We’ve posted before on the tendency for female, but not male, athletes to be featured in glamorous or sexualized ways that highlight their femininity instead of their athleticism.  See, for example, our posts on WNBA player Candace Parker and the Florida State University’s women’s basketball team.  Kirsten W. sent in another nice example.  In this case, it’s two tennis players at the height of their careers: Roger Federer and Anna Kournikova.

Federer is pictured as we might expect, doing what he is famous for doing, playing tennis:


In contrast, Kournikova is pictured like this:


Kirsten writes:

[Kournikova]… is presented in a very typical “female” way, with her long hair down (it would generally be pulled during a game), flowing over a pink frilly nightgown that suggests she’s in bed, and potentially waiting for company.

In 2000 when this issue of Sports Illustrated was released, Kournikova was on fire.   She was ranked 8th in singles and 4th in doubles… in the world.  Yet, Sports Illustrated decided to portray her not as an amazing athlete, but softly: as a beautiful, perhaps receptive woman.

Later Kournikova would abandon tennis for modeling.  Many argue that she did so because she failed as a tennis player, I wonder if she went into modeling, in part, because her appearance made people take her less seriously as an athlete.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.