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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Updated: August 13, 12:09 PM ET
Thoughts on all the Olympic skin

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EDITOR'S NOTE: In the days leading up to the Opening Ceremonies, the Page 2 staff is taking a look at several of the deep, burning issues surrounding the 2004 Summer Olympics. Today, we delve into the question that surely must be tormenting NBC's censors as they prepare their telecasts: What's up with all this nudity?

Has it come to this? Have the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens become the modern world's first Coed Naked Olympics?

Amanda Beard
Move over, Anna K! There's someone who actually wins, and we wanna download her.
Could be.

American Olympians (and near-Olympians) Logan Tom, Amanda Beard, Haley Cope, Jenny Adams and Amy Acuff all appear nude or near-nude in the September issue of FHM magazine. Female Olympians have also appeared in provocative poses in Stuff and Maxim recently.

Jenny Thompson, Australian Lauren Jackson, the Aussie women's soccer team (the Matildas), a host of Russian athletes including gymnast Svetlana Khorkina -- they've all shed their clothes for "legitimate" photo shoots in the months and years leading up to these Summer Olympics.

So what are we to think about this? Do the athletes and/or their sports need publicity like this? Is this the end of civilization as we know it? Or should all Olympic events this summer be contested in the nude, as they were in ancient Greece?

For answers -- or, at least, strong opinions -- we asked the experts.

That'd be ... us.

Who better to weigh in on the Naked Truth than Page 2's stable of deep thinkers ...

Summer Sanders' take
If female athletes wish to show off their bodies in provocative magazines, then former Olympian and NBA Inside Stuff co-host Summer Sanders doesn't have a problem with it. Sanders speaks  
Gold-medal hotties | From Dan Shanoff
Citius, Altius, Fortius ... Hottius.

"Faster, Higher, Stronger, Sexier."

You know what an obscure-sport gold medal buys you these days? With two dollars, a cup of coffee. If that. Nothing.

You know what an obscure-sport gold medal -- plus sex appeal -- buys you? Endorsement deals. TV shows. The transition of your previously-ignored sport into mainstream appeal.

Who cares if that appeal is rooted in sex? It's just an entry point. Jennie Finch exploded onto the scene as Page 2's surprise hottest athlete -- dethroning Anna Kournikova, no less. Want to know the bigger surprise? Women's softball is one of ESPN's hottest pieces of programming, and it can't possibly have everything to do with Jennie.

Machiavelli was Italian, not Greek, but he'd appreciate the results-orientation of athletes at these Athens Games. Olympic glory lasts for two weeks; sex appeal can -- and does -- help an athlete and a sport survive (or even thrive) for years.

Remember: Citius, Altius, Fortius, Hottius.

The latest 'It' Girls | From Eric Neel
So what. I'm not wringing my hands about this. It doesn't shock me. I'm not dismayed. Kids with good bodies getting naked. Nothing that doesn't happen in Daytona and South Padre every Spring. No big deal.

That said, I'm not impressed, either. It's just a cash-in thing to me, on par with the Super Bowl Shuffle and Neon Deion doing (I can't believe I'm saying this) a weak Hammer.

Don't tell me their sports need the boost to enter the public's consciousness. Don't tell me this is a liberation thing. And don't tell me I ought to respect these girls for owning their bodies or some such nonsense.

This is a straight trade: T 'n A for their names in the headlines. The deal was there for the making and they made it. If they get credit for anything, it's for knowing that now's the time. Strike while the iron is hot, girls, for tomorrow, the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders will be 'IT' and you'll be yesterday.

Good pub | From Melanie Jackson
I hate to say it, but when it comes to women's sports, all publicity is good publicity. Okay, not all (think Tonya Harding). But most.

And that's why, even as a woman, I just can't get all excited over this issue. Personally, I don't think it's a big deal, and I can't fault the athletes for taking all (or most) of it off. Though I've followed Logan Tom's career for several years, I know many of my male colleagues had never heard of her until recently ... or more specifically, until after this month's FHM cover. And if any of these guys take a second to tune into sports they'd otherwise skip during these Olympics, I think that's a good thing.

Brandi Chastain
Brandi Chastain brought a lot of attention to women's soccer.
Would the U.S. women's soccer team have gotten as much publicity as it did if Brandi Chastain hadn't torn off her jersey at the end of the 1999 World Cup? I'm just not sure.

But I'll tell you what: I didn't mind it. Chastain -- as well as Tom and the four other women who grace the FHM cover -- have worked hard to chase their dreams, and their chiseled bodies are just the result of all of their years of hard work. And whether it's a man or woman, I love looking at their lean, tone bodies. To me, that's real artwork. As U.S. swimmer Haley Cope (who I had never heard of before now) says in FHM, "This may sound arrogant, but I have great legs." And you know what? She really does.

