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Show 22 transcript: Sex appeal: Crossing the line?

OUTSIDE THE LINES- When Does Sex Appeal Cross the Line?

Announcer - August 20, 2000

Bob Ley, - announcer - Somewhere between the hand-wringing and the posturing, there is surely room for an intelligent discussion of women athletes flaunting their sex appeal. And we're going to give it a try this Sunday morning, so be advised.

Americans discussing nudity and sex. It is often said that provokes laughter from more sophisticated Europeans.

Well, add the Australians now to that list. In the Olympic host nation, it began with the women's soccer team baring all for a calendar followed by a parade of Aussie Olympians posing nude, even now Australian para-Olympians, disabled athletes wearing just body paint and a smile. And things remain rather calm down under.

But here in the states, Jenny Thompson, a five-time Olympic gold medallist, a woman headed for medical school, never found a sustained spotlight in the pool to match the one upon her this one following her topless pose in "Sports Illustrated."

There is the cry of a double-standard that male athletes have used their sex appeal, even been photographed nude, without a huge outcry. But women's sports, an industry that is here to stay, is colliding with the old-age philosophy "sex sells."

Shelley Smith takes us inside this debate.

Shelley Smith, ESPN correspondent (voice-over) - Jenny Thompson was simply acting on a whim during a three-day shoot, her agent says.

Sue Rodin, Jenny Thompson's agent - To be honest with you, I didn't know that she'd did it. She didn't even tell me about it, which I think also says that it was no big deal. It was a moment of fun.

Smith - Swimmer Angel Martino - on the far left - says this photo was shot when celebrated photographer Annie Liebowitz (ph) suggested moving a poolside shoot to the locker room.

Angel Martino, Former U.S. olympic swimmer - I guess that's some reason we really didn't think much about it. We see each other all the time in locker rooms. And we change on the pool deck under a little towel. So I guess it really wasn't a big deal at the time.

Smith - But Sprinter Marion Jones says that in this ad for Nike, she was just being herself.

Marion Jones, member, 2000 Olympic team - Some people say we're using our sex appeal to further ourselves in the sport. But I think I would love people just for number one to see me as an athlete. And then if they think I look OK, well then that always helps.

Smith - But does it? More than 20 years ago, golfer Jan Stevenson (ph) was the tour's favorite pinup girl.

Last year, soccer star Brandi Chastain took it further, posing nude in "Gear" magazine even before her famous World Cup victory celebration. This year's entire Australian Women's Soccer Team posed in the nude for a pre-Olympic calendar.

They are just a few of the many women athletes who are baring their bodies, or parts of their bodies, for their sports and themselves.

Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles Sparks center - This is our way to make our mark, whether it's for you now to want to look and say, "Hey, I saw Lisa with a swimsuit on. Let me see what she can do on the court now." Maybe that will get your attention. And maybe you'll just look at that picture and think, "Wow, she's a very beautiful woman."

Martino - I think we're trying to promote women's swimming. And you know, it's hard. We're competing against all these other sports. And hopefully that's going to get young athletes to start on the swimming route.

Howard - I think what's disturbing or disappointing to some people is the images that people are choosing to portray because women's sports is seen as a sort of cutting edge, empowering thing for women. But the pictures that we're seeing are often quite traditional sexualized images of women that we've always seen.

Leslie - I don't necessarily think we need to take off our clothes or do "Playboy" in order to get attention for our sports. But sometimes it's unfortunate that we do have to go to the extremes in order to get our sports recognized.

Smith - But are these images exploitative or empowering, degrading or liberating? Are these women helping or hurting their sports?

Jones - I've been in a number of situations where people were concerned that I was going a bit too far, a bit risqu. And I'm a very conservative type. And I usually know what's too much and what's not.

Bart McGuire, CEO, Sanex WTA Tour - Tennis and the women's soccer team and the WNBA are not relying on sex appeal. But they do take advantage of the fact that there are some very attractive women. And they market them as attractive people, but not on the basis of sex appeal.

