06/18/2014 09:31 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2014

Their Bodies, Ourselves

Christian Petersen via Getty Images

Three bodies—Brittney Griner, lofty, powerful, with spiritually level shoulders; Laura Blears, ukulele-curved, lit forever by fading ‘70s sun; and AJ Lee, muscle-knit, compact, petite in pink-laced Converse. These bodies aren’t just material. They’re also conceptual. Even if those concepts often manifest as simply “She’s hot” or “She’s a dude.”

In 1975, ABC Sports broadcast a women-only version of Superstars, their popular competition show in which elite athletes from various sports fired against one another in a provisional decathlon that included bowling, swimming, tennis, softball, bicycling, and rowing. Looking back at a spectacle where daredevil motorcyclist Debbie Lawler wore a flaming orange bra for luck—“I’m just here to add glamour to the rear,” she said, finishing with zero points; where Barbara O’Brien, signal-caller for the Dallas Bluebonnets, threatened to throw olives at the head of her main competitor; and where Laura Blears, Playboy-posing surfer who arrived wearing the Hawaiian flag, rowed so forcefully her yellow rowboat broke more than once, while beside her on the lake Wyomia Tyus slashed a buoy with her oar and Billie Jean King floated in aimless eights, the thing that really stands out is something mundane. The sparse writing about the event inevitably focuses on a) the bodies of the women involved and b) the weight of the spectacle on the male ego. And that can’t just be attributed to the fact that this event happened in the 1970s. In 2014, according to an Associated Press report, 90% of sports editors are white and 90% are male.

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