Linnea Smith

  Continued from previous page   

           But still, competition between athletes and universities for media exposure is fierce and nominees may feel pressured to participate, regardless of their feelings about pornography. As Smith notes, "Promising young athletes are compromised at an important juncture in their careers. The ones who agree to the award become publicly linked with the pornography industry". (WAP interview, 1993).
           But the link can work for the good too. Smith's husband, a well known basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, was nominated for, and accepted, Playboy's All- America Team Coach of the Year Award in 1976. In their efforts to embarrass Smith and silence her activism, Playboy representatives point out again and again how her husband supported the award by accepting the nomination and participating in the award events. Smith readily admits to participating in the Playboy event with her husband, maintaining that pornography wasn't a critical social issue for her at the time. Indeed, feminists in the United States were just starting to formulate a cohesive argument against pornography in the early to mid 1970s. Andrea Dworkin s Woman Hating was first published here in 1974, and Robin Morgan's declaration, "Pornography is the theory, rape the practice," was made the year after Smith attended the Playboy event.
           In an effort to increase public understanding of what commercial sexual exploitation is all about, Smith went straight to those who have the power and ability to stop it. She presented her concerns about Playboy at the 1986 convention for the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Judith Reisman, Ph.D., also presented her findings from her research of the most extensive content analysis of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler, as well as developed a fact sheet for NCAA members.
           Smith drew up a list of proposals for the NCAA to adopt, which include a commitment to educational programs for the athletes that would offer instruction on critical viewing skills of sexually explicit material, and encourage a "...rejection of popular media that promote 'recreational' drug consumption" (Letter to Board of Trustees and Members of the American Football Coaches Association, July 21, 1986).
           Additionally, in the same letter, she proposed a mandate against collegiate players and coaches appearing in pornographic publications. The criteria for identifying such a publication includes:

The sanctioning of adult/child sexual exploitation.
The sanctioning or providing of positive information on any form of illicit drug consumption.
The depiction of explicit sexual activity associated with violence and degradation.

Currently, Smith is encouraging people who have concerns about Playboy's exploitation of collegiate athletes to also write the NCAA. A previously submitted rationale for proposed policy changes is archived here.

Mail to Cedric Dempsey, NCAA Executive Director
Mail to Janet Justus, NCAA Student--Athlete Issues

NCAA National Headquarters
6201 College Boulevard
Overland Park, KS 66211-2422
(913) 339-1906

Ironically, while Playboy's been borrowing from the sports world, Sports Illustrated has been borrowing from the porn world. One month each year, this internationally distributed and respected sports magazine eschews its hallmarked celebration of athletic ability to devote an issue to pictures of women in bathing suits. The infamous swimsuit issue is the most popular of the year--and a rarity. It is practically the only time SI spotlights women in their magazine--less than 10% of coverage is devoted to women in sports. Unfortunately, this coverage is a centerfold rather than centerpiece approach.
           The women in the swimsuit issue strike similar poses to those normally found in pornographic magazines. Indeed, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, admitted as much in an interview . . . 'We ride a bubble each year,' [Mark] Mulvoy told Newsweek. The bubble is what Penthouse and Playboy do. Some years we're right on the bubble, some years we back off."' (cited by Blewer, WAP Newsreport, 1993, p.6)
           Unlike pornographic materials, however, SI has no age requirement for purchase or viewing. Therefore, high school, and even grade school children have a greater opportunity for exposure to these, less graphic yet equally objectionable displays of women and our bodies. "Middle school kids can't hang up pictures from a hard-core bondage magazine in their lockers," Smith observes, "but it's seen as perfectly normal for them to hang up a photograph of a bikini clad young woman from the swimsuit issue. Yes, Sports Illustratedhas better photographs and the material is presented in a slicker way, but the fundamental ideology of both is still the same" (Smith in Kaylor, Carolina Blue, May 4, 1996, p. 6). Unfortunately, due to SI's swimsuit issue, young male sports fans are influenced at an early age about this sexist stereotype of valuing women only as sex objects for male entertainment.
           That ideology is inequality; discrimination; a one-dimensional understanding of women that effectively cripples the entire human race. When women are breaking barriers in every arena, including sports, it is unconscionable for a news publication like SI to provide minimal coverage of women athletes and their accomplishments and devote entire issues to sexually explicit pictures of young women models. They are enforcing a prejudice that affects every woman and girl.

Go to Part III

Go to Linnea's Homepage