The 2012 London Olympics are almost upon us and the excitement is brewing, as well as the usual controversy designed to sell magazines and hook viewers with magazine issues like ESPN's "Body Issue," which is covering US Athletes in the buff.
I found myself perplexed at the colliding values surrounding the issues being promoted when one sees the USA Women's Soccer Team posing nude with soccer balls and netting covering all the feminine particulars. I'm no prude and can appreciate the glory of God in the image of men and women's physical beauty. As an artist, I'm well acquainted with the arguments for and against the use of the nude body in art.
But I found myself wondering about the fine line between prostituting oneself for money, fame and marketing and truly celebrating the magnificence of a well trained athlete's body. Humanity has been in awe of the sculpted athleticism of our athletes since men performed naked in the Greek Games from which the Olympics traces their history.
The Apostle Paul used the Isthmian games as examples for a number of pastoral teachings (1 Corinthians 9).
"Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." -1 Timothy 4:8
U.S. Women's Soccer team member Abby Wambach said, "I'm a confident human being, but my body does not bring my confidence — it's my heart and my head. Confidence is the most important factor about your body, whether you've got five pounds to lose or 100. If you have the confidence inside, that will exude on the outside, regardless of what your body looks like."
I believe today's young people need heroes, especially ones that are not connected to killing. Our culture is submerged in icons connected to death in one form or another, so sports should, as they have traditionally been in the past, be one sphere of moral example that youth can admire. But unfortunately as our culture moves further and further away from the faith and values that shaped our founding ideals, we see more and more examples of self-seeking, pride, greed and vain glory being wrapped in a rush of media dazzle, American triumphalism, scintillating photo shoots and uber-cool but unrealistic sports wear commercials.
The inequality of women versus men in the sports arena is worthy of highlighting and confronting. Seeing women athletes fight for equal ground is admirable.
"Hope Solo and her teammates — those on the U.S. Women's National Team — earn an average salary of $25,000, with some only making a reported $200 per game. It’s not much of a living wage, but then it’s not what all soccer players are expected to live on. For male players in the MLS, salaries start with a base amount of around $32,000/year — a full 28 percent more than the women’s average. On the high end, some male players are being compensated in the millions," according to Matador.
Young women like Hope Solo, could be great examples of breakthrough leaders who shake things up and take ground usually only given to men.
For Solo, who will turn 31 later this month, it’s all part of being a female athlete circa 2012.
"An NFL player never has to do any endorsements, and he’s fine,” says Solo. (She hawks Gatorade, Bank of America, and Simple skin care, among other things; an autobiography is due out in August.) “But it doesn’t work that way for us. My soccer salary would only make me an average living. So we can’t just market to little girls constantly. We need to start selling tickets to the masses. To middle-aged men. To all walks of life. At the end of the day, these stupid photo shoots are about bringing more recognition to the game, getting bigger contracts, and putting ourselves on the same level as the men.” she said in The Daily Beast.
My hope and prayer is that these young adults won't succumb to the tempting and sinful underbelly of fame and money, a reality that Solo herself unfortunately boasts about.
"In reality, the only reason to make it to the Olympics is all the sex you’re guaranteed to have."
During a recent interview with ESPN, Team USA goalkeeper Hope Solo said this much as she — and a bunch of other athletes — painted vivid pictures of public bumping and grinding, lots of drinking and, oddly enough, fist-bumping.
"There's a lot of sex going on. Unlike at a bar, it's not awkward to strike up a conversation because you have something in common," Solo said. "It starts with, 'What sport do you play?' All of a sudden, you're fist-bumping."
Fist-bumping isn’t a euphemism, apparently.
"If you don't have discipline, the village can be a huge distraction," she admitted.
Okay; why is the Olympic experience so much like a bad porn movie, though?
"Athletes are extremists," she added. "When they're training, it's laser focus. When they go out for a drink, it's 20 drinks. With a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you want to build memories, whether it's sexual, partying or on the field. I've seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty," she said.
As parents, pastors, coaches, teachers, leaders and athletes we hold the power to provoke young people to greatness or point them towards becoming great on the outside, beautiful and successful, but inwardly broken with character formed by fallen culture instead of Christ.
May this summer's Olympics showcase the brightest and best of our country and pass the baton of discipline, power, beauty and grace to the next generation.