Thank you, Sports Illustrated!!!!!!!!!!! (From a women’s sports fan)

posted by Fair Game News
Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 12:31pm EST

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By Laura Pappano

As a Sports Illustrated subscriber, I just want to offer a big “Thank You” for all the recent coverage of Lindsey Vonn – or should I say “un”-coverage?

If crazy feminists got all in a wad about last week’s cover photo of Vonn, I can only imagine what they think now that she’s on the slopes in ski boots – and a bikini!

Fortunately, I’m one of those fans grateful to see female athletes get any sort of attention, so seeing four Olympians – snowboarders Hannah Teter, and Clair Bidez and skiers Vonn and Lacy Schnoor – all oiled up for the SI Swimsuit issue looked like a gold medal move to me.

The way I see it, if we get enough guys paying attention (er stalking) their favorite sexy female athletes, we should see the Nielsen ratings for women’s sporting events take off. Wasn’t it Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, who pointed out that women should wear “more feminine” uniforms and tighter shorts to boost fan interest?

The logic is obvious: While people are busy checking out the players’ physical attributes they will OH BY THE WAY notice that, geez, there is some good athletic play going on. Build the fan base one string bikini at a time.

The matter, of course, is that if women are going play sports, they should be providing entertainment – and serious athletic performance is, apparently, not entertainment enough.

I say, apply the Powell Doctrine to sex appeal in women’s sports. Don’t just appear sexy on occasion, but – heck – be all about sexy. Swimsuit calendars – the Women’s Professional Squash Association just made one – should be mandatory for professional leagues.

College teams should dive in, too (pardon the pun). Why should men’s football and basketball monopolize media attention when young females are playing with balls? When I tune into ESPN2, I’d like to see a women’s college basketball game (at a time other than noon). So do up the hair, get that make-up straight and, for gosh sake, pare down the fabric on those uniforms!

It could even be a smart move to do what they did in the 1950s: Hold half-time beauty pageant among players, crowning one “Queen of the Court.” (way better than MVP’s) And maybe instead of having an NCAA playoff bracket, we could hold a giant beauty pageant with – yes! – a swimsuit competition. (Then we would really know which teams were worth watching.)

So, thanks, SI, for exposing readers to some skilled female athletes ahead of the Winter Olympics. I can hardly wait for your March Madness preview issue!

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There are 12 comments on this post. Join the discussion!

madse020 says:

The research in this area does not back up the notion that attracting men by sexualizing female athletes to women's sport works. In fact, the preliminary research that has been completed by Dr. Kane and Dr. Maxwell at the University of Minnesota has illustrated the exact opposite. It is unfortunate that this attitude still is common wisdom.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 1:17pm EST

robm says:

Truth is, we don't know one way or the other. It's a reach, at best, to say the study you allude to, which isn't news to many here, proves or refutes anything at all. This "preliminary" research is nothing more than a small focus group study, from "Quantitative Methods in Public Administration: Focus Groups" (link):

"Focus groups are not a panacea for tapping 'true' feelings. People often do not themselves understand their own motivations and preferences and thus cannot articulate them well. People have complex, even conflicting motivations which may come together in unpredictable ways given only slightly varying ways of presenting a stimulus. People may give acceptable or politically correct responses in front of peers, and they may act differently in real situations compared with hypothetical ones. They may be aware of the study%u2019s sponsorship and tell the researcher what they believe he or she wants to hear. People tend to express views which enhance their own image of themselves, and they also may formulate opinions 'on the spot,' lacking any real commitment to what they say. And people lie."

"Focus groups are generally a poor choice when quantitative information is desired (ex., when one wants to know the percentage of people who will buy product X or vote for candidate X). The small size of focus groups makes any estimates of quantitative proportions unreliable, even if the members of the focus group are representative of the target population. By the same token, focus group research is a poor choice for multivariate research, where one again needs the stability of large random samples to be ably to disaggregate the effects of explanatory variables through statistical techniques."

