I can't resist passing on David Haskell's piece in the NYTimes magazine "Ideas" issue in its entirety.
When approached to write an article about the homoerotic subtext of sports for Out magazine this spring, the journalist Mark Simpson feared the subject was old news. “There wasn’t much of a point,” he says, “since sport was already the new gay porn.” Indeed, with the publication of a Dolce & Gabbana underwear campaign featuring Italian soccer players glistening in a dank locker room, the phenomenon had gone well beyond subtext. All that was lacking was a name, and it didn’t take Simpson very long to invent it: sporno.
Sports, of course, have always celebrated physical form. What has changed, Simpson argues, is how we look at men. Thanks to what might be called the Abercrombie effect, the male body has become increasingly aestheticized — or “metrosexualized,” as Simpson would have it (he invented that term too) — and male imagery, particularly in fashion advertising, has become more overtly sensual. Considering that sports is visual, masculine and (like porn) geared mostly to men, Simpson was not surprised to find male athletes — even, or perhaps especially, heterosexual ones — grooming their physical image and “fetishizing themselves.”
The arrival of what Simpson calls “equal opportunity flirts” like the soccer players David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg, who dabble in gay iconography and openly embrace their gay fans, lends sporno a celebrity cachet. (Simpson calls sporno stars like Ljungberg, whose physical assets are abundantly featured in Calvin Klein underwear ads, “young hustlers.”) Among professional sports organizations, the French national rugby team has pursued its sporno status most aggressively. The team’s annual calendars, Simpson notes, include photo shoots in which “there is no pretense that this is anything but hyperhomoerotic.” Indeed, some images are but a few soap bubbles away from pure pornography.