THERE ARE two kinds of people: those who are comfortable being naked in front of strangers and those who feel self-conscious in their own shower. The clinical name for the fear of nudity—your own and that of others—is gymnophobia, which is perfect, since the divide between nudes and prudes is most evident at the gym, from the Greek gymnos (naked).
In ancient Greece, of course, the Olympics were contested in the nude, so all of their gymnastics were exactly what the name says: naked activities. And while nude gymnasts did not survive until the introduction of the pommel horse, athletes and most everyone else in sports have remained exceedingly at home in the altogether.
Just this month, super bantamweight Celestino Caballero stripped naked in front of a crowd of media at the weigh-in for his fight in—of all places—Bangkok.
Two weeks ago a CFL fan wearing only a green wig ran a very naked bootleg from end zone to end zone during the fourth quarter of a Calgary Stampeders game. Watching the streaker prance off with his pants off—before scrambling over a fence and into the parking lot—one couldn't help but think that this was merely the logical end of the more self-indulgent touchdown celebrations in the NFL.
It's October, and the fig leaves are falling everywhere. Subscribers to this month's WWE pay-per-view extravaganza endured a full-frontal affront when professional wrestler Sir William Regal briefly appeared on camera naked: Full nelson meets full monty.
In sports, casual nudity is a global phenomenon. Anton Oliver, former captain of New Zealand's storied All Blacks rugby team, recently posed for an oil portrait in the nude, the rare painting that's hung before you hang it.
When Phillies organist Paul Richardson died this month at age 74, prominent in his obituary was a mention of his finest moment, from 1972: While a streaker frolicked on the field at Veterans Stadium, Richardson played Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is?
And speaking of organs: Twins backup catcher Mike Redmond—in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau—goes for a daily naked stroll through the clubhouse to fetch his pregame coffee. And while the Biblical Isaiah spent three full years walking naked, there is no evidence that he ever took naked batting practice. Redmond did. To end a losing streak as a member of the Marlins, he took (indoor) BP wearing only shoes, socks and batting gloves.
Nudity has a noble tradition. Ben Franklin regularly enjoyed sitting naked before an open window, a practice he called taking an "air bath." A millennium ago in England, the nude equestrian Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry as a tax protest. It's unlikely that Lions assistant Joe Cullen had such high-minded motives in August, when he allegedly patronized a Wendy's drive-through while pantsless. But in sports, nudity often is an unavoidable occupational hazard.
As a sportswriter I've spent more time in the company of naked strangers than Wilt Chamberlain. To protect his feet from the wet floor in the visitors' locker room at the old Met Center in Bloomington, Minn., Oilers star Mark Messier answered my questions while wearing highly polished black dress shoes, knee-high black socks and nothing else, a look that was, and remains, the ultimate in business casual.