GQ’s '25 Coolest Athletes of All Time' has a Slight Omission: An Entire Gender

I know it’s GQ. I know it’s a magazine written for barbershops, cigar bars, and massage parlors. I know it assumes that men are men and women are scenery. But the magazine’s list of “25 coolest athletes of all time” truly sets a new standard for phallocentric panic. Gentleman’s Quarterly has given us 25 athletes they see as the coolest of cool, and not one woman makes the cut.

 

This isn’t about feminism, or tokenism, or quotas. It’s about ignorance and a national magazine not having an even basic knowledge if sports history. “Cool” should mean grace under pressure with a soupcon of style. By that definition, here are the first six women who come to mind when summon my inner-CM Punk and ponder true transgressive

I know it’s GQ. I know it’s a magazine written for barbershops, cigar bars and massage parlors. I know it assumes that men are men and women are scenery. But the magazine’s list of “The Coolest Athletes of All Time” truly sets a new standard for phallocentric panic. Gentleman’s Quarterly has given us twenty-five athletes they see as the coolest of cool, and not a single woman makes the cut.

 

This isn’t about feminism, tokenism, or quotas. It is about ignorance and a national magazine not having an even basic knowledge if sports history. “Cool” should mean grace under pressure with a soupçon of style. By that definition, here are the first six women who come to mind when summoning my inner-CM Punk and pondering true transgressive coolness.

 

How could there be any list without Billie Jean King? In addition to her twelve Grand Slam singles and sixteen doubles titles, Billie Jean beat Bobby Riggs in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match in front of a packed house at the Houston Astrodome and one of the largest national television audiences ever. As she said years later, “I thought it would set us back fifty years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.” She had the weight of the women’s movement on her shoulders and still dispatched Riggs in three straight sets. Her signature early-’70s mullet and Gloria Steinem glasses were part of the deal.

 

Or what about Cheryl Miller? Miller dragged women’s basketball into the spotlight by virtue of her own brilliance at USC in the 1980s. She was college player of the year three times and a two-time champion. Miller also did it with a style and attitude that forced people to reconsider their own ideas of what women could do on the court. I remember playing ball in NYC growing up and if a woman shook you on the court, you were “Cheryl Millered.” She made women’s hoops appointment television.

 

If Cheryl Miller brought true swagger to the women’s game, Diana Taurasi took that swagger and used it as a club. The Phoenix Mercury WNBA MVP was a two-time player of the year at UConn but also played with a smack-talking sneer backed by the sweetest jump-shot in the game. Before the 2004 final game her coach, Geno Auriemma, predicted victory with the simple theory: “We have Diana, and you don’t.” That’s more than cool. It’s Jordan-esque.

But cool should also mean possessing the power of reinvention, and no one has ever represented that in sport quite like tennis great Martina Navratilova. Martina started her career as a very talented but poorly conditioned Czech teenager. In the span of a decade she defected to the United States, came out of the closet, had her lover Judy Nelson sitting courtside in the family section, dyed her hair blond and transformed her body into a new standard for women athletes: all corded muscle wrapped with pulsing veins. And all with Reagan in the White House.

 

Martina’s musculature was reflected in her play: a fast, powerful serve-and-volley game that she rode to six straight Grand Slam victories. She also found her political voice in this time, and has been a consistent and public presence against homophobia and intolerance. Martina once said, “The most absurd part of my escape from the unjust system is that I have exchanged one system that suppresses free opinion for another. The Republicans in the US manipulate public opinion and sweep controversial issues under the table. It’s depressing. Decisions in America are based solely on the question of how much money will come out of it and not on the questions of how much health, morals or environment suffer as a result.”

 

Connie Chung challenged Martina’s statement on CNN, saying to her, “Go back to Czechoslovakia…if you don’t like it here. This a country that gave you so much, gave you the freedom to do what you want.” Navratilova responded, “And I’m giving it back. This is why I speak out. When I see something that I don’t like, I’m going to speak out because you can do that here. And again, I feel there are too many things happening that are taking our rights away.”