It may be the case that sex never does (and never could) sell women's sports, but we're far-off from knowing that.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 3:43pm EST

WomenUndefined says:

"The way I see it, if we get enough guys paying attention (er stalking) their favorite sexy female athletes, we should see the Nielsen ratings for women%u2019s sporting events take off. Wasn%u2019t it Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, who pointed out that women should wear %u201Cmore feminine%u201D uniforms and tighter shorts to boost fan interest?"

The notion that sexualization of women to sell anything is , including sports, by appealing to male "base" instincts is not true. Not only is it not true, but it is factually inaccurate as gender and sexuality are largely social constructs. Sexual objectification of women have been used historically to dehumanize women, thus the modern day affects still cause women to be perceived as objects of male desire/possession.

Your assertion that these naked pictures induce male viewers to pay attention and even "stalk" their favorite female athlete is highly disturbing, as stalking and obsession/possessive are forms of dating/relationship violence against women. To see this trend perpetuated across mainstream sports world is not new, but to have it mentioned as a quality by some one here , is a bit shocking, to say the least. Our society should never condone or support male stalking of women. ever. period.


Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 5:45pm EST

FGN says:

Oh my dear...I do hope the smart readers on WTS caught the distinct tone of sarcasm in the post, the absolute absurdity of thinking that sex appeal does anything but undercut the image, goals, and status of seriously talented female athletes. We appear stuck in a sort of moment -- much like the feminist we-can-do-it-all quagmire -- where we feel compelled to be both serious athletes and hot bodies. The problem is not that women athletes don't have great bodies; the issue is that in putting so much energy into showing them off as such distracts from being seen as a seriously intense (fill in the blank). If I want people to pay attention to, say, a talk I'm giving, I'll wear a suit -- and not one for swimming.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 7:05pm EST

mzemek says:

Ms. Pappano:

Upon giving this piece a second read, I can see that the tone is sarcastic. With that having been said, you need to be made aware of two things:

1) When I saw the link to this piece on Twitter (where I follow @womentalksports), the brief blurb between the username and the shrunken link did not convey sarcasm. The brief blurb on a Twitter link needs to have an appreciable degree of transparency, so that the Twitter user knows that s/he is reading a sarcastic piece and not a straightforward piece.

2) Another reason readers would honestly view the piece to be straightforward (and not sarcastic) is that four bikini pictures accompany the article itself! If the viewpoint - given its genuinely sarcastic tone - is to be (easily) seen for what it really is, there shouldn't be a single bikinied woman on the page. In the final analysis, I have no quibble or complaint with the way you wrote and crafted your piece. However, the intricacies of Twitter blurbs, combined with an editorial decision to show four mostly naked women in suits other than the ones they use for Olympic competition, created genuine doubt about the nature of the textual work itself.

Thanks for your thoughtful consideration, and thank god you were indeed using sarcasm!

With relief,

Matt Zemek

Friday, February 12, 2010 at 1:06am EST

sportlvr says:


It is true that we do not know with certainty that sex does not sell sport. However, Kane and Maxwell's work does provide some initial evidence that it does not. Further, Fink et al. (2004) provides more quantitative evidence that sex is not the best way to sell women's sport. Additionally, Knight and Giuliano, in another quantitative study provided evidence that focusing on the sex appeal of athletes actually diminishes peoples' perceptions of their athletic ability. So, while we do not know with certainty, we are collecting bits and pieces of evidence that sex is not the best way to sell women's sport.

Friday, February 12, 2010 at 9:05am EST

robm says:

sportlvr: Bits and pieces, perhaps, but nothing final. Thus claims made by either side of this debate should be taken with a grain of salt.

Friday, February 12, 2010 at 9:38am EST

robm says:

Laura: I for one didn't think you were serious when you proposed that we "hold half-time beauty pageant[s] among players, crowning one "Queen of the Court." (way better than MVP's) And maybe instead of having an NCAA playoff bracket, we could hold a giant beauty pageant with %u2013 yes! %u2013 a swimsuit competition."

