ESPN Body Issue commemorates meaningful year for superstars of American women’s hockey

Although Julie Chu (2011) and Hilary Knight (2014) were the first women’s ice hockey players to grace the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue, the 2017 edition brought with it an unprecedented number of players, and an even wider scope of interest via social media. With six players taking to the ice wearing only their skates, the only element that may have outshone their beauty was their confidence.

Considering that six players grace the ice for a hockey team, there is an element of irony yet coincidence. Ironic as six players compose a hockey team, and each of the six players represented a position. Goaltender Alex Rigsby was joined by blueliners Kacey Bellamy and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, while the forwards were composed of Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. Yet, there is coincidence based on the notion that the team’s culture is built on unity.

While Brent Burns and Joe Thornton of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks also appeared in the Body Issue, compared to their competitors from the fairer sex, they were certainly not the main draw. While that may represent an anomaly in the world of hockey, the men of the game forced to be complicit, the reality is that the appearance of these wondrous women also represented a cultural crossover.

Heading into the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships, the innocence of the game was tarnished by the complexities of real life. With players facing severe economic strain, compounded by salary reductions in America’s only professional league for women, the members of the national team made the courageous statement that they wanted a living wage, needing sufficient stability to see the game grow.

As Duggan reveals in an interview with ESPN, she received a text from tennis legend Billie Jean King showing her support for the cause. The impact of such an incredible figure in female sport only validated the brave and justified fight for pay equity.

In spite of USA Hockey threatening to bring replacement players, the support in the media from substantial groups, such as the NFL Players Association, helped right the path, bringing the women a long overdue compensatory plan. Symbolically, the presence of six women from the national team is definitely an extension of such a strong unified front, embodying what makes this team so special.

Undoubtedly, the most confident photo among the portfolio visible online is one where all six players display their posteriors. While there is no question that such a photo reveals an empowering beauty, it is open to interpretation if there is a dual meaning. Perhaps unintentional, but the photo may be perceived as a symbolic protest of the fight endured for pay equity, a type of “Kiss my ***” message projected in a truly captivating photo.

Captured behind the lens of photographer Joe Pugliese, his portfolio certainly affirms that these wondrous women are breathtaking. While their strength equally reveals an amazing inner beauty, a raw confidence emanates from these timeless photos. Considering that the ages of the players featured are between ages 24 and 30, these photos have immortalized their physiques, preserving their peak, while presenting them as pillars of strength for their sport.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese (No copyright infringement intended)

Calling the Minnesota Whitecaps her club team, Alex Rigsby was the youngest player among the six who were photographed, only 24 years old. She makes history as the first goaltender to grace the pages of the Body Issue. Whitecaps teammates Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux share in Rigsby’s sense of history, becoming the first twins to pose in the Body Issue.

Of note, the Body Issue holds a connection to the game beyond players appearing in its pages. Harrison Browne, who was Duggan’s teammate during the Buffalo Beauts inaugural season, found the courage to reveal a transgender status after seeing Chris Mosier appear in its pages.

Meghan Duggan, the captain of the US national team experienced a pair of unique milestones in 2017. With the IIHF Women’s Worlds contested in Plymouth, Michigan, the coordinates were a source of seemingly endless motivation, culminating with the first gold medal won by the US on home soil. Coincidentally, fellow Body Issue model Hilary Knight scored the gold medal clinching goal in overtime.

From a professional standpoint, 2017 also saw another significant milestone in Duggan’s playing career. Along with Corinne Buie, they became the first (and only) women to appear in the first two Isobel Cup finals with different teams.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese (No copyright infringement intended)

While Duggan was also featured on Cosompolitan’s website, her courageous battle in overcoming concussion was one of the most heartwarming stories of Sochi. She would also make national news in 2014 with a polite display of levity, mimicking Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda in her second trip to the dugout at hallowed Fenway Park.

Such humor also defined part of the interview that the six players took part in with ESPN. With Duggan known for her strong commitment to a healthy diet, reference was made to the fact that a teammate had jokingly seen her eat one Cheeto in five years. The interview also revealed that Duggan had once made the friendly wager that if her team could capture both the Frozen Four and the World Championships in 2011, she would eat a burger from McDonald’s.

