Tattoo wording becomes issue at Akron Swimming Pool

Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

An Akron man claims his tattoo is a statement, not a use of profanity.

Justin Fay, 30, of Akron, has found himself butting heads with Akron city officials over the wording of a large tattoo across his back.

City officials have asked him to cover up the tattoo while he is at the Akron Swimming Pool.

“I’ve been going to the pool since it opened in 2009,” said Fay in an interview with The Akron Hometowner. “I’ve never had a complaint. Never had anybody ask me to cover up — no parents, no kids, nothing.”

“I’ve always had the tattoo since I’ve lived here,” he said, adding he and his family moved to Akron in late 2008.

“I’ve had many compliments on it here in town but never had any complaints until the city this summer.”

“Why now?” asked Fay.

When I received a phone call from Akron Public Works Director Gary Horton, “it kind of blew my mind — just out of the blue. I have other tattoos that I think would be a little bit more offensive than one profanity word as they would say it.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not profanity,” he said. “It’s a statement for myself and it’s only about the way people have treated me in the past.”

“I’m kind of proud of my tattoo,” said Fay, “because I speak up for myself. I don’t let anyone push me over. If they ask an opinion, I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you.”

“(My tattoo) is how most people are but I’m just proud to wear it,” he said.

“It’s just one word,” said Fay. “Most of the kids don’t even know what the word is and they aren’t even paying attention to me, they’re swimming. Eighty percent of the time I’m in the water and they can’t even see my tattoo.”

“There are a lot of issues that need to be pushed at the pool but I don’t think this is one of them,” said Fay, adding there are kids littering and young girls wearing tiny bikinis and thongs, which in my opinion, is soft porn. “My tattoo gives an idea of me personally — just like any tattoo is for anybody else.”

“You can’t judge a book by its cover unless your read it,” said Fay. “You don’t know how good the book is or how bad the book is. You can’t just look at it and say, ‘Nope, I’m not going to like that.’ You won’t know until you read it.”

“I’m not judging you for the way you look or what you wear at the pool or don’t wear,” he said. “Why should I have to cover up?”

“We tried to handle it in a very private manner,” said Akron City Attorney David Stuart, explaining Horton spoke with Fay privately, then Stuart sent him a follow-up letter, which stated: “I want to make clear that we are happy to have you as a patron at our city swimming pool. However, we are asking that you cooperate with us and cover up the tattoo that is on your back when you are at the pool. We are trying to reach a fair compromise that will allow you to continue using the pool as well as address the concerns from other citizens. If you choose not to comply with this request, the City will not allow you to use the pool facility.”

“He has a right to express his opinion about the position the city took,” he said, noting Fay was the one to choose to take it to the media. “We’re trying to reach a compromise between the families who complained and him. We’re just asking for his cooperation.”

“Our concern is the pool is such a different place,” said Stuart. “It is so family-oriented. You have kids all the way from young parents bringing babies to the wading pool — all the way up through elementary, teens and everybody else.”

“You have impressionable kids there,” he said. “You have a family environment.”

“Not all speech is protected by the Freedom of Speech argument,” said Stuart. “Obscenities are not a protected class.”

“Why did the (television station who interviewed Fay blur out his tattoo?” asked Stuart. “If you can’t show it on TV, then it’s not appropriate around little kids.”

When Fay chose not to comply with the city’s request, he received a visit from Assistant Police Chief Jared Gares who presented him with another copy of the letter.

“I don’t feel like I need to (cover it up) until they change all their policies.,” said Fay.

“If he chooses not to cover the tattoo, we’ll simply ask him to leave and exclude him from the pool,” said Stuart.

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