This Naked Photo on an ESPN Cover Reveals a Homophobic Fear of Men's Bodies

June 28th 2017

The cover of ESPN's body issue featuring an NFL star is causing a controversy for a terrible reason: other men can't handle his body. Dallas Cowboy's running back Ezekial "Zeke" Elliott is on the cover holding a football, but missing clothes.

ESPN tweeted the cover on Monday. 

The tweet has drawn comments from other men criticizing the cover and one user even calling Elliott a "homosexual" for showing off his body. 

However, other users jumped to his defense. 

One user criticized Elliott's cover as well as an alternate cover featuring NBA star Isaiah Thomas, who plays for the Boston Celtics.

In the point guard's cover you can actually see more of his body than Elliott's. 

That version with Thomas, which ESPN previewed June 23 on Twitter, also received similar backlash. 

As other users pointed out, Elliot's and Thomas' naked bodies are controversial only because they are men. 

So why are men so afraid of other men's bodies? 

Due to traditional gender roles, we live in a society where women's bodies are often are put on display for evaluation, not men's. And, due to toxic masculinity—which forces onto men antiquated gender expectations—men often feel like they have the right to judge women's bodies, but don't want to be put on display in the same way. 

The other possible reason is simply homophobia, regardless of whether the men in the pictures are gay or straight. A 2014 piece by Zack Howe for Slate explained that society does not allow men to have "complex sexualities" in the same way that women can.

Often, if a man even expresses appreciation for another's mans body, he is considered gay. 

Howe poses that a woman can kiss another woman and people will not immediately label her a lesbian. However, "male sexuality, on the other hand, is understood as unidirectional. Once young men realize they are gay, they become A Gay Person," Howe wrote. "We don’t hear about gay men discovering an interest in women later in life, and we rarely believe men when they say they are bisexual—the common, if erroneous, wisdom is that any man who says he is bi is really just gay and hasn’t admitted it yet."

Howe wrote that a significant portion of homophobia is linked to men's fear of being labeled gay themselves if they deviate from the strict perception of what heterosexual men do. 

But the fact is, very few people are completely free of preferences that wouldn't be considered "gay," as the Kinsey Institute in Indiana University, which focuses on sexual research, found.  After interviewing thousands of people about their sexual histories, doctors Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin developed the Kinsey scale with the theory that the vast majority of people are neither exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual, but fall somewhere in between. 

"I knew a guy who, straight in high school, hooked up with dudes for the first semester of college," wrote Howe. "He was then in a monogamous relationship with a woman for the rest of college; in the weeks before graduation, I would still hear people express confusion about the existence of their relationship."

RELATED: Ways We Reinforce Toxic Masculinity in Boys

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