beer I have O.J. on my ass.' "

Latona considered Simpson's booking photo the obvious choice.

"Nothing's more iconic than the mug shot," said Latona, a Hutch Tech grad who opened Renaissance Custom Tattoo 14 years ago. "Everyone knows this picture. It's a part of history.

"You're going to know what it is right away, not like with a lot of portraits where people say, 'Who is that?' If I did my job right, people would know exactly who that is."

Latona preferred the tattoo large for artistic reasons. He wanted to include the booking number underneath, so Simpson's head didn't appear to be floating. To maintain proper detail, Latona thought a large, flat part of the body worked best.

"He was game for it, and we went at it," Latona said.

The tattoo took three sessions of three hours apiece to complete and cost $500.

"He's diehard," Latona said. "I know a lot of people say they're diehard, but he loves the Bills.

"Think about the passion of Buffalo sports fans. People say they live and die red and blue, bleed blue and gold. Fans carry it on them. To have your favorite sports team on your body forever is a bold, indelible statement of your commitment."

The Simpson tattoo certainly has been a conversation starter among LaBarron's friends and coworkers at Ashker's Juice Bar and Café, where the viral photo was taken (the photo in this blog post was taken at Renaissance Custom Tattoo).

Friends of LaBarron's, who write for Sports-Kings.com, gave the viral photo its initial online push.

"I've gotten a lot of good comments in the Buffalo area from Bills fans," LaBarron said. "I've seen a lot of the posts online about it, and they're not-so-nice. I understand why some people don't like it, but I don't really care.

"I have it on a part of my body that no one sees unless I show them."

If LaBarron had known the photo would become famous, then he probably would have chosen a classier pose and a prettier backdrop than an empty box of chunk pineapple and egg cartons in the Asker's Juice Bar alley.

Anyone who typed "O.J. Simpson" into Google tonight saw LaBarron's tattoo as the first result -- not coverage of the double-murder or Simpson's current legal issues, not a reference to 2,003 yards, the Heisman Trophy or Nordberg.

Jerry Rice critiqued the photo on ESPN2's "NFL Live," for crying out loud.

"Angelo, the owner, always talks about my tattoo and wants people to see it," LaBarron said. "Due to where it is I actually have to undo and drop my pants. I had gym shorts on because people ask to see it so much that sometimes I'll put on shorts when I think somebody's going to ask about it.

"So I'm standing there with my pants around my ankles in an alley by some garbage. I had no idea it would go national. My Facebook page has been blowing up."

tagged

O.J. Simpson | Thurman Thomas
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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