Wrestlers in ancient Greece competed in the nude as spectators watched. Wrestlers at Ohio State say they showered in the nude while voyeurs watched.
The difference is a matter of privacy and consent: The ancient Olympic athletes competed willingly while the former college athletes say they complained to their coaches about the creeps who they allege gawked at them decades ago.
The former Ohio State wrestlers told Politico that some men who attended the university or worked there “would masturbate while watching” as the wrestlers showered or sat in the sauna. The sordid scandal offers echoes of the sex abuse of boys at Penn State and of girls at USA Gymnastics – and includes allegations of a doctor abusing wrestlers during medical exams, as happened to the gymnasts and to female athletes at Michigan State.
ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue” celebrates the nude forms of willing female and male athletes and offers echoes of the idealized athletic nudity of antiquity. The ancient Greek word for naked — gymnos — is the root word for gymnasium, the sacred space where young Greek men conditioned their bodies as well as their minds.
“The gymnasium was very connected to the sport of wrestling – and other sports too, of course – and they worked out either in the nude or essentially with small cloths around their genitals,” says Bruce Kidd, a professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto and an expert on the ancient Olympic Games.
“I guess the thing I’m worried about in terms of historical parallels,” he says, “it doesn’t sound like the (Ohio State) athletes were willing participants. It sounds like there was unwanted gazing and taking advantage of medical examinations.”
Athletic male bodies served as symbols of the civilization in ancient Greece, celebrated for centuries by artists and sculptors.
“Look at the statues,” Kidd says. “Go to the Louvre. The U.S. has many wonderful exhibits of classical Greek culture and they show off the male form.”
Michelangelo sculpted his Renaissance masterpiece David in the Greek tradition of the heroic male nude. And it was in that same tradition that the modern Olympics for decades offered official posters depicting athletic male nudes.
“There has been a tradition of celebration of the male body – in live form and in sculpture and in art – associated with the ancient and modern Olympic Games,” Kidd says.
The alleged voyeurism at Ohio State represents “an abuse of what has long been, in the right circumstances, an important tradition of western culture,” he says. “That is totally unacceptable.”
The Old Testament, which tells the story of David, also offers Adam and Eve. Genesis tells us they did not feel shame for their nakedness until they brought sin into the world.
The bodies of toned athletes, male and female, are objectively beautiful. And the sin of sexual abuse, especially of children, is unutterably ugly.