And besides, I'd take a whole lot of skin over the alternative -- such as the way women in the Middle East are treated, where showing off any skin is a sin.

My only beef with athletes in the buff? Let's get some men posing provocatively ... of course, with the swim "trunks" Michael Phelps is sporting lately, there's not much need for an imagination.

Where everybody knows your name | From Kevin Jackson
I am not an expert on Olympic sports.

I am not a pervert (although I do work on the editorial staff of Page 2).

I can name one player on the U.S. Olympic women's volleyball team: Logan Tom.

I can name one U.S. Olympic high-jumper: Amy Acuff.

I can name two players on the U.S. Olympic softball team: One of them is Jennie Finch.

I can tell you that Brandi Chastain wears jersey No. 6 for the U.S. Olympic women's soccer team.

I'm not ashamed to say that I know most of this information because these women are attractive, and they've used their beauty to make a name for themselves -- a name that, sadly, they weren't necessarily making by being among the dozen people in the country who are the absolute best at their sport.

If I know their names, chances are the guys giving out the endorsement contracts do, too. Chances are, if these women medal in Athens, they stand a greater chance of ending up on the Wheaties box or shelling shampoo or some other product.

I don't see any of that as a bad thing. Do you?

Too hot to handle | From Patrick Hruby
You know what needs to be nude? The Opening Ceremonies. At least that way, Olympic organizers will think twice about the increasingly elaborate and silly methods they've been using light the torch. That's gotta singe.

To celebrate or exploit: That is the question | From Graham Hays
Even Justice Potter Stewart might have a tough time recognizing the line between the exploitation and celebration of female athletes. Is it an expression of strength and independence when Lauren Jackson poses nude for an Australian photography magazine, or is it a submissive nod to a society that still cares more about what her body looks like than what she does with it?

And does the context, in a special edition of a respected publication that features pictures of both male and female athletes, separate it from Amy Acuff's layout in Playboy or Logan Tom's spread in FHM? Unlike Stewart, I'm not sure I recognize the distinction when I see it.

Look, there is something admirable, even progressive, about an athlete having pride in a body sculpted by pursuit of her own desires, instead of nipped and tucked in accordance with established ideals of male expectations. The human form is a remarkable thing, no more so than when toned to the peak of performance. Humans have understood its intrinsic beauty for as long as we've been creating art.

Unfortunately, we have struggled to live up to such enlightened idealism for just as long. Jackson, Acuff, Tom and others have every right to express themselves in whatever manner they see fit. Asking otherwise is little more than an attempt to place a generation of female athletes back in a box that has no business being re-opened.

And in the end, pictures are just pictures. Crafting an impassioned argument in support of them leaves one with the uneasy feeling that there is still a silent majority from whom the right of self-expression needs to be protected.

Will the truly lecherous among us use these spreads as more fodder to objectify women and downplay their athletic accomplishments? Sure, but they seem sadly capable of doing that without much help.

For security purposes | From D.J. Gallo
In light of the state of the modern Olympic Games, nudity is the only way to go. At all times. For both athletes and spectators. Think about it. With naked athletes, we'd see an end to the drug scandal: Track marks would be clearly visible, and it would be nearly impossible for athletes to smuggle in a bag of someone else's urine for their pee tests. And with naked fans, we get the assurance of a safe and secure Games -- even the most well-endowed terrorist would be unable to hide a bomb.

Rulon Gardner
Now, thank God these guys have clothes on.
Of course, there would be a certain titillating aspect to it, but my pro-nudity stance is definitely not about sex. While it would be great to watch Jennie Finch pitch, remember that she has 17 teammates, some of whom -- uhh, how to put this -- don't look quite the same. While it may be enjoyable to watch a nude Logan Tom play volleyball or see a naked Amanda Beard emerge from the pool, remember that you'd also be watching Rulon Gardner lean against another sweaty, naked, chubby guy during the Greco-Roman wrestling competition.

And I don't even think I'd want to see Halle Berry compete in the shot put or the triple jump. No naked body looks good contorting like that. (Although I would be willing to watch her if she competed in the gymnastics trampoline competition.)

No, the Olympics should go all-nude for reasons of security and integrity. That, and because TV viewers would learn new information to which they've never had access before -- like the temperature of the water in the Olympic pool during the men's swimming competition.

Of course, I say this with the understanding that equestrian events would have to be dropped from the Games, because that would be disgusting.

Victoria's secret | From Michael Knisley
Okay, let's make a deal with the Olympic movement. I mean, fair's fair, right? If the athletes promise to compete in the nude as they once did, we promise to watch them in the nude. On our Barca-loungers, in the den, in front of our flat-screens.

