Who can forget the infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed the hit song “Rock your body?”
Ring a bell? After concluding with the lyrics, “gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” Timberlake tore off a piece of Jackson’s costume, revealing her bare breast, fully equipped with sun-shaped nipple ring, live on national television. Yes, you remember.
Later, in numerous press releases, the incident was described as a wardrobe malfunction, and considered by many people to be an act of indecent exposure. But these types of incidents have occurred before. All you have to do is look at the professional sports world, namely, women’s athletics.
Anna Kournikova became a professional tennis player in 1996, competing in the U.S. Open that very same year. She was only 15 years old. Kournikova was a product of the famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy – the same as Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. Her future looked bright in the eyes of critics just about everywhere.
But throughout her short career, her focus shifted from tennis to the limelight of the addictive world that is known only as “celebrity.” Her model-type looks made her an ideal candidate for sponsorship.
As she began to assume this new role, she also became more famous, attracting fanfare all over the world, even from her beau, Enrique Iglesias. As her tennis play stumbled, her sex appeal became her best feature, and she eventually quit professional tennis, without ever breaking into the top-10.
Now, Kournikova is all about selling her sex appeal, and gossip magazines are well aware of it. She was recently photographed on the beach with her top off and her bottoms stretched down, revealing her pubic area. After Star magazine published the photos, she was suddenly offered more sponsorship deals. She is making a nice career for herself, but what a waste of potential talent.
Another tennis phenom who has presently overtaken Kournikova’s position atop the tennis pedestal, is 18-year-old Russian, Maria Sharapova.
For Sharapova, tennis is obviously her first priority, as she has improved during the last four years on the WTA tour, winning Wimbledon in 2004 and reaching the semi-finals in each of the four majors this year.
Because of her stunning physical features, sponsors have also courted her for their advertising campaigns. Although she has taken some of the offers, Sharapova, so far, appears to be making the transition to sex icon effectively, as she has yet to quit the sport – like Kournikova seemed to. It is nice to have popularity back in the sport of tennis, but not at the cost of sex.
However, this recent “sex-ploitation” of women athletes is not synonymous with tennis. The same can be seen when looking at auto racing, swimming, softball, and many more. Racing fans hail racer Danica Patrick as one of the sexiest female athlete alive.
I suppose I can understand the hype of having a woman control a 1000 horsepower open-wheeled racing machine, but one must not overlook the other less high-octane sports. For instance, softball and swimming have gold-medalist athletes like Jenny Finch and Amanda Beard, who both took center stage in many mens-interest magazines.
When was the last time these sports have commanded so much publicity? These new and improved supermodel-type athletes are gifts from the heavens as far as advertisers are concerned, boosting revenue by millions of dollars and creating larger target markets.
It is hard not to notice the recent increase of attractive athletes in the media. However, it was not always this way. Athletes like track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee and tennis legend Billie Jean King. They were popular because they were solely the best at what they did, not because of their looks. Joyner-Kersee invested all her time and strength into her performance on the field, and was far less concerned with the progress of her sex appeal in Hollywood.
My greatest worry for women’s sports is that some day, if we continue to travel along the same road, women, as athletes, will no longer be idolized for their accomplishments in their respective sports, but rewarded based on their physical attributes. Their popularity and fan support could become largely based on their sex appeal and less on their athletic abilities.
The difference is if a female athlete is unattractive and starts to fail at her respective sport, the money will simply not come in, forcing a position change. But if a female athlete is socially considered to be outright gorgeous, she could easily be a less than average athlete as long as her looks sold for the sponsors.
As far as Janet Jackson is concerned, she has been a pop icon for decades and has proven herself as a performer time and again, so her recent striptease during the Super Bowl, although effectively shocking, was not a career decision that could ruin her legacy.
With the power that sex appeal has over the market it is no wonder female teenage athletes are assuming these provocative roles in the media – the money is much better and the dedication level is at a minimum, especially when the success is based on looks and sex, and not athletic talent.
Matt Osias can be reached at email@example.com.