Rigsby joked that they videotaped Duggan not only consuming said burger, but removing it from the McDonald’s bag and unwrapping it. Of note, Rigsby and Decker were Duggan’s teammates on the Wisconsin Frozen Four champion of 2011, the same year that saw Duggan bestowed the honor of the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award.

A teammate of Duggan’s at four different levels (NCAA, IIHF, CWHL, NWHL), Brianna Decker is also part of the sorority of players that have won the Patty Kazmaier Award. Recognized as the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 IIHF Worlds, such a distinction was part of a much bigger reward.

Heading into the fight for pay equity, there were several rookies on Team USA who were afraid that there chance at competing for the national team would be dissolved. Decker stood guard over them, a sentinel with a reassuring presence, offering the promise of better days. Not only did those better days come, but the gold medal celebration saw Duggan admirably talk to the concerned rookies, testament to her amazing leadership.

The sixth player from this group is another of Team USA’s most admired leaders. An All-Star at both the CWHL and NWHL levels, Kacey Bellamy is one of the alternate captains for the national team. Gracious and amicable, Bellamy is truly the women’s hockey superstar reimagined. Although she may be the oldest player in this group, having turned 30 earlier this year, Bellamy brings a wisdom that symbolizes her remarkable strength, signifying an amazing perfection as an athlete and as a woman, providing an ideal yet captivating appeal.

Although the fascinating reality of the Body Issue would indicate that these photos fantasize an amazing magic which takes place outside of the game’s lines, mythologizing these amazing warriors of the rink, while cultivating a female epiphany, Bellamy experienced another magical element, one that truly signifies the feeling of collaboration for the national team.

With 10 members of the gold medal winning national team raised in New England, the Boston Red Sox showed a touch of class by inviting them to participate in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park. Although Duggan was given the honor of taking the first pitch (something she had already done in 2014), she affably gave the ball to Bellamy. Launching the magical orb across home plate, it signified more than just a unique birthday gift for Bellamy, it was the embodiment of the amazing gift of friendship between her and Duggan.

Whether the attention that emanates from the Body Issue shall actually increase the interest in women’s ice hockey at numerous levels, especially as the professional game continues to try and find its footing, is difficult to anticipate. As anticipated, these players have been serenaded online with effusive praise for their appearance in the Body Issue, many fans falling head-over-heels over a group of women whose brave efforts for equality is destined to make them icons with the next generation, bringing about a brighter future.

As a side note, some athletes have reached new popularity following their Body Issue appearance. Among them is archer Khatuna Lorig, who appeared in the 2015 edition. The following year, she would be featured on a trading card in Upper Deck’s annual “Goodwin Champions” release. In addition, she would gain a commercial endorsement.

Undoubtedly, one could imagine that Duggan should expect some kind of increase in
popularity. Based on her brave battle with concussions, and her discipline regarding diet, she would be an ideal athlete to have a book deal, and she certainly stands as one of the most notable ambassadors for the national team.

Of note, the Body Issue pictorial holds the potential for another unique coincidence, resulting in a strong link between the women of soccer and hockey. Just weeks prior to the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Brandi Chastain appeared in a complete state of undress in Gear Magazine. With a photo that made international news, gaining equal parts acclaim and criticism, it was a cascading event that helped launch women’s soccer into popular culture.

It was a very unique coincidence that Chastain would score the Cup-clinching goal in the shootout against China, generating cultural currency. Although her goal is remembered more than her photo in Gear, seemingly faded with the passage of time, there is no question that her goal placed her in the pantheon of sporting immortals.

Undoubtedly, this year’s edition of the ESPN Body Issue has established more common ground between the stars of women’s soccer and women’s hockey. Not only have players such as Rigsby and the Lamoureux twins excelled in soccer during their high school years, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the US national soccer team.

Of note, there are two other aspects. Both US national teams have shown great courage in the fight for pay equity. Four years before the glory of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, the US experienced a heartbreaking loss in the 2011 Finals. Considering the tragic outcome of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the women of hockey are hoping to duplicate the efforts of their soccer sisters, gaining an elusive gold medal four years later, working towards redemption in Pyeongchang.

Such ambition mirrors the heartbreak of the US soccer team. While the program boasted of dominance in the Summer Games, frequently holding a vice-like grip on the gold medal, it experienced numerous frustrations in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is considered the crown jewel of the sport.

