There were five kind of women when it came to appearing in the pages of Playboy magazine, back before they stopped running pictures of naked women. First, there were the ones that would never be asked. They simply didn’t have the combination of celebrity and physical attributes needed to make the cut. If a woman was super-famous, she could lack a bit in the looks department and if she was super-hot, but only fit a theme like “In a Pac-10 school”, there were gray areas, but there was certain criteria in place.
Next, there were women who were asked, but simply wouldn’t pose for personal, ethical reasons. After that, you had ones who thought it would do harm for their career, but had no issue with the nudity. These were the ones who thought the magazine veered too far away from “art” into “adult”. Beyond that there were the women who were once in that category, but had to give in and pose because their fame either started to disappear or because they needed the boost and couldn’t hold out any longer. Finally, there were the ones who simply said yes.
Fortunately for those us who enjoy sports, there were many beautiful female athletes from around the world who graced the pages of Playboy editions around the globe and thankfully the Internet chronicled even the ones we couldn’t find at our neighborhood newsstand. Once Playboy decided it was losing money to the Internet, the strategy to stop running nude photos was put into place and celebrities - including athletes - were left with one less place to make a quick buck and keep their name out in the mainstream.
Plenty of athletes grabbed their chance when they had it. Some waited too long. Some just never had the opportunity. Let’s take a minute and review the big wins, near misses and never weres with 10 Athletes Who Posed for Playboy and 10 We Wish Had The Opportunity.
20 Too late, Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick is exactly the kind of “sexy” athlete we don’t like. The one who coyly tries to pretend she’s not sexy, but you know secretly believes she’s more sexy than she actually is. When you stand her next to her co-workers like Dale Jarrett and Kyle Edwards, yeah, she’s the sexiest driver there is, but if you put her next to a bunch of legitimate models, you realize Danica Patrick is hot, but not the hottest woman alive. Nonetheless, because she’s famous, she was able to use her hotness to make a lot of money. However, she always liked to pretend she was just playing a role and never saw herself as the pretty girl. Notice she never guest starred on many shows? It’s because she was almost as bad an actress as she was a driver. To date, she has no Cup wins, nor any Emmys.
19 In time, Torrie Wilson
Now north of 40 years old, Torrie Wilson looks better than ever but don’t worry about having missed your chance to see everything. The former WCW and WWE diva did two pictorials for Playboy back when WWE and Hugh Hefner’s magazine had a working relationship. We really miss the Attitude Era. Wilson left the WWE when her contract ran out and the WWE ran out of ideas for her following the storyline where they killed off her real-life stepfather Al, who had an affair with Dawn Marie that was rightfully embarrassing for the onetime fitness model. She tried her hand at acting and did the requisite reality show rounds but appears to have found her niche with yoga and wellness online. She still looks like you could bounce a quarter off her abs.
18 Too late, Aly Raisman
This multiple-time decorated Olympic gymnast probably wouldn’t have posed, but we can still dream can’t we? Had it not been for Simone Biles being the greatest gymnast of all-time, we’d still be talking about Raisman’s accomplishments in Rio. She won gold in the team event and won individual silver medals in the floor exercise and the individual all-around. Four years earlier, as part of the American team in London, she won gold in the team event. She also won gold in the floor competition and bronze on the balance beam. If we gave a gold medal to an Olympian with the best abs, she’d get the medal for the last Olympics easily. She has said she might return into 2020, but with Playboy’s ban on the good parts, does it really matter?
17 In time, Katarina Witt
There’s an argument to be made that Katarina Witt is the most famous athlete to ever appear in Playboy Magazine. She’s the only two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in a singles event to ever appear on the cover and appear without a stitch of clothing inside. Witt’s figure skating career in the 1980s was impressive, winning the World Championships four times and placing second twice not to mention the other three times she appeared. Supposedly, her issue was only the second that ever sold out, with Issue No. 1, the Marilyn Monroe debut, being the other. Witt used her cover to segue into a career as an actress in her native Germany and said she thought it would change people’s perceptions of her as a “pretty ice princess.” We’d still use the word pretty, but if she wants us to stop, that’s cool, too.
16 Too late, Lindsey Vonn
We’d love to climb inside Lindsey Vonn’s head and find out what’s going on inside there. Granted, we know what kind of magazine Playboy was. It's for guys who want to see women naked, end of story. But, Vonn came from skiing/snowboarding...not the most conservative of sports. She also dated Tiger Woods, not known exactly for his conservative choices when it came to women. She also posed for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue wearing only body paint, which - dare we sound like a broken record - is not exactly a conservative choice. Vonn was of age and active when Playboy was still doing its thing and there is no way the magazine didn't make some kind of offer in her direction. How did she possibly make the choice to turn them down? Why? Why deny us? She’s selfish. Tiger is better off without her.
