Do women prefer men who play team sports?

Gentlemen, it might be time to trade that golf club for a basketball.

By Thomas Rogers

Published April 18, 2008 3:29PM (EDT)

When I was in college, I knew a man named Ysbrand from the school crew team. He was both a bully and a schmuck, and among his many off-putting habits, Ysbrand -- who preferred to be called "Ice" -- would mercilessly tease anybody around him, and pour alcohol on his blisters to prove how manly he was. But women -- smart, savvy women -- always loved him, and I've never been able to understand why. Granted, he was tall and well-built, but, I mean, seriously? "Ice"?

A new study from Ontario's Laurentian University, as reported in the Globe and Mail, seems to confirm my theory at the time; it finds that women are simply more attracted to men who play team sports. During the study, the researchers showed young women photos of men with accompanying blurbs (e.g.. "This is Brian ... he is a member of water polo team ... he loves dogs."), and asked them if they would date or sleep with the men in the photographs. Apparently, when it came to successful team athletes, the answer was often yes.

Women, as it turns out, are more likely to "want to get involved with men who play a team sport" like hockey or basketball than men who play no sports at all. While that isn't all that surprising (who wouldn't prefer an active mate, compared to a lazy one?), what's really interesting is that the women were also more interested in couch potatoes, who play no sports at all, than in men who play individual ones like golf or squash, or run long distance.

So why are women more turned on by the Jimmy Kimmels than the Tiger Woods of the world? The researchers have come up with several theories: Women may believe that team players make better parents (because they "communicate well"), and may be drawn in by the fact that successful team athletes have competed with and beaten other men. But it may also have to do with cultural factors -- like North Americans' obsession with professional team sports.

The cultural argument is an interesting one. In North America, professional team sports have become synonymous with wealth and power, and in college or professional settings they often become part of a culture of hypermasculinity that, while annoying to many of us, still seems to attract its fair share of women. It would be interesting to see what women find attractive in other countries, like Norway and Australia, where individual sports are more popular and prominent. Bjorn Daehlie, anybody?

Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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