Don’t do it.
I woke up this morning expecting to read stories around the web of thrill seekers who blew off half of their fingers with fireworks and ESPN desperately trying to convince Celtics fans that they are now a threat to LeBron in the East. I was not disappointed with either.
What I did not expect to see was a nude image of tennis star Caroline Wozniacki dominating the homepage of the self-proclaimed worldwide leader—in sports. Aside from the promise of more offered by the image itself, the caption under the provocative picture assured you that a simple click would unlock an “exclusive look at the stunning images, striking videos and unique stories of 23 athletes.”
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I wonder how many people click to read the unique stories.
I wonder how many people click “just to see who the athletes are this year.”
By the time you read this, ESPN will have chosen another naked body to “grace” the homepage for a few hours. Each new athlete lures another portion of their target audience to click. You are probably wondering who is there right now.
Don’t do it.
Maybe it was prompted by the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it is the result of being a dad with three kids under the age of seven who seem to know no other response than why. But that is the question I found myself trying to answer as I x’ed out of my browser and sat quietly (meaning kids still yell and laugh—just in a different room) drinking my coffee this morning.
Don’t do it.
Why? Here are three simple reasons.
Don’t fool yourself. This is not a celebration of the human body. It is not a unique look into athletes' stories.
It is soft porn.
As a friend texted me this morning in reference to this piece, we live in a “turn everything into porn and consume one another’s body” kind of culture. He is right. While some may argue that these images represent an artistic appreciation for the human body, we would be lying if we did not admit that the first impulse is to treat them pornagraphically. ESPN is leveraging our thirst for lust to generate traffic. We would be wise to drink from a different stream.
The timeless wisdom in the book of Proverbs plainly states: “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.” Jesus, of course, takes the moral ethic to a higher level. In Matthew 5:28, he delivers a drop the microphone statement: Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In his book, Sex Is Not The Problem (Lust Is), Josh Harris notes that “Lust goes beyond attraction, and appreciation of beauty, or even a healthy desire for sex—it makes these desires more important than God. Lust wants to go outside God’s guidelines to find satisfaction.”
There is a sizable difference between appreciating beauty and lusting after it. We need to retrain our minds to know the difference between the two.
And ESPN is not going to do that for us.
They’re Not Real
Let me explain. I know the athletes in these images are real athletes. They have spectacular bodies, given to them by God, that they have stewarded with an uncommon level of discipline and excellence.
Without clicking on the link, I can all but guarantee these athletes are beautiful. But I can also guarantee that the images are heavily edited. Muscles that do not exist will magically appear. Existing muscles will look bigger. The athlete’s skin will be shiny and without blemish. Teeth will be whiter. Hair will be fuller, perfectly colored.
Because we also live in an Instagram culture. We have access to every imaginable filter on our smartphones to make the most ordinary images look extraordinary. The unaltered photo on social media is so rare that it has to be hashtagged with the word #Unfiltered. The audience just has to know how rare it is to capture undoctored beauty.
Even though the Body Issue promises pictures of some of the most beautiful, fit athletes on the planet, it is not enough. Our eyes have been trained by culture to not be satisfied with the best, but with perfect.
And perfect does not exist.
Distortion of Sport
The Body Issue also distorts the raw beauty that sport has to offer. Athletes in their prime. Competing at the highest possible level. A winner. A loser.
We apparently need more than that.
This digital buffet of sensual and filtered beauty creatively climaxes with the athletes “participating” in their sport.
The very tools and objects used in their respective sport are the only things left in the images to cover their naked bodies.
Sport, a universal language watched by billions of people around the globe, is not enough in and of itself. Perhaps the very existence of the Body Issue is evidence that sport cannot satisfy, and the next step in the progression—like everything else that entertains—is its sexualization.
The terrible irony of the Body Issue is that it cannot deliver on its promise. It tugs violently on a good, godly desire in all of us to experience satisfaction at a soul level. It promises a fulfillment of a primal longing but leaves you empty. Like sport itself, it falls short. Ecclesiastes says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. Good gifts like sport, beauty, and sex will always leave us desperate for more if we experience them outside of how God designed them to be experienced.
ESPN is offering to satisfy the longings of your heart with filtered images of some of the most beautiful athletes in the world.
As Harris wisely points out later in his book, “Remember, God doesn’t call you to sacrifice as an end in itself. He calls you through it. On the other side of sacrifice is unspeakable beauty and indescribable joy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth every minute.”
Don’t do it.
Don’t take the bait. Choose joy in God today over the quick fix of sensual images that will always leave you wanting more.