05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Nude Athlete

As I was strolling through the European Paintings collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day, Paulus Bor's "The Disillusioned Medea" ("The Enchantress") caught my eye. The painting is beautiful, but in the particular room in which it hangs, it does not differ much in subject or in size from its companions. What stands out is not Medea's lonely gaze but the nipple slyly protruding from her off-the-shoulder gown. In essence, it is Bor's rendition of the first nip slip.

When VH1 runs "I Love the 00's," the nip slip will require its own segment. From 2000 to 2009, shocking children and parents alike, the nip slip became a cultural phenomenon. Lindsay and Paris were the early faces of this movement, but since the 2004 Super Bowl, Janet Jackson's star-studded, rounded flesh, made the nip slip a must for any attention-seeking female celebrity. Jackson gave new meaning to the term "waldrobe malfunction," and CBS is still fighting the FCC over the fine. The ongoing case may set television legal precedence unseen since F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, which famously centered on George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine.

The nip slip is perhaps most fascinating because its evolution is an indicator of how jaded we have become to the celebrity body. While the nip slip was hitting its stride in the early to mid 00's, we were eagerly following the homerun prowess of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and Barry Bonds. They were our American idols. They single-handedly led the resurgence of our National Pastime and they did so by awing us with their superhuman strength. The grace of Jordan, the finesse of Gretzky, and the hands of Rice defined the 80's and 90's, but now we were witnessing the emergence of power and we couldn't get enough of it.

When the bubble burst and what we thought was superhuman strength was actually inhuman strength created by Human Growth Hormones, we became outraged, skeptical, and finally, defeated. And this brings us to the present. Now, we are accustomed to being always-questioning and ever-dubious of an athlete's physical achievement, and rightfully so. Even during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, we fed on stories heralding the athlete's celebrity rather than on the physical preparedness that brought them fame.

In the past month, Greg Oden and George Hill have stood nude in front of a mirror and captured the sight on their cell phones, and Chuck Liddell and Heidi Northcott thought it would be a good idea to exercise naked together while a camera was rolling. Although Liddell says that he "thought it would be funny" to exercise naked, he also claims that he did not know a camera was running but that "it's not a big deal." Most recently, video has surfaced of Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco running nude through the park one morning. When asked by Sports Illustrated if he always jogs naked, Ochocinco responded, "Yeah, why wouldn't I? What's wrong with that? I take a shower naked."

The truth is, he has no reason not to anymore. Leaving the museum and passing by the Greek and Roman Art Collection, I was reminded of how much importance used to be placed on the human form and how the athlete's body was revered through art. No longer, though, do we see musculature and exclaim "wow!" Instead, we question "how?" Since Sosa, McGuire, Bonds, and A-Rod, since Landis and possibly Armstrong, since Marion Jones, we are sick of hearing about, reading about, and seeing the athlete's body. We just aren't amazed anymore. So the next time you confusedly see in a 6'1'', 180 lbs. wide receiver running nude through the park, Ochocinco's question remains:

Why wouldn't he?