15 In time, Katharina Scholz
We know you’ve never heard of Katharina Scholz, but when has that ever stopped you from looking at naked athletes? When has that ever stopped you looking at naked women at all? While the idiots at the American edition at Playboy were starting to wonder when would be a good time to start putting the shirts back on the ladies in their version of the magazine, the geniuses over in Germany decided to round up a bunch of their Olympians in the Summer of 2008 and get them to appear in a pictorial together to celebrate German female athletics. One of the four who appeared was Katharina Scholz, who was on the German Field Hockey Team. She wasn’t our favorite though. We’ll save that sexy lady for a little further down on this list.
14 Too late, Ronda Rousey
Despite the fact that her stock has fallen mightily in MMA since she hasn’t been able to go seven full minutes without being knocked out twice, Ronda Rousey has enough money to last her the rest of her life. She will forever be known as the first mainstream female face in women’s MMA and most people who don’t follow the sport can’t tell you the names of either of the women who beat her. That said, what’s next? She’s expressed interest in acting and potentially exploring a career in professional wrestling, but trying to pretend she doesn’t have to cash in on her looks is over. It was over a long time ago. Despite saying she’d never pose nude, she had no trouble doing plenty of “obscured” nude shoots in the past, including body paint pictorials for Sports Illustrated.
13 Too late, The Williams Sisters
We are living in the waning days of what will go down as the greatest run by a pair of siblings in the history of sports. Sure, the Manning brothers in football were great, but they are a distant second when it comes sheer awesome in accomplishments of the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus. While Venus turned pro first, it was Serena who will likely go down as the greatest women's’ singles player ever. Their father was their first coach, teaching them on public courts in Compton, California while the likes of NWA was recording their first album just a few blocks away. Straight Outta Compton and Straight to the Tennis Hall of Fame for these two. Along the way there were stops as clothing designers and in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but never that elusive Playboy magazine pictorial. It’s a shame. It would have set a good example, or whatever.
12 In time, Amy Acuff
It’s too bad that Amy Acuff couldn’t hit the high jump mark of 1.94 meters to qualify for the world championships in 2015. If she had, there’s a good chance she would have competed in the Rio Olympics in 2016 for the United States for the sixth time in the event. She would have been 41 at the time. Unfortunately the 2012 games were her last stop on an impressive run with her best finish in the 2004 games, just missing the podium in fourth place. As for Playboy, that also came in 2004 and it was certainly a gold medal performance. We wish more of her track and field contemporaries would have followed her lead by staying drug free on the playing surface and clothing free on the pages of Playboy.
11 In time, Kiana Tom
There was a time when ESPN called itself “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” but had trouble looking itself in the mirror and believing it. Days were filled mostly with reruns of pro wrestling, roller derby and beachside exercise shows. The two queens of fitness were Denise Austin and Kiana Tom. If you were a red-blooded male in the 1990s, you knew exactly who Kiana Tom was, first as a cast member of the show BodyShaping, which aired from 1988 to 1995 and then from Kiana’s Flex Appeal which was on from 1995 to 2001. She appeared in other shows for ESPN that had limited success but the prayers of guys were answered everywhere when she finally did a pictorial for Playboy in May 2002. She made a few attempts at acting, but seems to have settled into a slower life as a mother and healthy lifestyle blogger in recent years.
10 Too late, Simone Biles
Maybe we were too harsh on you earlier in this list when we made it sound like you were the reason nobody was talking about Aly Raisman. We know the shelf life of an Olympic gymnast is small and if it weren’t for both of you posing for Sports Illustrated, nobody would be talking about either of you two weeks after the Summer Olympics were finished. Gymnastics are an interesting thing. We watch really hot young women in skintight outfits bend their bodies in ways that make most strippers jealous all under the idea that they are the best in America at doing it, but then are supposedly perverts for suggesting there is anything sexy about it. Whatever. Hopefully Biles will come back in 2020 to restore our pride in America for another couple of weeks.
9 In time, Gabrielle Reece
Gabrielle Reece made her name as a women’s volleyball player and didn’t quite make it as a model, but had enough charisma to enter the entertainment field, so the world got to know her in the mid-1990s but didn’t seemed to know exactly what to make of her. When MTV went the extreme sports route, they gave her plenty of opportunity to host shows; she did a bunch of small acting gigs and was a favorite on talk shows but never quite hit it huge, even after appearing in Playboy, as often seems the case with B-level celebs trying to find their place. Fast forward 20 years and this statuesque beauty still hasn’t quite cracked the A-list but she can still be found guest starring on shows like Rachel Ray or hosting new fitness shows like S.T.R.O.N.G. No idea what that stands for, but her clothes stay on the whole time, so we don’t really care.
8 Too late, Anna Kournikova
If we could talk directly to Anna Kournikova, this is what we’d say: “You blew it. You had your chance and you blew it. And for what? No offense. You sucked as a tennis player. Nobody is going to remember you for that. They’re going to remember you because you looked cute in a white skirt and tight tank top. And now Playboy magazine doesn’t do the kind of pictures they did when you were in your prime 12 years ago. It’s too late. What do you have now? Enrique Iglesias. I guess we all lose. Congratulations. You blew it for all of us.” In real life it would probably be more like: “Ms. Kournikova, you’re awesome, can I have an autograph and a picture?”
