In another era, the very thought of athletes posing nude, no matter how artfully, would have led to a revolt by parents, the town council and the church. Morals clauses would have been put into effect, and the person posing would have been shunned by 'decent' townsfolk. 

Today, it seems that a very different era exists. For the past nine years, ESPN the Magazine has published The Body Issue, with the mission of "celebrating and showcasing the powerful images and interviews,"  according to their website.

The issue focuses on poses that accentuate muscle groups, with strategically placed hands and props covering private parts. 

And for the second consecutive year, the Body Issue has featured a Chicago Red Stars player. Forward/captain Christen Press was featured in the 2016 Body Issue.  In 2017, the editorial team chose midfielder/defender Julie Johnston, and her then-fiance, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Six days before their March 26th wedding, Ertz and Johnston made the time to pose, artfully and athletically, for ESPN the Magazine’s 2017 Body Issue, themed, “Every Body Has A Story.”

The story of Johnston and Ertz began in 2012, according to People Magazine, when they met as college student-athletes. Ertz, now 6’6, 250-pounds, was attending Stanford University, while Johnston, now 5’7 and 140 pounds, was a soccer star at Santa Clara University. The two have described themselves as "best friends." Just after the wedding, Ertz tweeted a photo of himself and Johnston Ertz with the caption "Today, I married my best friend."

The couple were two of 23 athletes featured, and the first couple since 2015, when volleyball player Gabrielle Reece and surfer Laird Hamilton posed. 

"Obviously, it's not something I'm used to doing,"Johnston Ertz said. "It was a way for us to reflect on how much we use our bodies. These are the bodies that allow us to play our sports. During the shoot, we talked about it...'this muscle does this, this muscle does that.' 

"In doing the shoot, we gained a weird confidence, and a thankfulness that we have the bodies that allow us to  do our sports," she said.

In choosing to pose for the issue, she has no stauncher defender than Arnim Whisler, owner of the Chicago Red Stars. 

“I don’t think that the Body Issue sexualizes athletes,” said Whisler, who has two daughters and a son. "I think the Body Issue shows healthy, beautiful, strong, and powerful women and men. There's an epidemic of body dysmorphia in this country, especially among young girls. There's a benefit to showing that all sizes, shapes, and body types are beautiful, and can achieve at the top of their sport. It's time to redefine beauty to that definition."

Johnston Ertz said she's had "nothing but positive" reactions since the issue was published, including Press, who attended the Johnston-Ertz nuptials with Red Stars teammates Alyssa Naeher and Sofia Huerta. “Julie didn’t  tell me she was going to it, “ Press said. “I saw the issue when everyone else did. They're beautiful people. And I certainly support her and Zach, just as she supported me when I was in the issue.”

Some athletes haven't been as lucky as Johnston Ertz. The London Daily Mail reported that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was bashed by male Twitter users for posing nude, even branding him a homosexual. But a check of Ertz' Twitter feed at the time the magazine came out showed a  decidedly mixed reaction, from "I don't want to see this on my timeline," to "Such a wonderful couple!"

However, if boycotting games were a measure of protest, there were none. Since the issue hit newsstands on July 7, the Red Stars have posted some of the highest attendance numbers of the 2017 season at Toyota Park. "In our last two home matches, we've seen our attendance increase significantly," said Whisler. On August 12, nearly 5,000 were announced to witness the Red Stars 3-2 loss to the Portland Thorns. 

Note: This article appeared in Southwest Regional Publishing's Southwest News-Herald and the Des Plaines Valley News.

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