When Girls Need Athletic Funding, They Go Nude…And Other Problems In Women’s Sports

netball club nude calendar photos
The nude calendar photo above isn’t particularly explicit or offensive—in fact, it’s kind of nice to see a group of non-models, with various body types, all looking so comfortable in their own skin. But the fact that they’re a group of Bristol University netball players trying to raise money for their team makes me feel sad. Is this what young women have to do to be able to play sports?

The idea is industrious: 19-year-old Maddie McKenzie organized and participated in the shoot, and told the DailyMail that they thought it was a fun way to supplement the sponsorships they already have:

‘We did it to raise money for the club, and although we do have sponsorship we needed more money to help with running costs.

‘We initially ordered 250 calendars but we’ve already had to order some more – the interest has been amazing.’

But the fact that young women feel they have to capitalize on their bodies to be able to keep a sports club is disturbing—when’s the last time you saw a bunch of 19-year old males posing nude to ensure they could continue playing football? And the girls aren’t going after anything extravagant. McKenzie added:

‘As a club we have to self-fund and because we’re students we don’t have a great deal of money so this will go towards helping the club.

‘The cash that we raise will go towards hiring courts, paying for balls and equipment as well as paying for fitness classes.’

The fact that 20 young women were willing to make this calendar for the sake of their sport (despite what one of the girls described as “a lot of nerves”) shows that we want to be active and compete just like men. But to get enough funding, we need people to take an interest in female athletes, when their shirts are on.

Photo: Jamie Corbin

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    • Mr T

      In reality no-one forced these girls to make this calander. It was completely opt-in. Women don’t need to “capitalise on their bodies” – at universities women’s sports get the same funding as men’s (I believe). If anyone was uncomfortable, really, then they could have opted out. Furthermore I think the biggest critique to your argument is that the bristol men’s rugby team have also produced a nude calander too (and yes this is a common thing for male teams too!)

      However, and this is the distinction between male/female sport, the girl’s netball calendar has had a lot more success than the boy’s rugby one – I can only assume, that it’s because men are more into this kind of thing.

      However your argument that these girls were forced into making this simply doesn’t stand up. In reality, due to the preferences of the public for female rather than male nudity, these girls were afforded the opportunity of funds that their male counterparts will still be seeking.

      • Briana Rognlin

        Hey Mr. T,

        Cool name! But, I never said that anyone forced these girls to make a nude calendar. They came up with the idea themselves. The point of my post is that it’s really frustrating that female athletes still can’t get the same amount of funding and sponsorship as male athletes. How do female athletes get the most media attention? By taking their shirts off. How do male athletes get the most attention? By playing sports. I just wish that wasn’t the case.

    • Laura Brennan

      I agree that no one forced the girls to make the calendar, but Ms. Rognlin doesn’t say anyone did. I’m delighted they feel empowered enough to trade pictures of their bodies for money without shame. I’m deeply saddened, however, that the idea even occurred to them.

      And, no, women’s sports do not get nearly the same funding as men. Federal law requires parity, but what it comes down to is football getting a ton of money, huge cuts in other male sports, and a bunch of smaller programs for women. And lots of grumbling. But that’s a whole other mess.

      This appears to have been a club sport, which for either gender is usually not subsidized by the college. This is more a cultural issue, on par with women athletes appearing in Playboy. Why do women feel they’ll only be noticed with their clothes off?

      Again, I’m delighted that women athletes are proud of their bodies – and I’m pissed as hell that it’s still considered the most valuable thing about them.

    • Tom

      Actually Briana, you’re misguided on a number of points. If anything, more boys clubs than girls clubs do naked calendar shoots like this – the football team did one two years ago, and the University rugby team has also done one this year, which has a paltry 120 likes on Facebook compared to the girls’ 3,000. It’s not about the difference in funding between men and women’s sports, because the amount is negligible at Bristol and other universities. It’s more about the fact that women get much more publicity than men when they do this sort of thing.

      Also, you’re wrong if you think that they absolutely HAD to do this to keep the club afloat. Of course, every club needs to raise a bit of money each year to ensure that they’re comfortable financially, but they get a decent grant from the Athletics Union as well as sponsorship from elsewhere. It’s not like the club would disband if they didn’t do this shoot.

      Think you’ve slightly got the wrong end of the stick.

    • Briana Rognlin

      To answer a couple of points in the comments: No, I never said that anyone forced these girls to make a nude calendar. It was their own idea, and it’s not a bad one; it’s clearly gotten them huge publicity and, hopefully, will get them the funding they were after.

      And yes, I realize that some men’s teams go nude or auction off athletes for dates, etc. I think you could argue that when men capitalize on their bodies, it has different cultural and historical baggage than when men do, but I’ll save that argument for another time, because…

      The point of my post is mainly that female athletes (and women’s sports in general) don’t get nearly the same kind of fanfare as men’s sports. Media doesn’t cover women’s sports as much, so they don’t get as much funding — I understood that these girls’ net ball club was supplementing funding from sponsorships; in the vast majority of sports, I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that women’s teams get the same amount of funding through sponsorship as men’s. Sure, universities might be required to fund them, but when it comes to getting money and attention from other sources, female athletes seem to take their shirts off for it far more often than men.

    • Mr T

      I was referring to this comment:

      “young women feel they have to capitalize on their bodies to be able to keep a sports club”

      Which is simply untrue. They didn’t need to – university athletics unions give equal and decent funding to male and female clubs. Admittedly they don’t get paid the same in professional sports, but that’s another issue. I think you’re reading into this calander a little too much.

      • Briana Rognlin

        The girl who came up with the idea is also quoted in the article as saying: “We did it to raise money for the club, and although we do have sponsorship we needed more money to help with running costs.” So yes, they did feel that they needed more money to keep their team running.

        I’m not saying this calendar is the worst thing that’s happened in women’s sports by any means, just that this is indicative of bigger problems in sports in general. Some might think it’s reading too much into it, but I think it’s worth talking about these issues, otherwise they’ll never change.

    • Mr T

      I think the distinction is that whilst they did need money they did not need to photograph themselves naked. The quote you referenced is about the club needing money. So I’m afraid that i’d stand by my previous comment – they weren’t forced to capitalise on their bodies.

      Again, male sports teams face the same costs and often come to the same conclusion to make nude calendars.

      Yes, of course there are problems with male/female recognition in sport but I don’t think that this calendar is indicative of those problems. I can’t help but feel that you’re using a bad case study to support otherwise rational beliefs about gender differences in sport. University level sport is not sexist and these girls weren’t forced to do anything.

      P.S I appreciate your replies, a lot, thanks.