Jim Harbaugh, the new Michigan football coach, caused a major stir this past week on the Internet. It wasn’t something he said. It wasn’t a player he recruited.
He took off his shirt.
I’m not kidding.
He took off his shirt, at a football camp in Alabama, and engaged in a game of shirts-and-skins. And people snapped a photo. Several photos. And a video. Several videos.
And they went viral.
Now, remember, Harbaugh is 51 years old, so his going topless wasn’t likely to rival say, Chris Hemsworth, the guy who plays Thor, doing the same. No young women fainted. The Avengers didn’t extend an invitation.
But I never thought Harbaugh topless would stir up the criticism that it did. Forget the football part. Forget the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. All across cyberspace, you could hear echoes of “put it back on, Jim!” Apparently, the coach’s body didn’t meet thestandards of nakedness we have come to expect.
“Need to keep that shirt on Jim,” someone wrote. “You’re too old to pull it off.”
“Too fat, not too old,” wrote another.
One person posted Harbaugh was on “a strict diet of Coneys” while another suggested he wear “a Har-bra.”
Go look for yourself. The man is hardly overweight. In fact, he seems in pretty good shape! A former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh still works out and has access to the top facilities in the country.
If people are insisting HE keep it covered, what chance do the rest of us have?
When we were younger …
Ah, well. Like many things these days, I file this under, “Those days are over.” As boys, we used to yank off our tops with abandon. Pickup basketball? Off comes the shirt. A sprinkler in the summer? Off comes the shirt. Paint your chest at a ballgame? Off comes the shirt. Too hot at an outdoor concert? Off comes the shirt.
As teenagers, even college students, most of us still could do the quick collar-over-the-neck. Some of us even enjoyed it, showing off our weight-room work as we walked around the dorms. And how many of you fellow men remember a good old shirts-and-skins game, the sweat soaking you until you mopped it up with the very shirt you removed?
But somewhere down the line, perhaps when sitting at a desk became the biggest part of the day, we began to think twice about the whole topless thing. Gravity entered the picture. Your sides no longer tucked tightly into your pants. Your chest wasn’t as high as it used to be. The belt buckle needed another hole.
And now? Well, on top of everything else, now we have to worry about someone with a smartphone catching us at the wrong angle and posting, “Ewwwww!”
It’s enough to make you buy a parka.
Just deserts for men …
Of course, it serves us right, American men, for being so critical all these years of women in various states of undress. How many times have we made cringing faces or mumbled insulting jokes when a less-than-toned woman emerged in a two-piece bathing suit? How many of us privately mumbled about age-inappropriate halter tops or ill-advised Daisy Duke shorts?
Nasty body comments used to be exclusive to nasty men. But now, we all must take it on the chin. Or the chest. Or the belly. Because let’s face it.
We’ve become the Perfect Body Country.
There is so much sculpted semi-nudity now — on TV, in the movies, in advertising or in music videos — that we’re all conditioned to seeing the human form in only a few specific molds.
For women, this means narrow waists, long legs, sizable chests and, depending on your preference, a small or large (but always shapely) behind.
For men, it means broad shoulders, an emaciated frame, six-pack abs and well-defined arms. You know what we call that?
So it’s official. Men now are held to the same ridiculous standards we’ve been holding women to all these years. Harbaugh’s avalanche is likely to make all public figures think twice about unbuttoning that shirt or yanking the sweater over the head. There’s a reason the National Enquirer sells tons of its best and worst beach bodies issue — and so many people flip to the worst.
The good news for Michigan fans is that the Wolverines are coming off a bad season and attendance was way off. But if Harbaugh gets half as much attention for his team as he does for going bare-chested, there won’t be an empty seat in the Big House.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.