You bring out the positives in Kournikova (ph), just as you bring out the positives in the other players. And as Kournikova says, "Why do I have to be ugly just because I'm an athlete? If I couldn't really play the game, I wouldn't be here."

Smith - The line between selling sexuality and selling a sport is a subjective one.

Peter Depasquale, ad executive - When the sexiness or sexuality takes priority over the athletic experience, then the line has been crossed.

Howard - When the photo conveys an image that can't be construed as anything else, that's a pretty clear definition. For a swimmer to stand without a top in red suede boots on the beach really has no utility except to sort of titillate you. It's a sexually charged image.

Depasquale - It was a cheesecake shot. To use a cliche, that's what it was. It was the cheesecake shot.

Rodin - She's not running on a beach topless. She's not making love to the camera. There's nothing seductive about her look, or lecherous, or anything of that nature. That photo to me and to many other people says, "I am confident. I am strong. I am proud. I've worked hard for this body. And it's part of my sport." And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Depasquale - If we took Jerry Rice, who is a handsome man, a great physique, and we had him on the printed page with his hands folded across his groin, we would say, "Now that's silly, isn't it?" But because it's women and women are still objectified, somehow it's OK.

Smith - As for the swimmers draped in the stars and stripes, there was a sense of what was to come.

Martino - When I saw the photo for the first time, it was a little bit more revealing than I would like. We were kind of all talking about it. And we were like, "You know, out of all the pictures we took all day long, that's probably going to be the one they're going to use just because that's the one that's just going to generate the most interest."

Delisha Milton, Los Angeles Sparks forward - When I looked at it, I was like "whoa" at first. But they're not really showing anything more than what they would if they had their bathing suits on. So it really didn't affect me.

Howard - I think it's a cheap way to get somebody's attention. And beyond that, it doesn't say much to me at all.

Martino - I think this was a strong statement about powerful women, about athletic women. And I think it's positive for women's athletics.

Smith (on camera) - Within this debate are two points that are not debatable. Sex does indeed sell. The popularity of women's sports is at its highest in history. The combination begs the question, have women's sports truly arrived, or do they still have a long, long way to go?

For Outside The Lines, I'm Shelley Smith.

Ley- And when we continue, my conversation with Brandi Chastain, World Cup champion who has posed nude, and with Olympic champion swimmer Anita Nall, who is very much on the other side of this question.

Ley- A World Cup champion and an Olympian our guests today to discuss when does sex appeal cross the line for women athletes? Joining us from Kansas City, Brandi Chastain and the United States Women's National Soccer Team. And from Baltimore, Anita Nall, Olympic gold medallist and world record holder who just retired this week from competitive swimming.

Brandi, I imagine when the entire editorial and public opinion outcry began upon Jenny Thompson's pictures, you probably said to yourself, "Here we go again."

Brandi Chastain, member of 1999 World Cup Championship team - Well, and a few other things I did say along with that. But I knew there would be a lot of outspokenness on the topic. And it's been interesting to hear people's opinion on why Jenny did it, and what does it mean for women's swimming and women's sports in general?

Ley - Why do you think she did it?

Chastain - Because she's proud of herself. She's accomplished something that nobody else in the world has done. She's got a world record. And she should feel good about herself. And I think that's exactly the point that she's trying to make. And there's nothing more to her picture than that.

Ley - Anita, your thoughts when you first saw that picture?

Anita Nall, three-time 1992 Barcelona Olympics medallist - When I first saw it, I was a bit surprised to tell you the truth. I know Jenny pretty well. And I really didn't think that she would have done that.

But I'm not saying it's such a bad thing that she did it. My whole thing and my opinion on it is that we have to think about the impression we're making on young kids, and especially young girls. And being in the highlight of our careers and having the media exposure we have, I think it's important to think about the message we're sending to young girls.

