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date: 17 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the intersection between athletic practices and sexual expression, primarily in the Western world, beginning with the same-sex eroticism of gymnasia in ancient Greece and the charged atmosphere of gladiatorial contests in Rome. After brief mentions of jousting and the Renaissance celebration of chiseled torsos, the chapter focuses on sports’ nineteenth-century reemergence as a chaste antidote to sexual desire, particularly in the movement known as “muscular Christianity.” Already by the early 1900s, however, athletes had begun to cultivate highly sexualized images. The heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, in particular, epitomized white fears of the athletically indomitable and sexually insatiable black athlete. Even as heterosexual behavior in sports became headline news in the twentieth century, homosexuality remained hidden in the shadows until the first female tennis players began coming out in the 1980s. The chapter concludes with the rise of the athlete as sex symbol over the past three decades.

Keywords: nudity, homosexuality, ancient Greece, Christianity, racism, Olympics, chastity, metrosexual, spectatorship

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