BYU alters hoopster’s photo to hide tattoos

PROVO — Some things about Brigham Young University basketball star Rafael Araujo are hard to miss: his determined rebounds, his monster dunks, his crowd-pleasing blocks — and, well, his tattoos.

But the colorful designs that dominate the dominating center’s arms are missing from a picture of him on Page 13 of the school’s media guide. Duff Tittle, BYU associate athletic director for communications, acknowledged this week that the large photo of Araujo had been altered, along with others.

“We have touched up photos for years — as far as removing tattoos, covering up bellybuttons, just things like that,” Tittle says.

Tattoos might be fine for author Ray Bradbury’s “Illustrated Man” but not at BYU, where they violate the LDS Church-owned school’s dress-and-grooming standards. Naval engagements are fine for midshipmen at Annapolis, but bare navels are neither engaging nor encouraged at buttoned-down BYU.

“Why was it done?” Tittle muses rhetorically about Araujo’s missing arm markings. “Maybe they [publications staff] just figured it was kind of ugly.”

Tattoos are not deemed as serious a violation as smoking, drinking or engaging in premarital sex, but sporting either a tattoo or bare midriff is grounds for counseling from the Honor Code Office.

Incoming students are allowed to keep tattoos they already have, but they are “discouraged” from getting new ones. And the new tattoos that turned up last summer on Araujo — in his second season at BYU and touted as NBA-bound — caught the eye of the school’s keepers of the code.

“Regarding Araujo, yes, he did add a tattoo and that has been dealt with,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins says.

Araujo was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Besides erasing the tattoos from the Araujo photo, publication workers also considered removing them from this year’s BYU basketball posters that feature the center. They opted instead to go with a silhouette of the star. And it’s not just Araujo. Tittle says there have been plenty more cover-ups.

“I really can’t tell you, when I was a publications guy, how many times I had to cover up a midriff,” he explains. “Let’s say one of our athletes was a high jumper. Inevitably when they go over the top of the bar, the shirt comes untucked and you see a little bit of the woman’s stomach . . . So a lot of times we’d extend out the shirt and make it look like it covered up [the bellybutton] in the photo.”

BYU volleyball players, soccer stars and especially football players frequently get Honor Code makeovers. Tittle says it’s easier to doctor photos than deal with irate callers demanding to know why athletes are being immodest or wearing tattoos that many Latter-day Saints deem offensive or a violation of church standards.

Besides, Tittle adds, publications workers usually only alter large photos in which the unsightly navels or tattoos are the dominant feature — when “you look at the picture and you’ll say, ‘Holy cow, look at the bellybutton.’ ” Other universities also alter photos on occasion, BYU officials add.

Apparently not at the University of Utah, according to Liz Abel, that school’s assistant athletic director for sports information. “I don’t remember the subject ever coming up,” Abel says.

Instructors at the Poynter Institute, a renowned journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla., say altering photos raises ethical issues, even if the university is not practicing journalism and owns the photos it is altering.

“You can alter for clarity, but not for content,” says Poynter professional Al Tompkins, who works with photographers on issues of perception and alteration.

Kenny Irby, Poynter Institute journalism group leader, says it’s clearly wrong to alter copyright photos. Even if the university owns the photos, he continues, it’s still wrong because the practice is deceptive.

“The images are supposed to be a representation of reality,” Irby says.

Adds Tompkins: Why do it? “Aren’t you going to see the tattoos when the athletes are on the field? Eventually, reality will show itself.”

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