But the subject is an overly touchy one, so it is to be expected that some would miss the sarcasm. A piece such as yours brings to mind, or should, two distinct questions, often conflated: Does sex sell women's sports? And, even if so, is that really the best way to market women's sports? My take is that your piece speaks more to the latter.

Still, it is more complicated than even that. This isn't something to be resolved with simplistic either-or/all-or-nothing reasoning. Sex is part of sport, just as it is part of life. There is nothing "wrong" to be seen in that. (Objectification, broadly defined as it so often is, takes place in nearly all spheres of life, among them many that are of more serious nature than mere sexual desire.)

Further, sex permeates and prevails no matter the classification, or not, of gender or sexual orientation. To insist that sexuality has ever been or ever will be apart from sports would be more than a little foolish.

Methinks there is probably a healthy balance (a "middle way" if you like) to be found here, if only we could get beyond the hyperbole.

Friday, February 12, 2010 at 9:55am EST

FGN says:

Love this debate. Clearly, sex appeal is part of sport. But where Tom Brady may be pretty, as a male athlete he is given plenty of latitude to also be tough. There are plenty of ads of him of the chiseled chin (or frolicking with farm animals in -- was it? _- Esquire?) -- but even that exposure is far outweighed by the serious network air time, news coverage, talk radio, pre-game, half-time, and post-game analysis of his athletic performance. Certainly, female athletes can be attractive AND competitive. I don't see this in the larger sense -- or longer term -- as an either/or debate. But right at this moment, we have a serious attention bias in the way women's sports events -- and female athletes -- are viewed. When all that warrants mainstream coverage is undress, it tilts the image and shapes the conversation. SI is known for it's incredible action photography. Love to see a few more female athletes caught, freeze-framed, mid-action. If we talk about "balance," this might be a place to start. Do you realize that when I open up my local sports section to see what games are happening locally or being televised that only the men's events (college and pro) are listed?

Friday, February 12, 2010 at 2:50pm EST

robm says:

Good points, Laura. Here there is some convergence with my post the other day.

Balance indeed is important. But the problem, more than anything, is simply not enough coverage of female athletes (they get, what, 9% or so of SI covers?). So we should spend more time, at least as much anyway, asking why that is so. But often this is only skimmed in a rush to talk about matters priggish and prurient.

And how important is it, really? The media attention. Isn't it enough that girls and women simply have the opportunity to play sports? at school and the amateur level (by fiat) if the marketplace won't support women's professional leagues, etc.? Must female athletes have marketplace and media attention on the scale that male athletes receive?

And is the lack of fan and media attention simply the pecking order, the hierarchy, of sports' fandom at work? That is, the better athletes getting the bulk of attention? We seldom see, for example, DIII, semi-pro, or minor league male athletes featured in SI (and when we do, it is usually a human-interest story). Isn't this the same thing female athletes face?

These are the tough questions that can't be ducked. And the answers, I think, will reveal themselves in time as female athletes continue to up their level of performance. Thus obstacles to their doing so are, or should be, our main concern.

Friday, February 12, 2010 at 4:34pm EST

WomenUndefined says:

OK, so I missed the sarcasm, but the title and accompanying pictures portray something other than satire. I wish I would have read this more carefully before reacting, because it does highlight some very important issues regarding female sexuality as it pertains to women in sports.

Great debate in the comments.


Monday, February 15, 2010 at 2:15pm EST

san_clemente says:

I highly recommend MsAkiba'article on the whole theme (http://www.womentalksports.com/items/read/114/69084). It puts things into perspective pretty darn well.

The long and short of it is: If there is to be an SI Swimsuit Issue for guys to ogle, why not let it feature beautiful athletes instead of mere models? The magazine's name is, after all, SPORTS Illustrated.

As for the ogling: Yes, men like to do it, much as some women like to ogle men (or women - or men's checkbooks), and God help us if they didn't, because otherwise most of us would not be here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 5:32am EST

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