Ley - Brandi, I see you nodding in agreement.

Chastain - I totally agree with what Anita is saying. We have a responsibility as role models, whether we like the term or not, to do things responsibly. And I don't believe what Jenny was doing was negative. I think - I read in "USA Today" - that's where I saw the picture. I didn't see it in "Sports Illustrated" in an article by Christine Brennan (ph) which she stated at the end...

Nall - I read that one too.

Chastain - ... Yeah. At the end, she said your eyes probably didn't go to her awesome quads or her ripped abs, but in fact my eyes did gravitate towards there. I was thinking, "My gosh. Where can I get those legs?"

And so I think the message that we should be receiving and I think that's being sent is that here is a woman who works exceptioNally hard at her job. She enjoys herself. She has a wonderful smile, a great intellect. And she's doing exactly what she loves. And that is the message that should be received by whether it's an eight-year-old girl or a 45-year-old man. That is the message.

Nall - Brandi, you're exactly right. That is the message that should be received. But to tell you the truth, we don't live in an all-perfect world. And the message - I deal with young children, especially young girls, every day. I do swim clinics across this country. And I have come in contact with literally thousands of young girls.

And I see the message that they're getting. And they're getting a message of sexuality. And they're getting a message that women achieve empowerment through sexuality. And that's a truth that we can't escape.

Whether we wish we lived in a perfect world or not, and we know what the message should be. But that's not what's coming across to the young girls. And that's pretty much what's important I think to me is the message, the actual message.

Ley - Brandi.

Chastain - That's true. But what I think goes along with that, if we did have a perfect world, we wouldn't be talking about this. But I think the message needs to continue to be sent that that's not why women get involved in sports. And that's not why they're good, because of their sexuality.

You know, Jenny is proud of what she's done. I have never persoNally met Jenny. I know Jenny's agent. And I had a discussion with her. And we were in agreement that it's society's problem as a whole, not Jenny's problem or my problem.

But if we don't have people like Jenny who stand up and do those things and feel good about themselves, how can we progress forward? That's the problem I'm having with this issue, to be honest with you. I am very, very understanding about young girls.

My two teammates have kids that travel with us everywhere we go. And I know these young kids are impressionable. And I have to be on my best behavior and do things so that they'll understand whether it's in a fun setting or if it's in a serious setting, they know how to act.

And so I'm very cautious about how I act around kids and things that I do. But we need to send the messages.

Ley - Well, Brandi, you in the headlines certainly are being talked to about this issue certainly because of not just your goal celebration after the game against China when so many male sports writers acted like they had never seen a sports bra before, but because of the pictures you posed for in "Gear" magazine...

Chastain - Right.

Ley - ... some of which came out before the games, others of which were published after the World Cup. And I have persoNally seen lines hundreds of feet long of young girls waiting for your autograph time and again. How many of them talk to you about these pictures? Do any of them mention them to you?

Chastain - I can't say that I talk to a lot of them or a majority of them about it. There have been a few that have seen the photo. It's not a teenage magazine, so I don't expect a lot of them to have actually seen it.

And if the topic does come up, I'm not afraid to speak with them about it. I let them know that I'm not the person that they need to speak with about this topic, so to speak, but their parents and how they feel about it.

But I welcome any question that anybody has about why I did it, how do I feel it's enhanced women's soccer or women's athletics. I think there is debate about it. And that's why I'm sitting here today.

I'm not afraid of the topic. And I think it's something that we need to discuss.

Ley - Did you do it to sell the sport? And would you have done it after the World Cup initially, in other words when your name in the sport had been more established more firmly in the American mind?

Chastain - Well, to be honest with you, Bob, when Erin Hyfess (ph) and myself went to this photo shoot - he's our press officer - we weren't under the impression that this was what it was going to be about. So I was a little nervous...

Nall - And that is a very common thing that happens...

Chastain - Yes it is.

