Miami tire shop owner Marcus Rivero is known for shoes that pop. When former Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll came across a 2013 Instagram post featuring a pair of sneakers Rivero had painted for fun, he requested a custom pair for himself. In the two years since, Rivero has customized cleats for over 350 NFL players, his bold designs offering a refreshing outlet for creativity and personal style in a league known for its corporate homogeneity.
Many of the cleats Rivero paints for NFL players are deeply personal: Brendan Carr of the Cowboys requested a pair inked with a Bible psalm in remembrance of his mother. The Redskins’ DeSean Jackson’s wore a pair with “I CAN’T BREATHE”stenciled into a ghostly fade. Ryan Clark, who retired with the Steelers this year, commissioned a pair to raise awareness for Sickle Cell, the blood disorder that nearly killed him (he auctioned off the shoes for the cause after the game).
In proper punk fashion, the NFL has played its role in trying to stamp out the trend. In January, the league threatened to ban Marshawn Lynch from playing in the Super Bowl altogether if he showed up to the game wearing a pair of Rivero’s 24-carat gold flake cleats. By the end of the season, Nike, the NFL’s sole sponsor from the ankle up, had notified every Nike-endorsed player that their contracts would be terminated if they obscured the Nike logo on their cleats by customizing them.
Official NFL rules still don’t discuss any penalty harsher than a hefty fine for off-colored shoes, but Rivero seems to be sticking to the rulebook right now. His work is looking a little more buttoned up, but no less bold. He’s starting to broaden his reach beyond the NFL, swagging shoes for MLB and NBA players, as well as a few charities, with a lot more creative freedom. But his biggest project yet will be with adidas, who has just inked Rivero to a huge project.
The partnership indicates signs of a healthier take on artistry in corporatized sports — if you can’t beat ’em, please, please, join ’em— and a smart cook in adidas Football’s kitchen. We’d like to see more of this.