Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Playboy Posing: End Or Beginning Of A Marketing Career?

Ashley Hackleroad

Question: What happens when you come to a fork in the “Harkleroad?” You split ‘em.

Over the weekend, after a first round French Open loss to Serena Williams, it was revealed that tennis player Ashley Harkleroad had posed for the upcoming August edition of Playboy.

My first feeling? Sadness. No, I’m serious. To me, Playboy seems to signal the end of a marketing career for an athlete. It means you are accepting you won’t get blue chip endorsements so it’s time to cash in what you can get.

That pretty much fits the mold for Harkleroad.

I remember watching Harkleroad’s U.S. Open debut in August 2001. Although she was playing on Court 11, she was the buzz of Flushing Meadows at the time. She was, after all, the next Anna Kournikova. And her outfit made me shy to even watch. I felt guilty. She was only 16.

I remember what her opponent, Meilen Tu, said after she beat Harkleroad in three sets. “I would have never worn anything like that when I was 16.”

But Harkleroad knew from the very beginning that people were looking. And she knew from the very beginning that Nike was likely paying her a little bit more because she was better looking than others.

''I went to the Nike room earlier this week and I tried on all the clothes and they liked me in that outfit best,'' Harkleroad told the press after that match. ''I think it was a little revealing, but I like that sometimes. So it was fine with me. And they liked me wearing it, so that's why I wore it. It was tight and it was short, but I like things like that. And possibly the crowd maybe was on my side a little bit from that outfit, but I don't know if they were.''

But things didn’t pan out for Harkleroad. Her career high ranking--No. 39--was hit five years ago. Over the course of her career, she’s made less than $1 million playing tennis ($927,881). And she has managed to do one thing like Kournikova: she hasn’t won a WTA singles title.

That might have been OK had it not been for a girl two years her junior who was good looking and could win a fistful of titles. Maria Sharapova. Sharapova is Nike’s go to gal. Harkleroad? She now wears adidas.

Now if I were Harkleroad’s agent, I’m not sure I would advise against her posing. It could lead to modeling opportunities and raise her profile outside tennis. That’s certainly not happening with her game.

For an incredible list of athletes and their posing in Playboy, head here to Chris Olds’ great Sports Stuff blog. By Olds’ count, it will be the 17th appearance by an athlete since 1998.

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