Editorial: Do we judge athletes unfairly on sex appeal?


The World Cup has brought us a lot of fodder for discussion this summer: A bite from Luis Suarez that will live in infamy, a new U.S. Secretary of Defense in Tim Howard and a plethora of GIFs of Brazilian soccer fans sobbing.

But Buzzfeed, along with the rest of the Internet, managed to capture the public’s primary World Cup fascination: the male form. Stories such as “The most bootyful butts” and “The definitive ranking of the best bulges,” cropped up during the weeks of matches. 

This obsession with the body is not necessarily new to men’s soccer — billboards of David Beckham in tight underwear could be found hanging everywhere prior to this year’s World Cup. But such fixations provide a noticeable contrast between what is considered important in both men’s and women’s sports. 

These listicles demonstrate that audiences enjoy judging male athletes on looks just as much as they enjoy judging female athletes on looks. But for the men, the final product always remains on the field. Their talent is rarely overshadowed by how attractive they are — something that occurs all too often for female athletes.  

Because they are known more for their talent, lists that objectify male soccer players did not prompt the outcry that an article on “The best butts in beach volleyball” would have. The soccer players were sexually objectified, sure, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are also known for being some of the best players in the game.

As Slate Magazine staff writer Amanda Hess wrote, “When it comes to coverage of male soccer, sexual objectification is the icing, not the cake.”

Unlike their male counterparts, the talents of female athletes often end up as the icing on a cake of pervasive sexual ogling perpetrated by the media. 

Financially successful female athletes must back up their talents with sex appeal, as demonstrated by the countless ads that portray them as models first and athletes second. 

Perhaps that’s why FIFA President Sepp Blatter thinks women’s soccer would be more popular if the players wore “tighter shorts.” 

Maybe he’s right, but female athletes do not deserve to have their hard work and dedication compromised by what the media deems to be attractive. Women’s sports should not have to cater to a market that doesn’t appreciate the game itself.

Beckham, Messi and Ronaldo have been judged based on their physical qualities by the media, but that never undermines the respect people have for their abilities on the field.  

If sports really are supposed to be a meritocracy, then we must change the way we view them — for the sake of women who work just as hard on the field as men do.