Before the days of 24 hour a day Olympic television coverage, before gold medal athletes graced boxes of Wheaties and were given ticker-tape parades at Disney World, the ancient Olympic Games were well known in the days of the Apostle Paul. So much so that he used them as an analogy of Christian living.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV)
The Olympics have seen many changes since the days of ancient Greece. Athletes now compete for precious metals, not perishable wreaths. The Winter Games were officially added in 1928. Yet another change in Olympic competition in recent decades is the greater inclusion of female athletes.
The Apostle Paul wouldn’t even recognize the historic games with all the glitz and glamour of today. With each passing Olympics it seems the hype only intensifies as the line between athlete and celebrity becomes increasingly blurred.
And while there still remains a fierce competition between athletes who have spent years training and disciplining their bodies to strive for the prize, not all athletes exercise the “self-control in all things” of which the apostle Paul speaks.
One glaring example of that lack of self-control is a new trend among female competitors to display much more than their athletic prowess.
Before women even had the right to vote in the United States, the first female athletes competed in the Olympics in the year 1900 when just 2.2 percent of the Olympians were female – competing in tennis and golf. By 2012, the Summer Olympics had more women competing than ever before – 44.3 percent of the Olympic participants were female – and the U.S. female athletes earned 29 gold medals and 58 medals in all (actually more than the U.S. male athletes earned).
These female athletes may have earned respect for their accomplishments, but a number of them in recent years have shown little self-respect as they’ve chosen to degrade themselves for the pleasure of men.
As a FOX News report stated, “with the Sochi Games underway, recent weeks have provided a global offering of female athletes in provocative poses reminiscent of those you’d find in the pages of Playboy.”
Olympic alpine skier, Julia Mancuso, won a bronze medal earlier this week, but gained more notoriety for her explicit photos wearing nothing but skimpy underwear bottoms in the February issue of men’s magazine, GQ.
Snowboarder Hannah Teter takes “selfie” to the extreme with a sexual display of numerous erotic pictures on her Instagram account. This follows 2010 when Hannah Teter joined with other female Olympians Lindsay Vonn, Clair Bidez, and Lacy Schnoor to pose provocatively and sometimes topless, in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.
And then there is self-proclaimed Christian athlete, Lolo Jones, who bared it all for ESPN magazine in 2009.
This trend of female athletes extolling their figures rather than their feats is not exclusive to United States athletes. As FOX News also reported, “an official Russian team website last week released a slew of super sexy images starring its female athletes. While the young women donned lacy lingerie, see-through garments and gave the camera come-hither smiles, there was very little mention as to what they actually do in the winter games.”
These female athletes, who should be role-models setting a positive example for young girls to emulate, instead give a message to younger girls that no matter what their accomplishments are, their worth is dependent upon their sex appeal.
And sports magazines such as SI Sports Illustrated and ESPN rather than showcasing the athletic abilities of these young women as they do with men, instead focus on their cleavage, their breasts, their bodies – treating them as sexual objects to be used and discarded.
Why would these acclaimed athletes feel the need to degrade themselves? They have been raised in the age of “women’s liberation and female empowerment” when women have more opportunities than ever before. Some of them have fought to make it into certain sports which have been considered exclusively “men’s sports.”
And present day feminists are still taking up the torch on their behalf, as the Feminist Majority Foundation decried that “despite progress in female (Olympic) participation, inequities in treatment continued.” And the liberal site Mother Jones reported:
“But even while more women are competing in the Olympics today than ever, they’re “still not equal in any way,” says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a women’s advocacy group focusing on issues including sports. …
“Beyond that, they say, blatant sexism is still a serious problem, and continues to perpetuate the misconception that women aren’t as good at sports as men.”
So, if these female athletes are fighting for respect and acceptance in the male-dominated world of sports, why would they in essence prostitute themselves as a sexual object to be leered at by men?
I think the answer is twofold. Even female Olympic athletes are products of a culture that bombards girls and women with the message that the way to really gain attention from men is not through accomplishments, but through eroticism. However, these young women are not merely helpless victims of a degenerate culture. Sexism goes both ways. From long before the first Olympics in ancient Greece, young women have learned that they have power in the sexual display of their bodies and they have used that it. “And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. … With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.” (Proverbs 7:10, 21)
From ancient times to modern day, women (and men) have desecrated their own bodies – bodies which are designed to be a temple of God Himself.
These young Olympic athletes need our prayers that they would see their worth, not as a sex symbol or even as a champion athlete, but as one who is created in the image of God.
May the Olympics be a reminder to us all to strive for the truly imperishable prize, so that at the end of our race we can say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”