Not that anyone's too keen on copping to the obvious. Psychosexual repression is as much a part of America's athletic culture as jock straps and ringworm; in a hypermasculine world—a world where machismo and individual credibility are virtually synonymous—there's not much room for the dude who wants to talk about how good his teammate looks in a uniform. Casual butt pats? Fine. Gleefully naked locker room hijinks? Ditto. Dispassionately objective assessment of another man's overwhelming and undeniable sexual aura? Not in polite company, Meat, and certainly not loud enough for anyone in the press to hear—
That's about to change, though. In this inaugural running of The Weekly Five Spot, your forward-thinking friends at BleacherReport.com are letting it all hang out, even if it means raising a few eyebrows along the way. The top five male athlete sex symbols of all time: it's an elite group, there's no doubt about that, a strictly A-list gathering of tomcats who couldn't help but ooze virility every time they stepped into the public eye. And, for the record, we're talking about more than just good looks here. The guys who made this cut had (or have) it, whatever it is—that touch of primal je-ne-sais-quoi that turns women to puddy and makes men bite their lips in grudging admiration. Think alpha-males, in other words, not pretty boys; you won't find the likes of Kyle Boller or Matt Leinart in this bunch, no matter how many cheap floozies they manage to wax, because we're not in the market for flat-featured pinups. Sex, when you get right down to it, is a dirty business, and a sex symbol can't be a sex symbol if he isn't a little bit raw, a little bit rough around the edges. Which is what we're all looking for, in the end—the rawness, the roughness, the realness—and at some point it figures that we've got to drop the macho act, and call a spade a spade, and admit that another man can be, you know, sexy—
So nut up, Meat, and get ready for a ride through your own id. You might not agree with every one of our choices—and we certainly expect to hear about it if you don't—but we'll wager our collection of Brad Pitt promo posters that you'll know exactly where we're coming from. A stud is a stud is a stud, is the thing, and if you can't admit that much, well—
Maybe it's time to wonder what else you're trying to keep in the closet....
Number Five: Dennis Rodman
The tattoos. The piercings. The boas. The wedding dress. It's easy to forget, now, just how thoroughly Rodman managed to shock the American public in the early 1990s, back in that golden age of pre-Internet innocence when Paris Hilton was still a virtuous preteen and you couldn't see a donkey show without a strong working knowledge of Tijuana's backstreets. Between the inveterate gender-bending and the multi-generational celebrity bedroom conquests—Madonna and Carmen Electra, Meat, now that's a double-double—the Worm's legacy is one of outsized and unchecked sexuality, amounting to a mascara-edged, KY-slicked affirmation of American individualism in its most erotic form. He may not have been John Wayne, but it's a pretty safe bet he pulled a lot more wool than the Duke ever did—and that's got to be good for something, no matter how you're keeping score.
Number Four: David Beckham
We know, we know: we promised no pretty boys, and Beckham just plain oozes limp-wristed foppishness. Still, the Bleacher Report prides itself on producing sports journalism of and by and for the people, and it's awful hard to argue with global consensus. By any standard, Britain's most recognizable export is a bona fide international sensation, the closest thing the sports world has ever produced to an honest-to-God rock and roll star. He's Elvis before the deep-fried peanut butter sandwiches, Bono minus the messianic pretensions, John Lennon with better hair and a more photogenic wife. It's like they say, Meat, a hundred million Chinese schoolgirls can't be wrong, and they've spoken in a single, unmistakable voice: they want their Beikehamnu, and they want him right now.
Number Three: Jack Johnson
The story reads like a particularly neurotic piece of KKK propaganda: a large and menacing African-American male cuts a swath of destruction across the continent, brutalizing every white man who dares to stand in his way and bedding every white woman who gets within half a mile of his irresistible masculinity. In a seven year reign as heavyweight champ, Johnson turned a succession of would-be Great White Hopes into so many pale-faced punching bags, ultimately totaling 78 wins and 44 knockouts over the course of his career. Even more devastating to the collective psyche of white America, the Galveston Giant had a well-documented predilection for vanilla-skinned women—and they were generally more than happy to return the favor. Johnson's unabashed flouting of the nation's racist, whitewashed morals proved to be the impetus for his indictment on Mann Act charges in 1912—Chuck Berry, alas, didn't get the memo—but even a year in Leavenworth couldn't damp the truth of the man himself: he was very big and he was very black, and he was just as likely to break your jaw as he was to tag your sister. It was enough to make any thin-noodled Klansman wet his bedsheets.
Number Two: Wilt Chamberlain
20,000. Twenty thousand. There are some statistics that need no explanation, some numbers that speak entirely and irrefutably for themselves. Accurate or otherwise, Wilt's claim to have wrung up a thousand score love notches on his headboard over the years speaks to an almost unfathomable kind of carnal vigor, the sort of night-in, night-out staying power that brazenly defies conventional notions of chafing or hygiene or chronic pelvic ailments. Even if it's inflated by a factor of two, the figure is still startling—especially coming from a guy who had enough energy left over to average fifty points a game for an entire season. And then, of course, there's the nickname. By our reckoning, Chamberlain's famous moniker speaks either to a secret fondness for carnival pastimes or an exaggerated piece of, um, manhood. And let's put it this way, Meat: at 7'1", the Stilt damn sure didn't need to get any taller.
Number One: Joe Namath
And it's not even close, really. Before the Flexall campaign and the Suzy Kolber debacle, Broadway Joe was the ittest of all possible its, a square-jawed, shaggy-haired maverick who ruled New York like a raja and showed Baby Boomers a vision of themselves as they would have wanted to be, if only they hadn't been a generation of soft and spoiled sheep. He guaranteed Super Bowl victories and frolicked with Playboy bunnies and sold pantyhose by the truckload—and he did it all with the easy grace of guy who wasn't even trying, as if he'd been forged in a Western Pennsylvania steel mill for the sole purpose of chasing tail and breaking hearts. They don't make them like Joe Willie anymore, Meat, and maybe that's a good thing, because the world probably couldn't handle another set of those piercing, pale, perfect blue eyes. Or we couldn't, anyway, which, well—
Like we said, everyone's gotta fess up at some point. Where's the Flexall and that old NFL Films collection? We've got ourselves a date...
And we promise to come back next week with something a little less homoerotic.