Higgins | A Penn athlete's thoughts on "hot or not"
October 7, 2013, 8:17 pm · Updated October 8, 2013, 12:08 am·
Penn student-athletes are bombarded with rankings and comparisons regarding everything from academic indexes to athletic prowess on a daily basis.
But lately we’re being judged for our hotness too.
Two weeks ago, a comparison game ranking Penn Athletics teams by physical attractiveness surfaced on partyfunder.com, a site likely run by Penn students, since all comparisons consist of current students at the University.
The partyfunder.com game, labeled “Penn Athletics Dudes” and “Penn Athletics Chicks,” functioned in a similar way to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facemash, the precursor to Facebook featured in the movie “The Social Network.” Visitors to the site are presented with pictures of two Penn athletes, and the premise is to click on the more physically attractive athlete to advance the game. Based on how often a given athlete is chosen, teams get rankings of perceived hotness.
The athletes featured on the website did not grant the game’s creators permission to be featured on the site. It appears that names were collected off of the Penn Athletics website and their profile pictures harvested off of Facebook.
As a freshman on the Penn women’s swimming team, I was shocked to see my teammates and friends portrayed in such an objectifying way. It was an unsettling first impression of the environment which Penn athletes compete in.
And the majority of the roughly three dozen varsity women athletes I talked to about this comparison game agreed that it was unacceptably shallow.
“The first time I heard about [the game], I got a link and then I clicked on the website and my name was the first name that came up,” Allison Jacoby, a freshman coxswain on the women’s crew team, said. “I was really surprised, and I didn’t really like the idea that I was being rated.”
“Number one, we are all the same school, so we don’t want to be pitting teams against each other for anything, let alone for looks, which is very superficial and not in line with Penn pride,” Kristi Edleson, a senior captain of the women’s swimming team and former Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer, said. “It’s a negative thing for sure.”
Still, I have found athletes at Penn to be divided on this question by gender. While most female athletes condemn the game’s objectifying, almost all of the two dozen male athletes that I talked to across Penn football, basketball and swimming are ambivalent towards the game, with some unaware that it existed. Even Penn’s Athletic Communications staff was unaware that the game existed until I clued it in.
By hiding behind the anonymity of a screen, Partyfunder game participants have eroded the sense of community that, according to Director of Athletic Communications Mike Mahoney, lets Penn athletes be “students first and then student-athletes.”
By objectifying their peers, game participants turn student-athletes with multifaceted personalities and skills into one-dimensional sex symbols. How shallow must we be if we consider stripping away the identities and accomplishments of our peers as a form of entertainment?
And although Penn reminds its athletes to be cognizant of what they post on social media, there is no explicit policy on how Penn athletes are permitted to be featured by third parties on such media. Thus, the University’s response to the game as a whole, if any, will be the first of its kind.
“This is something that we [will] certainly keep tabs on and see where it goes,” Mahoney said. “At this point, we’re not seeing anything too salacious in terms of the photography, but like everything else on the internet, it is something that could quickly spiral out of control.”
The University has not yet taken any action against the creators of the game, and the game remains online.
“If we found out it was someone that was a Penn student-athlete, we would definitely make our feelings known to that person,” Mahoney said.
But this shallowness isn’t just a student-athlete problem anymore.
As of Monday, the game was reincarnated as powlr.com and now includes not only the entire Penn student body but the student bodies of Penn State, Cornell, Pittsburgh, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Duquesne. What’s scary is that Powlr’s business model — starting local and slowly expanding to other universities — is similar to what Facebook’s was in the mid-2000s.
The site’s homepage boasts that its games let you “dive into student bodies across America without leaving your computer.” The game’s creators explain that there is a psychological basis for the game, citing studies from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia.
But really, it’s just a “hot or not” contest.
I have yet to find myself on the site, but it could easily happen. What’s unnerving to me is the anonymous judgment that the games invite. They don’t make me proud to be a student-athlete, let alone a Penn Quaker. The University should request that the games be taken down, especially given their newly expanded scope.
Because these games boast no winners.
LAINE HIGGINS is a College freshman from Wayzata, Minn., and is a contributing writer to The Daily Pennsylvanian. She is also a member of the Penn women’s swimming team. She can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.