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Posing in ESPN's Body Issue Causes Controversy for Agnieszka Radwanska

By Mike McIntyre

What was meant to be a celebration of some of the fittest professional athletes on the planet has caused a measure of controversy for WTA player Agnieszka Radwanska this past week.

Along with ATP player John Isner, the world number four player showed off her 5'8'', 123lb physique in two photos in the annual ESPN Body Issue. One photo has the 24 year old sitting on a white lounge chair next to a pool filled with floating tennis balls while in the other she is floating in the pool itself on her stomach.

While news of her appearance in the magazine was appreciated by many of her fans worldwide, the reaction in her native Poland was polarized, specifically enraging a segment of the Catholic population including a youth group that she had apparently been affiliated with. The group, "Youth Crusade" has dropped Radwanska following her appearance in the magazine for what they feel is rather un-Catholic behaviour.

“It’s a shame that someone who has declared their love for Jesus is now promoting the mentality of men looking at a woman as a thing rather than a child of God worthy of respect and love,” Father Marek Dziewiecki, a senior Catholic priest, told The Telegraph. “If she meets a man who she can truly love and establish a happy family and raise Catholic children, then she would probably have to hide these pictures from relatives.”

It should be noted that Radwanska's not the first WTA player to be featured in ESPN's Body Issue, nor is she the highest ranking female tennis player to grace its pages. Current world number one Serena Williams was on the cover in 2009, former world number two Vera Zvonereva was in the 2011 edition, while Daniela Hantuchova was included in last year's issue. 

Rather than avoid the issue, Radwanska issued a statement on her Facebook page on Friday where she not only refused to apologize for her decision but also clearly justified her reasoning for participating in the photoshoot:

“For those that are not familiar with the magazine, ESPN The Body Issue is a celebration of the beauty of the bodies of the best athletes in the world. It includes both men and women of all ages and all shapes and sizes. Other athletes photographed include San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, 77-year-old golf legend Gary Player, and Olympic volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings – during and after her pregnancy. My tennis colleagues Serena Williams, Daniela Hantuchova and Vera Zvonareva have all participated in the past.

The pictures are certainly not meant to cause offense and to brand them as immoral clearly does not take into account the context of the magazine. Moreover, they do not contain any explicit imagery whatsoever. I train extremely hard to keep my body in shape and that’s what the article and the magazine is all about. If you read the interview, it only discusses my job as an athlete and what I have to do physically to be able to participate at the highest level of sport.

It has been suggested by some members of the press (among others) that I was paid for the photo shoot. This is absolutely not the case. Neither I nor any of the other athletes were paid. I agreed to participate to help encourage young people, and especially girls, to exercise, stay in shape and be healthy.”

I don't think that response could have been any more thorough or to the point in explaining her reasons. Will her comments quiet her religious critics? - probably not, but she has taken the high road in simply stating the positive qualities she wished to promote in her photos and accompanying article rather than lashing back at her detractors for themselves displaying less than Catholic values by pointing the finger at her. 

On the tennis court Radwanska continues to maintain a threatening presence on the WTA Tour while she chases that elusive first Grand Slam title. After starting the 2013 season by winning back-to-back tournaments in Auckland and Sydney she has failed to reach another final in the past six months, but played admirably at Wimbledon where she lost in the semi-finals to Sabine Lisicki 9-7 in the decisive set.

Keep checking back with us at ProTennisFan as we will be speaking with Radwanska at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in two weeks time. Follow us on Twitter as well for timely updates on both the ATP and WTA Tours.

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