Martina is so cool, she is known by just one name. So is the tennis player who plays the most like her: Serena. Serena and her sister Venus Williams have both dominated tennis for the last fifteen years. But only Serena has done it with a style that matches or even exceeds her substance. That’s quite a statement considering that Serena has won more Grand Slam titles than any active player, male or female. But we’re talking about cool, and only Serena has ever warmed up at Wimbledon in a white trench coat. Only Serena showed up to play at the US Open in a denim skirt and knee-high boots. (Officials intervened to prevent playing in the boots.) Only Serena is a certified nail technician. Only Serena wore “the cat suit.”

 

This is just a taste of some of the cool that GQ left off their list. I could go on about Florence Griffith-Joyner with the speed and the fingernails, or Oksana Baiul, winning the 1994 figure skating gold under the weight of the Kerrigan/Harding drama. But if there is one other name I’d leave you with, it’s Wyomia Tyus. Tyus became the first person to retain the Olympic title in the 100-meter dash, winning in 1964 and 1968. But her cools came in 1968, after winning another gold by running anchor in the 4x100 dash relay. That was the year John Carlos and Tommie Smith electrified the Olympics with their black-gloved salute. Their movement, with its emphasis on “reclaiming manhood”, didn’t involve women athletes. Wyomia Tyus recalled many years later. “It appalled me that the men simply took us for granted. They assumed we had no minds of our own and that we’d do whatever we were told.” But Carlos and Smith had been expelled from Olympic Village and were being torn to shreds across the media and Tyus saw that there was a bigger principle at play. In front of the press, and standing with her team, Tyus said, “I’d like to say that we dedicate our relay win to John Carlos and Tommie Smith.” That took guts. That took cools. That took the kind of grace under pressure the listmakers at GQ chose to ignore.

 

I hope people read the GQ piece. But read it as a statement of the kind of narrow, myopic gender segregation best located in a museum. In other words, GQ might be slickly produced. It might have Mark Sanchez on the cover. It might have ads that smell like the latest cologne. But one thing it’s absolutely not, is cool.

 

[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

29 Reader Comments | Add a comment

hey zarin...

can you ever, ever enjoy sports? or do you ALWAYS have to find something to complain about?

Endless complaining/ griping isn't the "edge" of anything.


if you complain about sports so much, why not find something else to write about?

Take your own advice, please.

You complain about Zirin's writing so much - and can't even be bothered to spell his name correctly - why not find something else to read?

Your comments remind me of the dog poop I have to step over as I try to enjoy my neighborhood park. It's hard to tell if you're more like a dog, who can't help it and doesn't know any better; or a rude dog walker, who just doesn't give a crap.

Take your own advice, please.

You complain about Zirin's writing so much - and can't even be bothered to spell his name correctly - why not find something else to read?

Your comments remind me of the dog poop I have to step over as I try to enjoy my neighborhood park. It's hard to tell if you're more like a dog, who can't help it and doesn't know any better; or a rude dog walker, who just doesn't give a crap.

Take your own advice, please.

You complain about Zirin's writing so much - and can't even be bothered to spell his name correctly - why not find something else to read?

Your comments remind me of the dog poop I have to step over as I try to enjoy my neighborhood park. It's hard to tell if you're more like a dog, who can't help it and doesn't know any better; or a rude dog walker, who just doesn't give a crap.

oops!

Sorry bout the accidental three-peat! Where's my digital pooper scooper?

denise...

typical to make an insult of anyone who doesn't agree with you %100.

Again, I make excellent points. Why does Zarin write about sports when he never has anything positive to say about them and just complains "about the system, man."


He is just trying to push his pet agenda.

dexx, I should know better...

...than to engage in a discussion with you, but here goes.

Your response to this essay is to ask if Zirin likes anything about sports when the essay is a clear celebration of athletes and sport. He praises athletic excellence that all sports fans can enjoy and/or recognize.

In doing so, he is also reminding us that "traditional" gender ideologies still exist in this world and are perpetuated through media and sport. This essay is, among other things, a call for a critical understanding of the role of the institution of sport in these inequalities while also pointing out the opportunities for social justice and equality within this same institution.

