Sex Appeal in Swimming

Guest editorial by Chris DeSantis

ATLANTA, Georgia, August 25. I've been trying to think positive thoughts about the coming change with the speedsuit ban deadline fast approaching. A conflicted fan of bodysuits, I'm looking for angles to feel good about their impending death.

Months ago, when their demise was uncertain, my friend Garrett posited that the suits were actually hurting the marketing of the sport in a way that I hadn't thought of all. He argued that they were covering up a lot of beautiful bodies.

I didn't buy the argument. For all the near-nudity at meets, swimming has been overall a fairly prude sport. Amanda Beard posing for Playboy was an extreme exception and not a rule. I can remember back in 2000 seeing Lindsay Benko and Kaitlin Sandeno in Maxim. It was shocking to see any swimmers, male or female, pictured in any kind of sexually suggestive way.

I admit that this position is somewhat colored by my living in the United States. I was told that in the Rome subway terminals, huge ads were plastered with Italian male swimmers in nothing but their Dolce & Gabbana white underwear briefs. And of course, Federica Pellegrini has been photographed more than once almost entirely nude, albeit with some tasteful coverup from her arms. However, you have to take into account how much less sexual nudity is in that part of the world. Having straddled both continents with a European heritage, I find that more often than not nudity in Western Europe is less sexual and more "I didn't feel like wearing a top to the beach today."

Of course, if you really think skin can help the marketing of swimming internationally, you have to feel a little conflicted about the men's jammer. I mean, that's a lot of leg coverage.

I was a senior in high school when they were introduced, and fought them with every bone in my body. A full season of asking my freshman teammate if he had ridden his bike to practice and forgot to change couldn't break him of the habit.

In my first year out of college as a high school coach, I nearly caused a riot when I changed my team from jammers to briefs. Sadly, I may have to concede this battle, because in this case it appears that the jammer has been credited again and again for keeping young boys in the sport.

So will swimming capitalize on the return of skin? Well, if it means that there are more Pellegrinis and Beards and we can bring in a few more female (and male) fans with the men so exposed, I sincerely hope so.

Chris DeSantis enters his first season at Georgia Tech as an assistant coach after previously coaching at the University of Pennsylvania.

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