I follow a lot of athletes on Twitter. For the most part, I hear about workouts, causes they’re fighting for, their children, and occasionally, personal stuff (“Never date a pole dancer,” advised one very famous athete…..thanks JC, I’ll keep that one in mind!)
But Hope Solo…the US goalkeeper who kept America’s Women’s World Cup dreams of a third world championship alive through all but the last penalty kick of the championship round..and whom I just recently started following, gave the world another heart-stopping moment last Tuesday when she hinted in a tweet that she was posing for the infamous ESPN the Magazine “Body issue” to be published in October.
“Getting naked outside is very liberating,” she tweeted..”at least I hope it will be. GAMETIME BABY!! Ball up!”
And the debate starts again…. if you’re an athlete. is it right for you bare your healthy, well-toned, lats and 12-pack abs in a venue like ESPN the Magazine? Sports Illustrated? Playboy? Playgirl? FHM? Maxim? Or for that matter, the U.S. Track and Field Association’s annual calendar?
What does it do for young children eager to follow in those footsteps? After all, when Solo and her teammates returned from Germany, they were mobbed by pint-sized fans throughout the country. Some of their tweets were poignant (“I met my only role model,” tweeted one,) as the team headed back to complete their seasons in the Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPS.) Solo and her MagicJack teammates were mobbed at a local mall.
What happens when a woman or man takes off their clothes for big bucks and, sorry, EXPOSURE?
I’ve written this column before, and and it’s gotten thousands of hits on a couple of different blogsites, but but it seems that as many times I write it, the more questions arise….especially in the era of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also guest-lectured about it at Columbia College in Chicago, and discussed it with friends, nieces, and nephews. The human body is there for the download. And I ask again…what are we thinking about the subject these days?
Let’s put it to a test right now:
- Name the top 10 of Maxim’s “Hot 100” List
- The names of the Olympic Women’s Beach Volleyball team. (thank you, Misty May-Treanor, you’re in our hearts now!)
- Name all the members of the Chicago Bliss
Now, name the MVP of the 2010 WNBA season (Give up? Seattle Storm’s Lauren Jackson.)
The list of “sexy, hot” athletes who are willing to expose skin, for their own self-promotion, and to promote their sport–is long and covers a surprising age range. Diana Taurasi, of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, posed “artfully” for ESPN the Magazine. The WPS’ Heather Mitts has doffed her skivvies a time or two. And then, there were seven-time Olympic medalist swimmer Amanda Beard’s two Playboy pictorials, as well as volleyball star Gabrielle Reece; and two-time Olympic Gold medal figure skater Katerina Witt, showing more skin than form.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear here. I am no Puritan, tsk-tsking the act of posing nude. Or semi-clad. I fully support everyone’s right to make decisions that best suit their individual needs and wants, that portray these individuals in a way that they’re comfortable, and that will help promote anything they truly believe in.
|That said, there are consequences along with the potentially eye-popping attention: The debate over athletes posing in the buff dates back at least a decade, to a pictorial in Sports Illustrated featuring the Olympics.In a 2000 “Life of Reilly” column in Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly opined. “Wow, Jenny Thompson has a nice pair, doesn’t she? Massive. Firm. Perfectly shaped. Her thighs, I mean. At least that’s what blew me away when I saw the five-time Olympic gold-medalist swimmer topless, hands over her breasts, in Sports Illustrated . Killer thighs that could crush anvils. Calves sharp enough to slice tomato. Biceps that ought to be on a box of baking soda. ….”
Cold shower, anyone? Bad messages to the young girls reading SI? Reilly said, “Here are women with real bodies, fit bodies, attainable bodies — not bodies you can only get through the Lucky Gene Club or plastic surgery or throwing up your lunch every day.”My question to Reilly is: Attainable, how? Most women cannot afford to spend eight hours in a gym trying to mold calves that could “slice tomatoes.”
Mine can’t…even though I can still do the splits nearly as well as in my cheerleading days. (There were witnesses: it was at a Vernon Hills Capitals promotional appearance last season). Nor are “regular” women like me paid hefty sums by Nike and other companies to maintain bodies that way.
During a 2009 Weekend Sports Report show (heard Saturday mornings from 7-8 on WKRS-AM 1220/WKRS.com) Les Grobstein, Steve Leventhal and I had the opportunity to interview soccer star Kate Markgraf, who was the youngest member of the 1999 Women’s World Cup championship team, aka “The Sports Bra Seen Round The World.”
For better or worse, soccer gained enormous popularity when teammate Brandi Chastain ripped off her uniform top to reveal a black Nike sports bra. It was either the most clever marketing ploy of the last half-century (which Chastain has vehemently denied), or the most joyous moment in sports history. Markgraf, then a Chicago Red Star, was adamant in her conviction. “Athletes have cellulite, too! I don’t want girls out there to get the idea that we’re perfect, because we’re not.” I do believe that pride in your body is important, whether you are famous or not. Appreciating your assets is a fine message to send to the world. However, the question remains, how far is too far?