After suffering an emotional loss in the 2011 FIFA World Cup final to Japan, a sentimental favorite after its nation was decimated by flooding, the road back to glory was a long one. Rewarded for their patience with the chance to emerge victorious in 2015, the victory also brought with it a paradigm shift, raising the case for pay equity in sport, foreshadowing the admirable fight of the women of hockey.

Even though these photos will likely be the subject of attention leading into Pyeongchang, imagine if a similar winning scenario took place with the women featured in the Body Issue. What if an offensive superstar such as Decker, or perhaps one of the Lamoureux sisters scored the gold-medal clinching goal? Maybe Rigsby shall be the starting goaltender in such a game, triumphant in the biggest game of her career. While these six astounding women simply hope to emulate their soccer sisters with a Winter Games gold medal after a four year heartbreak, if one of them played the key role in this dramatic finish, it would only make the Body Issue photo shoot more culturally relevant.

While such a victorious achievement would place Bellamy, Duggan, Decker and Monique Lamoureux (along with former Body Issue model Knight) into the Triple Gold Club for Women, immortalizing their legacies, it would place them in a heroic place worthy of their presence as both world-class athletes and world-class people.

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Hammer thrower Amanda Bingson sends powerful message with appearance in ESPN Body Issue

As the proud American record holder in the hammer throw, Amanda Bingson is used to setting standards. Appearing in a complete state of undress for the 2015 edition of the ESPN Body Issue, Bingson does so much more than show that athletes come in all sizes. Showing great candor, admitting that she is not muscular with a six-pack, her courage shines through, representing an internal strength much more captivating than the force used to toss a 4 kg hammer 75.73 meters in 2013 for a new record.

Shattering the myth about female beauty and size, the 210-pound Bingson is more than just powerful; her images reveal an empowering confidence and encouragement for any young women that have struggled with body image issues. Adding to the momentum is the fact that she is featured on one of the six collectible Body Issue covers. Accessorized with only her throwing glove and a tattoo, Bingson demonstrates a striking yet unapologetic influence.

Ironically, Bingson does employ vanity, but the necessity is out of athletic obligation. With the weight from the hammer and the obligatory velocity, her hands endure significant damage, resulting in manicures twice weekly.

Part of what makes Bingson so alluring is the fact that she never let her size interfere with her athletic ambitions. Having always been a plus-size individual, even in adolescence, she refused to give up. Despite being kicked off the volleyball team in high school (her female coach had the audacity to suggest she lose 30 pounds), Bingson is enjoying the last laugh as she looks to add to her legacy with a spot on the US roster at the 2016 Rio Summer Games.

Having resided in Las Vegas for several years, she faced a visual assault of size zero waifs and perfect-looking people who bordered heavily on the superficial. Relocating to Texas, Bingson found an empowering authenticity where people are not ashamed of their bodies and carry themselves with a confidence that is rare in so many other areas.

Taking into account that there are very few crowds when she competes (a difficult reality for some women’s sports), sports fans are catching up on the greatness that is Bingson. The remarkable outpouring of support on social media is testament to the gradual societal changes taking place, resulting in a positive direction forward. Although she conceded that several of her opponents are stronger than her, she has the confidence to state that she likes everything about her body, and that makes her a true champion.

Physically and emotionally strong women part of 2014 ESPN Body Issue

As the 2014 edition of the ESPN Body Issue hits newsstands, the female athletes that are featured provide a message of inspiration and empowerment. In years past, sex appeal was a very significant factor. While the magazine is a diverse celebration of what makes an athlete’s physique so captivating, the overcoming of unique struggles among the female athletes that choose to appear has the ultimate appeal.

Jamie Anderson, who competed in Snowboarding at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, is a free spirit that has gone against convention while finding the confidence to succeed. As one of eight children, Anderson comes from a background where she was homeschooled and opted to not have a coach in her teens.

Having experienced the pinnacle of her sport, she treats her body with a natural and holistic approach. Methods such as yoga, meditation, reading, burning sage and incense are among her favorites. Along with a competitor from Norway (Kjersti Buaas), being in the presence of trees provides a sense of peace and serenity that provides relaxation should nerves prevail before a contest.

With calmness as one of her best qualities, she proves that a healthy mind is a key factor in a healthy body. Any discussion on the body is one where Anderson engages in the wonder of its healing properties. After rupturing her spleen several years ago, the ability to recover from it helps place value on her health and body.

