Sunday, October 14, 2007


Is there a reason for Robin Givhan's tedious nonsense to be cropping up in the sports section?

Even those with no interest in sports, who view the Olympics as essentially a travelogue with bad costumes, are moved by the downfall of track star Marion Jones, who recently admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs after years of public denials.

In part, that's because of the magnitude of her achievement, winning five medals at the Sydney Olympics, three of them gold. But she was also an exemplar of the beauty inherent in female strength, held up as a role model of glamour and womanliness.

But that's not why even non-sports-fans are "moved" by Jones' downfall. It's just another doped-up charlatan getting caught. People seem to be in more of a "who's next" frame of mind about it, to the extent they think about it at all. Aside from the people who play and the people who write and talk about the people who play, there is probably less furrowing of the brows on this issue than the scriveners imagine. It sucks, but lots of things suck. Life goes on.

But of course this is all just a pretext for a misplaced fashionista jeremiad, replete with imprecatory scuds at supposedly dolled-up, less "real" female athletes.

It's not often that athletes such as Jones are celebrated for their beauty and grace in glossy magazines. Indy race car driver Danica Patrick is regularly depicted as sexy and glamorous, but her success on the track doesn't begin to approach what Jones had achieved. She is the Anna Kournikova of the Indy circuit. Olympic swimming champion Amanda Beard posed nude for Playboy magazine. But there is a distinction between celebrating anatomy and venerating the entire package.

Sports publications recognize and glorify both male and female athletes. And men's style magazines regularly use male athletes as models, as examples of the masculine ideal. But there has typically been an uneasy relationship between the kind of female beauty glorified in the mainstream world and athletics.

This is silly. Auto racing bores me to tears, and on the hotness scale, Patrick hits me in the "not bad, but eh" category. As always, your mileage may vary. But she was Indy Rookie of the Year in 2005, leading for 19 laps, and she's finished higher in the Indy 500 than any woman, the only other one I recall finishing in the top ten being Janet Guthrie. She's not "the Anna Kournikova of the Indy circuit"; Kournikova's (and Jones', for that matter) competition was not 99% male, for starters.

Amanda Beard is hotter in my estimation, though her Playboy shoot was regrettably modest. Still, she's won two gold and four silver medals, presumably without "help", and she simply took a different path in utilizing her physical attributes for some commercial presence. Hell, even the much-maligned Kournikova had some actual success, as a 17-year-old beating Lindsay Davenport and Steffi Graf, again without chemical enhancements.

I don't operate under the illusion that Playboy or any of the numerous Maxim-type magazines represent some sort of artistic triumph or even an aspiration for women. But they represent a market, just like Vogue and its literary cousins represent a market. One is whacking material for a testoterone-and-gadget-driven group, the other is whacking material for people who think that paying $900 for a pair of cruel shoes is a good idea. To each their own.

But it's this smug, supercilious 'tude thrown out there, like Marion Jones took some high road while Anna Kournikova or Amanda Beard did not, that bugs me. Subjective looksism aside, I don't buy that some gem-encrusted gown automatically confers some sort of higher standing over women who did not cheat at their sports, but posed for racier photos. It's a very contrived comparison, one that barely belongs in a fashion section, much less a sports page.


Tehanu said...

Anna Kournikova, with her partner whose name I forget, actually won the women's doubles championship more than once. I hold no particular brief for her, but she deserves more respect than she gets.

woodguy said...

But of course this is all just a pretext for a misplaced fashionista jeremiad, replete with imprecatory scuds at supposedly dolled-up, less "real" female athletes

Heywood, sometimes you just flow. Nice.

Eric P. said...

Amanda Beard's face looks a bit like Ted Danson with mascara. Not particularly hot, just a healthy swimmer.