Are Jocks the New Matinee Idols?

Hollywood’s hottest ingenues are looking for dates in locker rooms, not on red carpets.

So here’s a revelation: Star athletes get laid. Often. By beautiful, famous women.

Also, bacon tastes good, the sun rose in the east this morning, and George Bush is fairly certain about a notion he believes to be true. The connection between sports stars and hot, willing women is something you learn early, in the Darwinian trenches of high school—where the captain of the football team often does get the head cheerleader—and are reminded of frequently (how many “sex cruises“ have you been invited on?). In 1928, at a party to celebrate the Yankees’ clinching the American League pennant, Babe Ruth reportedly stood on a chair and announced, “Any girl who doesn’t want to fuck can leave now.“ He knew what we all know: that plentiful, quality sex is the birthright of the successful male athlete.

Still, something’s been different lately. Professional athletes may never have wanted for ass, but they’ve never landed quite so much—how to put this?—grade-A ass as they have of late. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady moved from a three-year relationship with actress Bridget Moynahan (whom he knocked up) to one with Brazilian model Gisele Bndchen, the global superstar whose last serious boyfriend was Leonardo DiCaprio. Pro surfer Kelly Slater, meanwhile, was recently photographed in the company of Cameron Diaz and has been linked to Bndchen and other famous beauties. And then there’s Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who, despite being, to all appearances, the world’s single dullest man, reportedly exerted irresistible gravitational pull on starlets like Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba. These are not pom-pom girls or random Playmates. These are top-tier women—the ones who, in theory, should be dating leading men, not meathead jocks.

Yes, athletes have scored with a higher class of women than fake-boobed groupies in the past. Joe DiMaggio bagged the ultimate A-list blonde, Marilyn Monroe, in 1954. John McEnroe and Andre Agassi netted Tatum O’Neal (a catch in the eighties) and Brooke Shields, respectively. Mike Tyson paired up with Robin Givens at the height of her (brief) fame, and Dennis Rodman hooked up with Madonna at the height of his. But DiMaggio’s graceful Yankee Clipper image only thinly veiled a dark, jealous streak, and those other guys were about as far from classic jocks as you could get. They were angst-ridden and unpredictable. Compare that with Jeter’s icy, corporate blandness; or Brady’s golly-gee, golden-boy grin; or Slater’s mellow mahaloisms. In terms of that most enduring of sports dichotomies—Johnny Unitas vs. Joe Namath—we are deep in crew-cut country here; there’s not a floppy lock or a full-length man mink in sight.

Of course, these guys are young, in-shape men who are extremely wealthy, even by celebrity standards. Can you really blame the Giseles and the Camerons for choosing them over vain, spindly actors and self-consciously tortured musicians? Pat O’Brien, the host of The Insider, puts it simply: “They’re good-looking. They’re strong. They’re rich.“ (Here we must issue the obligatory George Clooney Exception: Clooney, it should go without saying, chops wood, mixes martinis, and impregnates women with his eyes. Asshole.)

“I think there’s something innately heroic about sports stars. Movie stars act the part of people who are cool under fire, but there’s the sense that there’s no there there,“ says Jake Halpern, the author of Fame Junkies. “[Athletes] display real grit in a way men are expected to.“

Perhaps even more important, in a time when the definition of fame has become more elastic than an offensive lineman’s waistband, encompassing everything from humiliating yourself on TV to just dating as many women as possible (is Wilmer Valderrama really famous, really?), athletes are not only among the few truly worldwide icons, they also have real, tangible skills that go beyond appearing at parties or in Us Weekly and Star. They get up in the morning and go to work. A low threshold to be sure, but this might be as close to a reliable man as a girl can get while still basking in some degree of glamour, power, and money.

“If you’re an actress and want someone at the top of their game who looks fantastic, you go with an athlete,“ Halpern says.

On the face of it, the rise of the sports star as the new leading man is alarming, not to mention deeply unfair for the rest of us. It’s one thing to come to terms with rock stars screwing actresses. If the Tom Bradys of the world, who are supposed to get the girls in high school, grow up and just keep on getting the girls . . . well, what’s to keep our nation’s drama geeks and pimply, “Stairway to Heaven“–practicing losers from giving up hope altogether? But maybe there’s another way to look at it. Are the prospects for the rest of us better served by the success of preening, paparazzi-chasing weenies? It can’t be an entirely bad thing when accomplishment—even of the most basic, physical variety—starts to be rewarded again; there has to be some kind of trickle-down effect. After all, there’s only so much Clooney to go around.

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