Following in the footsteps of her sister Serena (who appeared on the cover of the Body Issue in 2009), Venus appeared in the 2014 edition. Her appearance is a real opportunity to celebrate the battle she has had with Sjorgen’s syndrome.

Despite being a world class tennis player, the syndrome is one where an individual can experience extreme fatigue. Although she acknowledges it was a life-changing experience, she also states that she does not like being defeated by anything.

SerenaWilliams2014ESPN

Crediting her father with advice on new techniques, these alternative approaches to her game are testament to the creativity that she wants to bring to her game. Her willingness to always find a solution is what makes her a true role model.

One of the world’s most popular hockey players, Hilary Knight’s appearance in the Body Issue is one that may have brought about positive change. Considering that she added muscle to her frame (weighing 185 pounds) heading into the Sochi Winter Games, she talks about how there were concerns about muscle not being sexy.

Her appearance is one that helps challenge perceptions about body image and perceived views on weight. Challenging such notions, Knight proves that a woman should be able to feel comfortable in her own skin. As a side note, the ESPN web site even featured an infographic on how Knight got her physique.

DanyelleWolfESPN

With ambitions to compete in the triathlon, Danyelle Wolf made the transition to boxing because she was told by a trainer that she had the build of a fighter. Although she initially met resistance as she was told she could not succeed because she was a woman, it would prove to be the first of many obstacles that she overcame.

Currently a two-time US national champ and a member of the US national team, she has made believers out of her doubters. Proud of her chiseled physique, she also believes that there is more to the image of a boxer than a rough and tumble fighter. Highly educated, she also enjoys adorning herself in high heels and dresses, appreciating fashion.

Having gone from track and field to bobsled, Aja Evans has made the athletic transition similar to Wolf. While Wolf faced criticism over her gender, Evans faced concerns over looking too muscular. Although she does rely on ice cream as comfort food, Evans acknowledges that learning to embrace her physique was the turning point in her athletic life, making her feel invincible.

In Evans’ life, athletics runs in the family. Of note, her brother Fred is a Defensive Tackle with the Minnesota Vikings. Their father was an avid swimmer while mother ran track and field. Former major league baseball player Gary Matthews is an uncle, while current player Gary Matthews, Jr. is their cousin.

Having had the luxury of training with NFL stars, she learned quickly that off the field, friendship trumps competition. Like so many track stars, she made the transition to bobsled and it resulted in a bronze medal at the Winter Games. Despite the competition (only nine bobsledders travel during the season), she understood the values of teamwork as she was part of the four-woman bobsled team.

A superstar with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, Angel McCoughtry has endured her share of physical and emotional scars. As a star player, she endured many cheap shots as a way of trying to get her off her game. Playing against boys when she was younger, blocking their shots would serve in verbal jabs, forcing her to tell others to treat her as a player and not as a girl.

Growing up, she endured many problems on the way she perceived herself due to her size. This was compounded by corns on her feet from wearing smaller-sized shoes as a child. Although she reflects on it as a mistake, she hopes it proves to young players that they need to be proud of who they are.

Amy Purdy, photographed by Zack Johnson

Amy Purdy, photographed by Zack Johnson

Professional surfer Coco Ho was captured on her surf board wearing nothing but confidence as she shared her own concerns about being muscular. Acknowledging that she had the legs of a gymnast, she mentioned that it took time to appreciate how the power of her legs made her powerful.

The love of the waves is definitely in Ho’s blood. Just like Aja Evans came from an athletic family, Ho’s family made their mark in surfing. Her uncle Derek was the first male world champion to come from Hawaii. Her father retired from competition as a two-time Triple Crown winner, while her borther actively competes today.

In a sport like surfing where everyone wears swimsuits, she feels that fans are more interested in the most attractive competitors rather than the most successful athletes. While it is an uphill struggle for the sport, she hopes the results will eventually serve as the substance in a female surfer’s career.

Of all the women that chose to be part of the 2014 edition of the ESPN Body Issue, Amy Purdy may have brought the most courage. Despite her disability of no longer having her legs, losing them at the age of 19 due to septic shock), Purdy approaches it with a remarkable perspective. Recognizing that the mind gives up before the body does, her enjoyment for life is only stronger.