Nall - is that this is not like a predisposed thing that you're going to go to a photo shoot and take off your clothes. When I was 15 years old, I was doing a photo shoot for an apparel company. And I thought I was going to be modeling clothing, and I got asked to take off my top.

Ley - You were how old?

Nall - I was 15. I mean...

Chastain - That's actually - I agree with what you're saying, Anita. And Sue Rodin, who happens to be Jenny's agent, also mentioned to me that "Sports Illustrated" took many different types of photos...

Nall - Yes, but you see which ones got published.

Chastain - I know. I'm agreeing with what you're saying that...

Nall - That just - the point of that is that the sexual part of it gets put out there in the limelight. And is that really what we want to focus on? Or do we want to focus on the more empowering aspects of the accomplishment of just being an athlete and being at the...

Chastain - But being an athlete, as an athlete you understand, Anita, that we have to use our bodies as our tools. And the harder work we do, the more defined we get, the stronger we are, the results come along with that. And that's...

Nall - Well, that's right, we use our bodies...

Ley - Let's pick up right there when we do come back. We're going to talk about that line that athletes have to resolve in their mind whether or not to exhibit their bodies like that.

We will have more with Brandi Chastain and Anita Nall in just a moment as we continue on Outside The Lines.

Leslie - There is a fine line. And after a while, you are being exploited because it's not really about your sport at all. It's about your body and women having to take off their clothes in order to get the attention that they need.

But you also have to approach those editors and the photographers and the people who want these stories and put them out there, and say, "If this is the only way you want me is in the swimsuit, then I have to make that choice."

Ley - The words of Lisa Leslie, the WNBA star.

We continue now with Brandi Chastain and Anita Nall.

Brandi, where is that fine line. And did you feel you were being edged towards it at that photo shoot?

Chastain - Well, I have to be honest with you since this is a very sensitive topic. I was a little nervous. And I didn't quite feel comfortable. But as I got closer and closer to actually sitting in front of the camera, I realized this was a chance for me persoNally - not representing the women's soccer team or women athletes in general - but persoNally to come to terms with some issues I had, which were how do I feel in a swimsuit?

I'm sure Anita goes out to the pool and doesn't even think about what it's like to wear a swimsuit. But I do.

And this was a chance for me to get in touch with how I was feeling about my body. And I'd come to terms with the fact that this is it, I have to deal with whether I feel a little bit bigger around the midsection, or my legs aren't quite as long as Lisa Leslie, or my biceps are bigger than my father. I mean, these are things that I have to deal with. So that was a great time for me to learn more about myself.

I agree with what Anita is saying. And I hope that she understands what impact we do have. And what I'm saying here today is that I don't want everybody to go out and rip off their shirt. I want to be responsible about the things and the actions I do.

But I think there is a time and a place for everything. And I've come to understand that.

Ley - Let me ask a question. And I can probably ask it in the form of a proper name and two words. I'll direct it first to Anita.

Anna Kournikova.

Nall - I think she's a beautiful girl. Don't get me wrong by any means. And I think she's a great athlete. But I think it does send a message that when you're beautiful and an athlete, the beauty obviously comes first and the athletic performance kind of is second.

And in this society, I think that we have a lot of sexuality issues. And this is obviously one of the major ones for women because women are obviously still using their sexuality to try and find some kind of empowerment. But it's a false sense of empowerment I believe.

And when we go buy the magazines and people buy the magazine where we're seeing these pictures coming up here and there with the athletes who are doing the naked photo shoots and things like that, nine times out of 10 they are going to be men who are looking at those pictures. And when you look at it from that kind of perspective, we're really just playing into what men, the male agenda, so to speak.

And what men want to see is naked women. And we're providing it. And we're putting it right out there for them.

Ley - Brandi.

Chastain - Wow. Well, I think the first comment is I think we should persecute Anna Kournikova's parents for making such a beautiful child. I mean, how dare they really?


