CAUTION:Readers sensitive to prolonged exposure to euphemism, double entendre and innuendo, or just general childishness, should proceed directly to FACES IN THE CROWD.
Professional athletes, their young lifetimes spent in the casual nudity of locker rooms, are an immodest bunch. Perhaps this is refreshing, even healthy. Why such shame over the human body anyway? Don't we all have one? And for people who make their living off of their bodies, pride ought to be the ascendant attitude, not embarrassment. Right? The au naturel is, for athletes at least, perfectly towel-snapping natural. Didn't the Greeks wrestle naked?
Still, there's been—I hesitate to say a rash—a recent tendency toward oversharing that has gone straight from innocent to indecent exposure. Quite a number of athletes have been distributing photos over the Internet that do not necessarily feature athletic attributes but instead seem to exaggerate their exaggerated manhood. I'm being coy. What I mean to say: Lately I've seen more packages than FedEx. I've seen more junk than on Hoarders. I've seen ... well, you get the picture. Or maybe you already have.
The vogue's poster child is Greg Oden, the young Trail Blazers center, who proudly sent a cellphone photo to a paramour who posted it. That remains the measuring stick for all subsequent poses. Others who have been similarly revealing so far (not all of them in total undress, but enough, believe me) include Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes and kicker Jeff Reed, Spurs guard George Hill and Heat forward Dorell Wright. All these glimpses are kind of the same, give or take: the partially or totally exposed athlete holding his cellphone in front of a bathroom mirror, leering seductively in the manner of a craigslist hooker.
What a time we live in, huh? Didn't this kind of thing used to get you arrested? Basically this is the electronic equivalent of guys in raincoats flashing passersby, but now in numbers that would make the most ambitious pervert blush in envy.
It's possible that some of these pictures were purloined and not meant for World Wide Web consumption. There have been apologies and mea culpas expressing surprise that the photos reached such a wide audience and claims that they were meant strictly for archival purposes. But even if that's true, such naiveté, if nothing else ought to be considered the province of a grade-schooler these days. Who under the age of 30 doesn't understand the power of the Internet? It's instant, wildly available, and those bytes, when reassembled into pictures of male genitalia (there—I've said it), have the half-life of uranium 238.
And here's another thing: For the guys who actually believe they're doing the fairer sex a magnificent favor, sharing their God-given talents—it almost certainly doesn't work. If the ladies responded to such images, the world of porn would be far different than it is today, believe me. Research (and by research, I mean to note the continued nonexistence of any video series called Boys Gone Wild) shows that women are neither aroused nor satisfied by such images, especially when they are accompanied by a rather unattractive smugness. Gentlemen, females are not as interested in anatomy as you seem to think.
Hey, guys: You understand all those click-throughs are by dudes, right?
We're in an era of colossal presumption, in which any low-grade celebrity (the category that encompasses most athletes) can mistake his fame for an obligation to disrobe. Sex tapes, deliberate wardrobe malfunctions, and what websites like Deadspin routinely tag as cellphone c--- pictures, are thought by those in the spotlight to be required for the maintenance of almost any level of fan satisfaction these days. Guys: This is not necessarily so! No need to go all Sheriff Bart on us; just sign an autograph every once in a while. We'll be fine with our figures a little more public, a little less pubic.
See, these pictures might be a small point of pride right now but, like a Dale Earnhardt tramp stamp, down the line they'll become an everlasting regret. Long after they first seemed boyish, they're likely to be merely mortifying. Not all of us feel comfortable showering together, playfully comparing, smearing the spread (talking to you, Pedro Guerrero), horsing around in the altogether or dropping our drawers for what amounts to everybody, for what amounts to eternity. Here's the deal: Thirty years from now, when we google Greg Oden, we'll still almost certainly get NSFW before we get MVP.
So we have this last piece of advice for all you would-be exhibitionists, anybody who might confuse fetish with fan-friendly self-expression. The next time you point your iPhone in the mirror, intending to gratify a breathlessly waiting public, take a second to remember that there's an app for that. It's called pants.
Now on SI.com
For the latest buzz and videos, check out Hot Clicks at SI.com/extramustard
These pictures may be a small point of pride, but down the line they'll become an EVERLASTING REGRET.
ILLUSTRATION BY DARROW