Que Sarah, Sarah

Monday, March 24, 2008

Love It or Hate It - Athletes Stripping Down...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Last week saw the release of the 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, a publication that consistently elicits heated debate amongst media outlets everywhere.

Usually those individuals opposed to the flesh-filled issue argue that scantily clad models don't belong in a magazine that claims to be about sports. The mag's supporters, on the other hand, argue that sex and sports are inexorably linked — that is, if they can pull their eyes from the pages long enough to comment.

I'll let the (typically hormone-filled) supporters and (often morally-rigid) opponents battle over the issue's relevancy, while I tackle a different aspect of the mag's oft-polarizing make-up: the inclusion of female athletes as models.

In this year's edition, several pages are dedicated to Indy Car standout Danica Patrick and prominent Budweiser ads featuring bikini-clad female Olympians are scattered throughout as well. The question is: are these athletes being exploited or celebrated?

Do you love or hate female athletes who pose as models?

Some might argue that Patrick, soccer star Heather Mitts, swimmer Amanda Beard, sprinter/jumper Brianna Glenn and softballer Lovie Jung are bad for women's sports. By seeking recognition for their looks, the women are implying that their athletic achievements are less admirable or attractive. Many critics claim women who draw attention to their accomplishments on the field through photo shoots and suggestive ads are, in fact, de-emphasizing their skill as athletes.

Most magazines feature photos of male athletes performing the very acts that have made them famous: home run swings, back-breaking tackles and tomahawk jams. These stereotypically masculine activities directly relate to the focus of the articles and the men being profiled. Tight portraits of sluggers and linebackers show them as tough, angry and unfeeling.

Exceptions to the rule — a certain photo of Tom Brady-as-cowboy holding a goat comes to mind — often become topics of ridicule amongst athletes and the media alike.

Women athletes are rarely shown as gritty or intimidating. Inevitably, a photo of a soccer star scoring a goal will be accompanied by a glamour shot of that same powerhouse player looking feminine and alluring off the field. But do most women, athletes included, want to appear tough and hard? Truth is, most want to be respected for their skill while still appreciated for their softness.

Women like Beard or Jennie Finch, who dominate the sports they compete in, promote the idea that a woman can be both strong and sexy. The Budweiser ads showing Olympians in fire-red bikinis and heavy makeup may be a bit over the top, but they also position healthy, strong, toned women in place of the usual stick-figure models. Girls who grow up wanting to compete, but fearing they'll be viewed as tomboys, can look up to today's female athletes to see that feminism and athleticism can co-exist. Strong, dominant females can be sex symbols without sacrificing their success or skill.

Women athletes make much less money and garner much less attention than their male counterparts, despite working just as hard. If Ben Roethlisberger can make money doing embarrassing American Idol promos, Patrick and Beard can use their sex appeal in GoDaddy ads. If David Beckham can pose in his undies then so, too, can a crop of Olympic hopefuls.

If more men follow women's swimming because they like the looks of the women in the swimsuits, why not embrace a bigger fanbase rather than resenting the motives for their interest.

I fully admit I'm more interested in so-called fringe sports if the men competing are good looking. I tuned in to the World Cup after the U.S. was eliminated almost entirely due to a calendar someone sent me of the Italian team (the eventual winners). The men were hot, and it made watching the games more enjoyable for me. Plain and simple. Will a bikini spread in SI make Indy Car ignoramuses begin to tune in to see Patrick suited up and racing?

Yeah, probably.

So, what's better: not knowing or appreciating a female athlete at all, or only knowing of her because of a nearly-nude photo shoot?

Will young girls think the only way to succeed is through their appearance, or will they be inspired to let their femininity co-exist with their competitive side?

Female athletes in the Swimsuit Edition - Do you "Love It or Hate It?"


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