ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue” is out. I don’t mind telling you I got a jolt of excitement when I read a tweet announcing as much.
While the American sports entertainment stream of consciousness purls off into eddies focused variously on cultural mores, race, competition, and mindless entertainment, rarely do we acknowledge what I find to be a deep and abiding fascination with the beauty of he human form in it’s ultimate functional perfection.
The dunk moment can be a ferocious declaration of savage domination like few others in any sport. But it’s gorgeous because of the degree of coordination, grace and raw power that is perhaps better embodied by Michael Jordan’s poetic layups rather than Blake Griffin’s decapitating dunks.
ESPN bills this issue as “bodies we want,” an unmistakable double meaning reflecting the reader’s supposed desire to be and be with the nude paragons of athletic success. Perhaps that’s the motivation, but I imagine that these images are so alluring for the same reason Michelangelo’s David still draws millions each year. We are programmed to appreciate each other not only as sex objects of objects of geometric beauty.
That’s why I got a little disappointed when Vera Zvonareva appeared posing more as a Bond girl than formidable two time major champion. There’s a fine line walked by most individual women’s sports, one that the WNBA has seemingly dropped entirely: that the female athletes can or should be sexy, which is different than just being cool. The spread in this year’s feature embodies this conflict.
For a male-dominated culture of sports appreciation that uses “pause” and “no homo” to qualify anything remotely suggesting a homoerotic thought, it’s probably time to come to grips with that fact that men like looking at really fit men doing really incredible things with their bodies. It’s not all about the battle, the fight, or the war. The enjoyment that comes from physical beauty is integral.
That we humans amaze ourselves in a manner that does not deny sexuality but rises above desire is nothing new, but is one that is discordant with our fan culture.
Now take a look at Blake Griffin’s quads.
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