Ley - But isn't there a difference in age...

Chastain - baffled by the topic, to be honest with you.

Ley - But you're someone also of an agent in your thirties, and the force women's swimmers...

Chastain - Hey, keep it quiet, Bob, would you?

Ley-. I'm trying to. But here is a young woman who is now of legal majority age, but even before that, her sexuality was being out there flaunted. Isn't there a difference between someone in their teens and someone who is surely a mature adult and can make more reasoned decisions?

Chastain - Well, I think that's true. But I also agree with Anita in that we - I think we don't hold all the responsibility. And I think we're carrying a lot of the load when I think the media has to be just as responsible.

Nall - Yeah.

Chastain - That's what Anita was saying.

Nall - I agree, Brandi, 100 percent. But also we have to remember - and my only message to athletes, female athletes, is that we have to remember that no matter where you go, no matter what you do, you still are representing your team. You're representing your country. And you're representing most importantly for me females and the female point of view.

And when like you say you go to your photo shoot and you are there for yourself, that's so true. But no matter what, you have to think a little bit deeper than that and remember that no matter what you do, you're there for yourself. But the team that you represent and the country you represent and the gender you represent will always be there.

Ley - How active is it as a topic...

Chastain - That's

Ley - How active is it a topic on the team, Brandi, right now with this out back in the media and you being at the center of this question? What do the ladies on the team talk about on this topic?

Chastain - Well, I think they've come up with the same types of ideas that we're talking about here today. I think a lot of them since the World Cup and a couple of the other photos - the Australian Women's Soccer team did a calendar. I think it's just become almost passe to this group. It's like we're heard enough about it. And we understand the ramifications of our actions.

And I think we've all come to grips with the idea that yes we do represent ourselves. But more importantly, we do represent our teams and our countries. And we have to act responsibly.

And I think Anita is right. I mean, we have to be very cautious.

And I don't know what that line is that you were asking me about, Bob. I don't know where it falls. And it falls in different places for different people.

Nall - Yeah.

Ley - It certainly does. Well, thanks to Brandi Chastain. Good luck against Canada. That game is on ESPN2 at 3-00 Eastern on Sunday.

Chastain - Thank you.

Nall- Good luck.

Chastain - Thank you, Anita.

Ley - Thanks also to Anita Nall. And also on this weekend, PGA weekend, PGA championship. We'll have another look at the Tiger Woods effect as we continue on Outside The Lines.

Ley - This morning, Tiger Woods carries a one stroke lead into the final round of the PGA championship. Last week on Outside The Lines, we examined the Woods effect on the sport, including the decision by The Golf Channel during first round coverage at the Buick Open to broadcast videotape of Woods' round rather than live coverage of other golfers.

And among the opinions to our e-mail inbox, a view from Kentucky who enjoys the competition, disappointed though on the coverage of taped versus live. "I think America still loves the underdog. I'm in the minority. I would rather watch tourney without Woods. That way I'd get better coverage of all golfers and I'd get better competition. I've not watched a World Series in a long time. The Braves and the Yankees do not interest me."

From Greensboro, a concern. "What if Woods has that same effect and even a far greater one as Michael Jordan had on basketball and the viewing public at large? What if Woods becomes overexposed and really does become bigger than the game? It won't be good for the sport of golf or sports period, as we well see with the NBA still coping with Jordan's retirement."

Those thoughts coming to our inbox online at Type the keyword otlweekly, check our Web site. We've got libraries of streaming video and transcripts of all our programs. You'll also find a place to register your input, suggestions, and opinions. Our e-mail address, otlweekly at

Ley - If you missed any portion of this morning's program on sex appeal crossing the line, it re-airs in its usual slot, 1-00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. Chris McKendry and Larry Beil now standing by with "SportsCenter."

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 Bob Ley addresses the issue of "sex appeal" pertaining to today's female athletes.
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