A MIXED REACTION TO MIXED MESSAGES:
Of the women’s sports columnists of the time, Reilly whined that they went “all Aunt Bea” on him, including USA Today’s Christine Brennan, complaining that the Thompson picture “sends [girls] the insecure message that an old stereotype still lives and thrives. If you doubt this, look at the picture and notice where your eye goes first … right to her chest.”Michael Rosenberg of Fox Sports.com says: “And maybe that is what this tells us: We see famous male athletes as athletes, but we see famous female athletes simply as famous people. Most sports fans know who Amanda Beard is, but I would bet that at least 95 percent have no idea what her best stroke is (the breaststroke, in fact–she won a few gold medals). Michael Phelps is famous for being a great swimmer; Amanda Beard is famous for being an attractive swimmer, even though she has won seven medals in three Olympics and appeared in SI’s swimsuit issue (and not in her competition Speedo). Beard is not exchanging her athletic fame for the fame of a model — her athletic fame is the fame of a model.”
The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) was upset. So upset, that former WSF president Donna de Varona say of Thompson and other women athletes who have posed nude, “I want them to keep their clothes on!” De Varona, who became the youngest gold medallist in Olympic history by winning two swimming gold medals in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, became a pioneer in sportscasting when, in 1965, she became the first female sportscaster in network television sports history when she signed a contract with ABC at the age of 18. She served as host and correspondent for the Olympic games for the next three decades. In addition, she was a political activist on behalf of Title IX, and helped to establish the Women’s Sports Foundation, where she served as their first president from 1976 to 1984 On a side note, De Varona herself is an attractive blond who could have traded in on her looks even in her 40’s and 50’s.
I theorize that she, along with the “first wave” of female athletes, fought for Title IX to provide opportunities for other women Earning respect was (and is) no easy task. It would have been out of the question for her generation to conduct themselves as anything but what the definition of “ladies” was at the time.
Professional sports leagues do not offer any guidance: Posing nude is not outlawed in any professional league, male or female. Athletes can’t lose their jobs for making that decision. However, it’s not something most leagues are comfortable with. In the WNBA, Margaret Stender, now Chairman of the Chicago Sky, told me, “We care very much about the role model responsibility we have, so we would have to talk it over and think about it pretty extensively. I know (the players) are smart, confident, intelligent and capable women. I hope I won’t have to deal with that question.”
In 2002, CNN/Money’s Chris Isidore took up the question about long-term gains for short-term financial profit. Isidore spoke with Blair Fischer, Sports Editor for Playboy.com, about soccer star Heather Mitts and others refusing to doff their duds. “If we had gotten a soccer player to pose, I think privately the league would have said it was a great thing while publicly they would have said it was a bad thing,” said Fischer. “The average person doesn’t know who Heather Mitts is. If she poses, it makes news, and people are going to have interest in that person. I don’t see how it can hurt.”
Former WUSA President Lynn Morgan, indeed, told Isidore that she was pleased, but not surprised that none of her players agreed to pose. However, the online magazine noted that Morgan worried that a soccer player posing naked would cause a backlash with parents and young female fans that make up a majority of ticket buyers. She also thought it might not do anything to attract male fans to the games.
“If we market ourselves as anything other than what we truly are, we become a one-hit wonder with the fans we attract,” Morgan said to CNN/Money at the time. Morgan was right. The League folded in 2003.
Isidore concludes his article by quoting an unnamed women’s sports executive. “Jason Sehorn can be on a billboard in his underwear in Times Square and no one questions his athletic ability,” said one women’s sports executive, who didn’t want her name used with these comments. “Can you imagine what people would say if Venus Williams or Sue Bird posed in her underwear? It’s a double standard, but we’re fairly schizophrenic when it comes to women sports and sex.” Actually, both Bird and Williams have their “hot” shots, and both have been named to various “sexiest women” lists. Though they have been a bit more covered up than some of their counterparts.
|Reaction to women sports figures posing nude is predictable in that the public’s reaction is strong and divided along parenting and women-empowering issues:”Denise”, writing on AOL Sports Blog, asks, “Does taking off your clothes for men improve your image or your IQ? then women want to know why they are viewed as objects and dont get the respect they deserve! what kind of role model is she for young girls? Her Olympic accomplishment makes her a great role model….posing for Playboy makes her a bimbo.”Another blogger, “GalenHorton,” said, “As a father of 2 young girls who are extremely active in soccer & swimming, I find this very disappointing; there continue to be fewer & fewer good examples of female athletes I can share with them. This is another example of an outstanding athlete with marvelous qualities up to this point who seems to be just cashing in on her looks & the notoriety that this kind of celebrity activity will bring. What a poor example of using your talents & gifts, & even worse, all the readers who think it’s fantastic that she’s doing this? Would you be as enthusiastic if it was your daughter?”And yet another, “MSB,” spoke for most young males that the Playboy audience is directed “RIGHT ON…..LABIA RULES……RIGHT ON.” Uh-oh.Nearly four years after this column first ran, I believe my original conclusions still stand: The ultimate answers remain in the legacies athletes wish to leave to the world. Athletes, if you don’t want the publicity, don’t put yourself in a position to receive it. Case in point: in 2007, YouTube was just gaining speed on the social media map. Today, any video can be downloaded and transmitted in a millisecond.Be forewarned: your private life is no longer your own, as long as a camera phone is near. You can Twitter photos, and post anything you want on Facebook or MySpace. But count the costs of these actions. The world WILL be watching. Make sure, in your hearts and minds, that what you do is what you want the world to see. Let that be your legacy.Now, it’s your turn, ChicagoNow! Let me know what you think!|