Let the athletes carry that image with them as they ponder an offer to pose naked. Let them think about all of us back here at home as they're on the starting line at the Games.

Betcha we'd see a return to those high-necked, full-body Victorian outfits of 100 years ago.

Beware of "bad naked" | From Mike Philbrick
Every year or so it seems that some athlete has "shocked" the sports world by posing nude. This being an Olympic year, it's the proud members of Team USA in the spotlight.

And, once again, the same questions are being rolled out. Should they do this? Does it damage the credibility of their sport? Is this nothing but objectification of these women? I believe the answers to all these questions lies in the eloquence of James Brown when he said "shake your moneymaker."

Seriously, look at the athletes in these magazines. Outside of the "exposure" they are getting from these photos, and maybe a coveted gold medal, most of these women won't have much to show financially for their years of sacrifice. It's definitely not the "MTV Cribs lifestyle" for most of Team USA. For most of them, it's back to the orange apron at Home Depot.

Now, I know there are guys out there drooling over the fantasy of the Games going old school and everyone taking to the playing field like a night at the Playboy Mansion. But before everyone jumps off the couch in celebration, you need to remember the wisdom of Jerry Seinfeld and beware of the "bad naked."

Now, statuesque women being posed by professional photographers equipped with thousands of dollars in equipment and lighting -- that's good naked.

Rulon Gardner trying to pin a guy with a stomach full of baklava and lamb? That's not just bad naked, hell, that's apocalyptic.

Good Stuff | From Kieran Darcy
Okay, I'll admit it. I bought a copy of Stuff Magazine the other day.

Usually I'll just peruse whatever "lad magazine" happens to be lying around my little brother's bedroom. But this time, I couldn't resist the girl staring back at me from the newsstand.

Amber Brkich
Amber Brkich, future Olympian?
And no, it wasn't an Olympian -- it was "Survivor: All-Stars" champ Amber Brkich. (Although we might see "Survivor" adapted into an Olympic sport before too long.)

Anyway, after I finished oogling the photos of Amber, and reading the fascinating article on her, I continued flipping pages and came across a section on female Olympic athletes -- most of whom I'd never heard of.

Yeah, they were all quite beautiful, and scantily clad. So what? Now I know who they are. I know a little bit about 'em. And when their Olympic events roll around, I just might tune in and develop an interest in their sport.

Heck, I'll be rooting for 'em -- almost as hard as I'm rooting for Amber to dump Boston Rob.

Amber -- FYI, I'm available.

What are the rules? | From Jeff Merron
I look at the pictures. It does draw my attention to the athletes, the sports, their teams.

I don't think the nude posers hurt anyone. And I think it's a personal choice, to a large extent.

Except when it's not. The Romanian Federation, for example, banned three gymnasts who posed nude for a Japanese magazine. I'm not sure if the gymnasts knew what the consequences would be.

So what troubles me about the whole thing right now -- the posing nude thing -- is that, have the rules been written? Do the national governing bodies and national teams and international federations have any rules concerning what goes and what doesn't?

Because at a certain point, it becomes something that teams and sports executives have to make decisions about. There are certain things, in my opinion, that would hurt the image of a team or a sport: star athletes appearing in blatant porn, for example.

Posing for Maxim, or FHM, or an artsy photography magazine? That's another question.

What it comes down to is that, in the end, athletes are worker bees. They get to compete at the pleasure of coaches, general managers, federations. In general, they're encouraged to be open to media exposure (no pun intended), to make themselves available, to publicize their teams and sports. Given that, the people who control the pursestrings, who decide who gets to play and who doesn't -- the executives -- have to make some rules.

What should those rules be? I don't know. But I'd prefer we, as a society, err on the side of letting the athletes make their own decisions about posing or appearing on a reality TV show or being interviewed by Playboy and those sorts of things.

Not interested | From Bill Simmons
I'm all for people being naked, but the guy on the Time Magazine cover creeped me out. First Joel Stein writing about Vegas, now naked male swimmers looking like they're ready to join the cast of "Six Feet Under." It's been a rough summer for Time Magazine covers. The bottom line is that I can't even remember the guy's name, nor any of the names of these semi-naked athletes, so they might as well just start making porn movies with one another. Nobody cares.

I'll follow the Nightmare Team, I'll watch some of the gymnastics because I like seeing non-mensturating teenagers using apparatus and fighting off tears for two solid weeks, and I'll watch some of the track and field because I like trying to figure out who's taking drugs. Like Ben Johnson 16 years ago -- the yellow eyes were a dead giveaway, as was the fact that he ran a 6.2 in the 100-meter dash. Other than that, I would rather watch old basketball games on NBA TV. I can't remember a single person who won four years ago. Not one. The Olympics go in one ear and out the other, and all the semi-naked photographs in the world aren't gonna change that.