This is an article where Zirin uses most of the space to discuss examples of the excellence of women in sport (both on and off the field/court), and all you have to say is that he hates sports and should no longer write about them.

I think that your response to this essay says more about your limited attitudes about sport and women than it does about Zirin's alleged disdain for sport.

women and sports

thanks, dave, for an outstanding salute to women pathblazers who have given the lie to the myths of gender that patriarchy wraps itself in like a flag.

as for your sending that message three times, Denise, all your words could bear repeating so often that the Dexx fellow should wake up in a cold sweat repeating them to himself and thanking Goddess he lived long enough to learn something to expand his tragically constricted horizons, at last.

denise...

i have to disagree as I am not a womens studies person and I do not believe all that about traditional gender idelogies.


Also, denise and steve, notice how i stayed to my points and not made snide comments to you as you have done to me.


denise and steve, it is you who have limited attitudes and "tragically constricted horizons". As you have demonstrated in your hypocrisy and double standards, it is you who dislike anyone who doesn't think just as you do. How "liberal" and "open minded" is that?

Missing women

Anika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, and the incomparable Heather McKay need to be considered. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heather_McKay

As for dexx and his comments, look folks don't get in a fight with a pig because you both get dirty, but the pig likes it. The dink can't even spell a simple name correctly, implying that his age passed his IQ a few years ago.

Dave loves the game, but also helps promote how the game represents us, the fans who watch and pay for these sports

Even if I don't know all the rules to sport, and don't have a scorecard to tell all the players. Even if the sport is played in another time zone and the athletes and maybe even the announcers are speaking in a language other than my own.

I can look at the players on the field and I can look at the people in the stands. Who's represented? Who is consistently missing? Who are the sponsors and why are they, and maybe fans, and maybe me as a cable viewer, paying big dollars to make this event happen?

I can try to put on blinders and just focus on the score, but all these ideas and issues are going on, even if I don't want to admit or acknowledge all this action surrounding the action on the court. There are all these competitions swirling around the actual sports competition. Dave writes about sports and the battles that surround sports and he does it with a sense of humanism, compassion, and skill that I enjoy reading. If humanism, compassion, and skill aren't your thing, or if all you can handle is the box score, then there are other, less thought provoking sites for that.

Thanks Dave for reminding me of the greatness of Martina and the dominance of Serena and her awesome catsuit.

jimbobray



you just proved my point even more about the doublestandards of the "open minded".


arthur...

thanks for your thoughtful response, though I dont think serena williams could ever be considered attractive. she looks like a tampa bay bucs linebacker...

I apologize...

...for losing my focus on the topic at hand - one of my favorite topics: cool female athletes!

I agree that Billie Jean King and Martina (my heroes, from childhood til today) belong in the upper echelon of cool, as do Cheryl Miller, and the incomparable D (Taurasi), whose game just gets better and better. Thanks to DZ, for introducing me to Wyomia Tyus, too.

Lisa Leslie, 4 time Olympic gold medalist, first to dunk in a WNBA game, and outspoken role model for young women and girls, deserves consideration. As does the seemingly ageless Dara Torres, currently training to make her fifth Olympics at age 41. In 2007, she set the American
record for the 50 m freestyle just 15 months after giving birth - breaking her own record, that she had set at age 15!

I'll go out on a limb here, and predict that Maya Moore will make GQ's list, next time around. In addition to leading UCONN to 2 NCAA Championships and their historic win streak, she is the only college junior to be invited to Team USA training camp, the first woman to sign with Jordan USA, she has helped lead the Minnesota Lynx in their best season ever, and she is an accomplished jazz drummer! (If you want to see a whole team of cool women, check out the Lynx, who are dominating the WNBA West.)

Thanks to all you 'voices of reason' for helping me get back on track. Next time, I'll try harder to just ignore the dexx-crement piling up around here!

