In the politically charged atmosphere of this year’s Olympic games, where blatant human rights violations in the hosting city of Beijing cloud the grandeur of the athletic event, another controversy quietly swells and causes Catholic parents to consider shielding their children (and maybe themselves) from the televised games. This controversy is Olympic ‘coverage’. Or should I say, a certain lack of coverage.
Never before have athletes been so scantily clad. And never before have cameramen been so eager to document that fact up-close. Female runners don spandex short shirts and panty-like bottoms, pole vaulters jump in small two-piece uniforms, and beach volleyball athletes, wearing what amounts to skimpy bikinis, dive, bend, slam and hug, all practically naked. The latter group leads the pack in rear-end showing film shots caught by NBC. Camera scan after camera scan on prime-time TV shows every taut derriere muscle of each female Olympic beach volleyball athlete. Interestingly, the female’s face is often not shown-just a close up of her private backside body parts, ostensibly to show the hand signals of the game. Baseball’s hand signals have never been as closely scrutinized.
Sarah Netter of ABC sports addresses the difference between female and male Olympic athletic attire in her article, Olympic Uniforms: Less Clothing Means Better Results. “Beach volleyball is one of the most glaring examples of uniform discrepancy, with men and women wearing strikingly different outfits to play the same sport,” she writes. “Men jump and dive into the sand wearing loose-fitting tank tops and shorts that hit mid-thigh. Women wear bikinis…” Netter points out the discrepancy between the attire of male and female athletes, but Catholics must note that equality isn’t the only issue here. Perhaps the more driving one is modesty itself.
Is it really necessary for beach volleyball players — indeed athletes in any sport — to wear practically nothing? Holly McPeak, a winner of the bronze medal at the 2004 Athens games for beach volleyball and a three time Olympics beach volleyball player, seems to think so. In the ABC news article cited above McPeak names “sand in the pants” as a primary reason in favor of skimpy bikini bottoms. Apparently with less material sand can just flow through the uniform. She states that bikinis allow a larger “range of motion” and the uniforms “reflect the history of the sport.” McPeak is not alone in her opinion. In a 2004 article in USA Today, Kerri Walsh said, “I love our uniforms. It was kind of an adjustment, learning to play in a bikini, but that’s what we need… it’s part of the alluring part of our sport…” In fact, the beach volleyball “uniform” is mandated by regulation.
One has to wonder at the ruling that requires women to bare almost all in order to be in uniform regulation for the highest competitive play. Does this regulation even make sense? One has to believe that if a full-length shirt (or tank) and shorts handicapped an athlete during competition so much then the men who currently compete in these uniforms would protest. But they don’t. This leads to the natural conclusion that modesty has simply been thrown out the window to satisfy TV “customers” who like to see cute, athletic women in practically nothing and to accommodate the willing women who comply. While it can be argued that fewer clothes inhibit movement the least, that argument isn’t entirely convincing. After all, one might be able to swim the fastest ever naked, but few would concede that swimming in the nude should be allowed in the Olympics for comfort of the athletes.
But back to viewing the Olympics…
So what is one to do about viewing the Olympics with children in one’s home? Clearly, at minimum, a discussion with one’s children about what constitutes modest attire is necessary. (Referencing the CCC teachings can be helpful in this regard.) However, discussion may not be enough. If it is distracting for a middle aged, happily married mother to view half naked women jumping around in bikinis, imagine the turmoil in a young adolescent boy viewing the same. In fact, an argument can easily be made that the Olympics are clearly “an occasion of sin” for many viewers. Serious Catholics might even go so far as to consider the spiritual benefits of skipping the TV coverage of these events all together.
“Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). It may be humanly impossible for some not to stumble on this hurdle. The best choice of all might be to simply turn off the TV.
Does that sound too harsh? “I ought to be able to watch the Olympics”, one may say. “What’s the harm in tuning in for an hour? I really just want to watch the sports.” Or, an athlete might protest (as some have), “I have a right to wear what is comfortable. It’s a free country. If it bothers you it’s your problem.” These arguments take away from the truth of the responsibility all men and women have to guard purity and aid one another in this endeavor.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2526) teaches, “So-called moral permissiveness rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law.” People are not free to watch whatever they want or wear whatever they want in the name of freedom. All people have responsibilities towards themselves and others. As the CCC continues, “Those in charge of education can reasonably be expected to give young people instruction respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man.” Since parents are the primary educators of their offspring, they have a right and duty to educate their children about morality, including modesty. Example is a powerful teaching tool. Saying “We’re not watching the Olympics tonight on account of the immodesty involved,” speaks volumes.
CCC 2525 states, “Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint. Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion.”
The remedy for the current situation of immodest athletic attire will be slow in coming, but it will come. It will surely develop from the athletes themselves demanding it. Change will come as properly catechized young men and women muster the courage to say ‘no’ to degrading athletic-wear and propose something more reasonable. Change will come as purely taught young men and women begin media careers with a heightened sense of responsibility towards others. Already positive signs are beginning to show around the country. In a Catholic high school in northern Indiana, for example, Pom Pom squad members approached their moderator asking for more modest uniforms and administrators are enforcing more stringent dress codes. More and more young women are choosing modesty as evidenced by participation in such programs as Pure Fashion nationwide.
While Olympic ‘coverage’ may be a point of frustration in 2008, parents can be assured of their important role in future international athletic competitive events. Just as parents are integral in forming and guiding young athletes to compete, they are critical in forming their offspring spiritually as well. Parents can begin laying the groundwork for better athletic uniform coverage now.
Here’s how: Parents must teach their children about modesty. They must share with them the teachings of the Church. They should shop together and keep communication lines open. Parents must also set the example by dressing modestly but attractively themselves. Suggestions for parents who want to have a maximum impact in the athletic realm include talking to their child’s school administrators and coaches about proper athletic attire, and being their child’s advocate in team uniform matters. If a sports uniform is immodest or inappropriate parents should speak up. Hopefully the controversy of the 2008 Olympic beach volleyball and other women’s sports ‘coverage’ will be a non-issue in years to come.