#TBT: The Sexualization Of Athletes (OPD: 2015)

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Lazarus, an executive for NBC Sports, stated he wished the guys playing in the Stanley Cup would shave off their beards. Mind you, growing a beard during the Stanley Cup playoffs has been a tradition since the 1980s. But in Lazarus’ words, “Let’s get their faces out there. Let’s talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. (Hockey players) truly are one of a kind among professional athletes. I know it’s a tradition and superstition, but I think (the beards do) hurt recognition. They have a great opportunity with more endorsements. Or simply more recognition with fans saying, ‘That guy looks like the kid next store [sic],’ which many of these guys do. I think that would be a nice thing. ” In other words, a clean shaven face would make the games sexier.

Typically, a sexist statement about athletes is directed at women athletes and the argument is female athletics is hard to sell. Why? Because most people do not want to see masculine looking women or women who play “violent” sports. So, it was quite interesting to see the guys be criticized for having beards.

The real question, though, is Mark Lazarus correct in today’s world. Do fans want a sexualized game? Or, have we evolved as a society within the borders of North America? I would argue the results are mixed.
First, more people are watching and attending women sports than ever. Women’s UFC and the WNBA both have a healthy following with people watching from their homes. The WNBA viewership was up 91% last year. The current women’s World Cup, also, appears to be holding its own with 4.7 million viewers tuning in just a day ago for the United States-Colombia match.

Yet, sex still appears to sell sports. Just check out the commercials surrounding sporting events like the misunderstanding arising from a plumbing issue in the Lexus. While there are actual sport commercials such as Under Armour and Bauer Hockey supporting the games, the majority focus on sex appeal even the weight loss commercials with Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw.

Women athletes are still admired for their female qualities like beauty and generosity over their brawn and talent. And then, there’s the little matter regarding Prince Fielder in last summer’s issue of ESPN’s Body Issue. Fielder was criticized for being “overweight” and nude.

Every athlete in the Body Issue was nude. It’s an issue that’s suppose to celebrate the unique physique of the world’s top athletes. And despite, Fielder’s remarkable career in baseball (stats), he was criticized for his physique–the very thing that allowed him to have that great career.
So the statement from Lazarus doesn’t really seem so off based when he says it would make the Stanley Cup playoffs more appealing to fans especially to female and older fans. It is one of the reasons the women’s football leagues have struggled to gain traction in the television market of media.

Over the years, players in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, UFC, boxing, tennis and soccer have allowed themselves to be displayed as national sex symbols. The same cannot be said of players within the NHL, WFA, IWFL, PGA or the LPGA. But should they?

Taking a look at endorsement deals, the results are mixed. However, those athletes like Michael Jordan, Anna Kournikova, or Serena Williams have earned large endorsement deals with their talent and sex appeal. But there have been athletes like Tiger Woods who hasn’t cashed in on his looks but still has had great success in cashing in on endorsement deals.

The choice is truly up to the athlete, but it is better to be more like Jordan–who obviously has talent and looks-than Kourkanova known best for looks than her talent. I think fans can appreciate that as well. Looks are nice but they do fade . . . records are made to be broken and that takes talent.

Source: Kevin de La Tour

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