Dr. Mary Jo Kane's research (with Heather Maxwell) on sexualized media images of female athletes was released a few weeks ago and there has been some publicity about the ongoing project to assess the situation. I have seen a story here and there about it, but you know it's making waves when a Sports Illustrated columnist picks up the story.
The gist of the research: sexy pictures of athletes may draw some eyes and numerous internet hits but they do not increase the popularity of women's sports.
In fact they may be harming women' sports because such pictures are actually a turn off to real fans. So the rationale offered by many female athletes who do pose in nothing or next to nothing in various men's magazines--that they are bringing attention to their respective sports--is now going to ring a little falser (even before the study, some of us had doubts).
What the SI column does not address is that this practice is likely to continue because the less altruistic reason for posing is individual fame or fortune. This may be more obvious in the case of individual sports stars like Maria Sharapova--who I have never heard argue that she does her Canon commericals of Rolex ads for the good of the sport. But someone like swimmer Amanda Beard, who cannot make a living off her sport, has something to gain monetarily from posing. And thus this issue of posing has gotten more complicated with the Kane study. When posing means perhaps doing good for yourself but harming your sport as a whole--do you still do it?