Trying to figure out what was possible and what she could do with her prosthetic limbs was more important than self-pity. Surviving a coma that sidelined her for two and a half weeks was the greatest triumph in her life, setting the stage for more victories to come.
Being able to find a way to snowboard again would prove to be a source of inspiration for future fans. Despite struggles with kidney failure and weighing as low as 83 pounds, she never missed a snowboarding season. Even with the loss of her legs, she can still feel pressure, enhancing the awareness of her body and how to position herself in competition.

Recognizing the beauty of her beauty and accepting that muscle can be feminine is a common theme among these remarkable women who have captured the hearts and minds of sports fans the world over. Appearing in the ESPN Body Issue is more than just a celebration of their athletic accomplishments; it is an opportunity to understand that their past struggles are an endearing quality that shows a soft, human side. While these are women that are world class athletes, the ability to talk about the acceptance of their physiques and celebrate the overcoming of these mental hurdles makes them world class people.

2012 ESPN Body Issue has Summer Games flair

In recent years, athletes such as Lindsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova and Danica Patrick have been considered among the most beautiful in the world. The ESPN 2012 Body Issue clearly shows that there may be some new athletes to consider for such an honor.

While the images still left something to the imagination, there is no question that the stunning, alluring beauty of these athletes forces fans to see them in a whole new light. Although every athlete (male and female) appears nude in the ESPN Body Issue, there is no question that these are highly conditioned athletes.

Although the fact that these athletes are portrayed nude would indicate a certain degree of vulnerability, their nudity is also empowering, and shows a unique strength and courage. It is not everyone who would have the courage to be featured nude and have their appearance potentially criticized. Several female athletes from the Body Issue are competing in the London Summer Games (Candice Parker, Abby Wambach, Daniela Hantuchova) and the Paralympic Games (Oksana Masters), while others have been in Summer Games past (Anna Tunicliffe).

Candace Parker is clearly one of the most talented basketball players in the world. Her photo and illuminating smile make a strong case that she is just as attractive as fellow WNBA superstar and rival,  Lauren Jackson. If the two ever played on together, that would truly give new meaning to the word Dream Team.

Superstar tennis player Daniela Hantuchova may not have won the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games but she may prove to be just as popular as Maria Sharapova with her photos. Mentored by tennis great Martina Navratolova, the native of Slovakia was defeated by Caroline Wozniacki in the Summer Games. Having also appeared in the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (one of the few athletes to have appeared in both publications), the classically trained pianist also appeared on one of six special edition covers for the Body Issue.

In following teammate Hope Solo, who appeared in the 2011 ESPN Body Issue, US soccer player Abby Wambach looks like a Greek god in her photo. Although Wambach is not a sex symbol like Solo, the Florida Gator Athletic Hall of Fame inductee who scored the gold medal winning goal at the 2004 Athens Games displays a physique that looks like it was carved from marble. Her photos show a quiet dignity to her, a strength and toughness  that is unmatched. One that can withstand the sucker punch that she endured at the hands of a Columbian player in a 3-0 victory at the 2012 Summer Games (in which she managed to score a goal). The second highest all-time goal scorer in the history of FIFA women’s soccer, her shoulders look strong enough to carry the expectation of USA Soccer on them.

Paralympic athlete Oksana Masters also appears in the publication. Despite her affliction, she proves that people with disabilities can also be beautiful. Born in the Ukraine, Masters was a double knee amputee due to birth deformities caused by radiation poisoning inuterio. Rowing since the age of 13, Masters is as inspiring as she is beautiful. In a society where people with disabilities fight for equality, there is also a sexual struggle that exists. A struggle that the Body Issue may help to overcome.

Former bronze medalist at Beijing, Ronda Rousey (featured on one of six collectible covers) is one of the top female athletes in Ultimate Fighting. While UFC is not everyone’s sport of choice, Rousey has proven that it is not just the ring girls of UFC (such as Arianny Celeste) that are the attractive females of the promotion. Having co-hosted on the syndicated television program TMZ, the top ranked fighter is quickly becoming a household name.

Despite their stunning beauty, these captivating images will augment discussion and debate among sports purists. Whether these images are art or filthy is not a topic to be discussed here, but the publicity (and controversy) has resulted in fans already clamoring to see which of their favourite athletes will be in the 2013 edition.