Bud Dupree got his first tattoo at 13 years old. While his mother wasn't happy about it at the time, it ignited a passion for the art form that continues through this day, illustrating what Dupree is passionate about and the community he's proud to represent. The Falcons edge rusher tells his story through tattoos in the second installment of our "Behind the Ink" series.
Story by Scott Bair
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – D4L was huge when Bud Dupree was in middle school. The Atlanta-based rap group had a massive hit called "Tatted Up," released around that time, a track that was constantly on the radio. It was played at social events in Georgia especially, with a catchy-as-heck chorus that had Dupree and his friends singing, "tat-, tat-, tat-, tatted-up," even when the song wasn't playing.
It also served as inspiration to get some ink despite the fact tattoos were illegal for someone at such a young age. The resourceful 13-year-old from central Georgia found a tattoo artist willing to bend the rules and put Dupree's initials on his back, surrounded by flames.
Dupree was proud of the artwork, but knew it was something he couldn't show his mother. Sophia Stephens obviously wouldn't approve, so Dupree was conscious of keeping the tattoo hidden.
One day, however, Dupree had a mental lapse. The teenager took off his shirt off in mixed company, at his mother's hair salon, with his mother in the room.
"She was mad, but she couldn't anything about it," Dupree said. "I mean, you can't take it off. So, you know, it was what it was. ...That was the start of me becoming an ink head."
Even though nothing overly negative came from it, the moment wasn't forgotten. Neither was his love for tattoos. That's why, when he was old enough and at the right time came, Dupree chose to honor his mother in permanent ink.
He had "Sophia" written on his right shoulder, with his mother's name surrounded by a rose and a pair hair-cutting shears. Sophia Stephens was a longtime hair stylist who was well known, with her shop a meeting place for many in the neighborhood.
"The whole community revolved around my mom. She was the key, the cornerstone of our community," Dupree said. "Her shop was a big part of the growth of the community and the city as well. So, man, I always loved my mom for that. You know, she just provided for so many people. I got a rose with some scissors that emphasize her love for doing hair and being a hairdresser, and I then got "Sophia" around that. It was my second, probably my third tattoo."
While he wanted to honor his mother and her contributions to the community, the art also served another purpose.
"When you're a kid and you go outside when you're not supposed to go outside and you roll around and walk down the street, but then you come back, and you've got some flowers -- that's how you smooth it over," Dupree said with a smile. "It's a little trick you've got to play. That one opened the gate for me, for her to not say anything else about me getting more tattoos."
Dupree has gotten many more since, with art covering his chest, arms and lower legs. They all stand for something, either individuals, importance moments in his life or philosophies to live by.
One sacred motto is etched on his left hand. It says "Love is Loyalty." Dupree believes that those two things are intertwined, that trust and support for those he cares for remains as important as anything he does in life.
Dupree is loyal to his family. He is also intensely loyal to his central Georgia community, and those folks love him right back. That's why he had the 478 area code tattooed, to represent Macon and its surrounding area.
There's also a conversation starter on his left calf, where a "Bud Dupree Drive" street sign resides. That's a real thing in Toomsboro, Ga., the small town where Dupree grew up. Pineview Street was renamed in Dupree's honor during a ceremony attended by so many in the small town by in 2017. The gathering has now become an annual event where Dupree supports the place where he came from.
"Now I do it every year and there's a tremendous turnout," Dupree said. "I did it last April and we had about 2,500 people out there. It was a great event with no violence. That's part of my role now, I think, to help bring my community together. I try to be a positive vibe for the whole community and show people that you can do things together."
That's what makes playing the 2023 season in Atlanta so important. He always made supporting central Georgia a priority while playing at Kentucky and then with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans, but doing so as a member of the Falcons is so important.
"This means more than anything else to me," Dupree said. "…To be able to do it for your home state, your hometown, there's nothing like it. To be a Georgia boy and playing for the Falcons, with your community right down the road, just an hour and 45 minutes away, it's tremendous for people to see it. Being so close allows me to reach out and touch my community on a regular basis. That allows people to see that I'm not just out there playing football, that I'm representing the Falcons now.
"It means that much more for the kids to see me right in their backyard. As children, a lot of times we have role models that we see on TV but we never get to see them in person and interact with them. For me, it's different now because I'm here and I can go see the kids in the community and be a part of this area and they can see that I'm a real person who cares about this area. It's not just me playing in Pittsburgh and never [getting a chance to play] in Georgia. Being here, representing my community, is going to be fun."
Playing at home is huge, but there's another component to his heightened level of excitement. Dupree is fully healthy again after a two-year stretch where he was hindered by injury. A torn ACL late in the 2020 season was a significant setback, and his return to top physical form has prompted plans for Dupree's next tattoo.
"I tore my ACL two years ago, and it was a real down part of my football career," Dupree said. "I'm still climbing back from that injury. I was using ski masks to identify me as a player on the field in Pittsburgh. They called us the goons, and I liked having that identity on the field as a nasty, tenacious player. I'm going to continue to provide that through my career. I'm going to bring that here.
"I want to put that ski mask over my ACL scar to symbolize that that part of my career is gone and ski mask season is back."
Bud Dupree got his first tattoo at 13 years old. While his mother wasn't happy about it at the time, it ignited a passion for the art form that continues through this day and illustrates what Dupree is passionate about and the community he's proud to represent. The Falcons edge rusher tells his story through his tattoos in the second installment of our "Behind the Ink" series.