Cheyney University

We also omitted the Cheyney University Women's Basketball Team in the 1980's. This team made two Final Four apperance and a loss in the National Championship game in 1982. Yolanda Laney of Cheyney University was named MVP in 1984 for D1 women's basketball.

denise...

I see the hypocrisy of the "open minded" never stops.

Dexx should be outed.

We should track Dexx's identity...not to harm him physically, but to inform the 3 or 4 people that can tolerate being around him as to just what he does with his spare time. God help this rodent if he's married. I guarantee you his wife would divorce him in a second. She'd have more respect for him if she found out he were cheating on her. Going to blogs and just trolling for political arguments? She would just be too overwhelmed with pity and disgust to ever share a bed with him again. She'll realize why her friends warned her against getting serious with this dork. Something strange about him...that's what they all said. Of course, this is all assuming he still doesn't live with his parents. Very likely, too.

pretty amusing...

how you are up in arms over the privacy issues and yet you suggest that. the double standard in action once more. (considering how big on on all of the privacy issues you are, I acually am shocked you would sugges thatt. So, Mr. open minded, privacy only exists for the left and people who believe your views? as I said, creppy double standard)

Also, it is pretty amazing that at no point have you and others discussed these things and instead have just attemped insults. Incredible how "open minded librels" insult anyone that doesnt agree with them. I think the "open minded liberals" are actually the most close minded of all.

phew

Zirin is more of a malcontent these days than he ever was. Not sure if its a consequence of age + being in the closet + becoming increasingly irrelevant the more sports fans reject politics but there's definately somethin goin on here. Hopefully he's giving more thought to his future as the train he's on has been grinding slowly to a halt in front of the platform of real life for over a year now

well said jowl...

I am amazed zarin cant just enjoy sports for what they are and has to always, always bring politics into it and complain

Citizen fans on the rise!

The connections between corporatism, politics, and culture (specifically sports) seem more relevant than ever. Just ask any fan who is trying understand the forces at work in getting an arena built (like in Sacramrnto, CA), or dealing with a bankrupt team (the Dodgers). Cheesehead union workers surely need to stay informed and inspired as they fight for their jobs (and the $ to renew Packers season tix!). International fans seem well represented on this discussion forum. Finally, there are few forums for the growing league of women's sports fans to thoughtfully read and discuss their players and issues.

Since everyone is aging (with DZ and his fellow baby-boomers leading the way, demographically), and most people's gravy trains slowing, DZ's commentaries on the the intersection of sports and 'real life' may actually appeal to more fans than ever.



denise

We'll agree to disagree. I think present-day sports figures and networks are avoiding Zirin like the plague & things are so bad he can't even keep a Huffington Post gig -- probably the easiest gig to keep in all of journalism. He's not at the top of his game, hasn't been for awhile now.

He got sidetracked with all the illegal immigration stuff last year & ever since its like the day-to-day of sports is not able to hold his interest. He seems like a guy that isn't really enjoying his job.

jowl...

bravo, couldnt have said it better

Canadian Content

I'll toss Hayley Wickenheiser into the mix. Not only is she Canadas all time scoring leader in international womens hockey, but how can you not call a woman rocking a cigar and a beer at center ice after winning an Olympic gold medal cool?

Cat suit

Small detail, I know...Only Serena wore the cat suit. Anne White wore one at Wimbledon in the 80s. But Serena definitely pulled it off with the cool you are attributing to her.

I agree with Denise; many messages are sent via sport media, mostly messages which help to keep the gender order in tact. Where the women at?

Huff Post ain't what it used to be

Ever since it merged with AOL, progressives (both readers and writers) have been leaving the Huff Post in droves. This says more about the state of The HP, than DZ.

Women being written out of war too

Dave,

As a combat vet I notice that historians have written women mostly out of our wars. Maybe this does not belong here but to me it's an interesting connection.

nominee for coolest female athlete

Angie Everhart, of Lingerie Football

Wilma and the Tigerbelles

Wilma Rudolph and the Tigerbelles defined cool in the late 50s/early 60s in US Womens Track.

Without Wilma, there's no Flo-Jo.

29 Reader Comments | Add a comment

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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