7 In time, Maria Butyrskaya
Maria Butyrskaya was a talented Russian figure who was the oldest to ever compete at an Olympics when she placed sixth in the 2002 games. She also placed fourth four years earlier. She appeared in the Russian edition of Playboy and photos are available online, but our favorite story about Maria makes the whole Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan story seem like child’s play. Two days before Christmas, just before the National Championships in 1999, her new BMW was blown up outside her apartment building just after she returned from practice. Two people were seen by witnesses running from the scene, but the crime was never solved. Thankfully, it didn’t deter her from taking off her clothes and having her pictures taken.
6 Too late, Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings
When the book on women’s beach volleyball is written...nobody is going to read it. After all, it’s a book on women’s beach volleyball. Maybe if it’s a coffee table book with a lot of pictures taken from behind the baseline it will see a few copies, but like most Olympic sports, we care for a few weeks and to the credit of these pioneers, they made us care over multiple games about a sport we try to avoid playing when asked. If trying to be a pioneer means bringing something new to as many people as possible, one of the best ways is to bring it to them naked and Playboy magazine gave that outlet to female athletes for over 50 years. It’s too bad these beach volleyball icons didn’t see the opportunity when it presented itself.
5 In time, Ashley Harkleroad
Ashley Harkleroad was not an all-time great tennis player. She will never come close to the Tennis Hall of Fame and the truth is, it’s been less than a decade since she’s been retired and most people probably don’t remember her. She never was ranked higher than 39th in the world and never got further than the quarterfinals in any Grand Slam competition. Her career earnings were just north of $1 million which is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but considering that was over nearly a decade and some tennis players made that in less than a month you’ll see she was not one of the greats. But, she was the best professional tennis player to take off all of her clothes for Playboy and since there are so few professional female athletes, it can be said she was the best professional mainstream American athlete to appear in the magazine. Her career was derailed after a large cyst on one of her ovaries burst. A comeback was stalled by childbirth and she just never quite was able to get back to the mediocrity she had in the past. When recovering from her ovary issue she said it was seeing Amanda Beard’s pictorial that made her want to appear in Playboy.
4 Too late, Jennie Finch
When you get the image of women playing softball, it’s usually not the sexiest girls in school, but Jennie Finch busted that stereotype in her college, Olympic and pro (yeah, pro softball - there’s not enough space to make fun of it right now) years as a pitcher. The sexy blonde brought the heat as a pitcher and Playboy took notice, but as is often the case, her religious beliefs got in the way and only her husband and Jesus were allowed to see her in the buff. Finch was quoted on one of those religious TV shows as saying “It’s important to find hope in Jesus and live for a higher purpose: to share about Him.” Something tells us the circulation of Playboy was probably a lot higher than the viewership of whatever show she said that on, but it’s too late now anyway.
3 In time, Nicole Reinhardt
We mentioned earlier that in the August 2008 German version of Playboy there were four Olympians who appeared nude to coincide with the Summer Games that year. It was actually a pretty big deal in the otherwise conservative country, especially when it came to Nicole Reinhardt, who won the gold medal in the 500m canoeing event which is essentially a sprint. It was her only time in the Olympics and her only time in Playboy magazine so she’s apparently just one of those people who excels at everything she tries. Her pictures were easily our favorite of her countrywomen in Beijing that year. Reinhardt went on to capture the World Championships in the same event a few more years, but retired before the 2012 Olympics in London.
2 Too late, Natalie Gulbis
She’s probably the hottest professional athlete you’ve never heard of, which is OK, because she’s a female golfer and that would make you weird if you knew who she was. Gulbis is one of these women who knows she’s hot since she appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue back in 2012 leaving her bikini in the dressing room, opting for only a can of paint. Maybe Playboy never got around to asking her leave the paint in the dressing room, too. Somehow, we just don’t see them missing that opportunity. Of course, maybe they offered, she said yes and the fact she got malaria the following year derailed plans. She’s a decent golfer, having won four professional tournaments, including the LPGA equivalent of the Masters.
1 In time, Amanda Beard
Amanda Beard is easily the most decorated Olympic medalist to appear inside Playboy Magazine. She’s won so many medals that she theoretically could have posed with just them and still not have been considered naked. Beard appeared in three Olympic games, capturing seven medals, including two gold medals. The breaststroke was her best event and we’ll just let you write your own joke for that. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much call - or any for that matter - for professional swimmers. It’s actually the curse for female athletes. Unless you play tennis, golf, soccer or basketball, it’s tough to make a living in professional sports for females and even if you do manage to eke out a career, odds are you’ll never be the kind of household name that can sell magazines regardless of how good looking you are. Thankfully for us, Amanda Beard was at the right place at the right time and we’ll always have photographic proof to remind us.