A History of Streaking Birthday Suits and 15 Seconds of Infamy

Whether jeered or cheered, they're still the best entertainment available during a boring game. They're only looking for one thing -- 15 seconds of infamy -- and they barely care about the legal trouble they might face. It's naked -- or nothing at all.

By Stephan Orth

The three British bobbies look clearly amused as they detain the culprit. One officer holds his hat -- protectively, but gingerly -- over the naked man's groin. Meanwhile, another man rushes to the scene offering a coat to cover up the bearded exhibitionist as hundreds of completely entertained spectators watch the bizarre scene unfold from the stands.

This scene marked a world first: 25-year-old Australian Michael O'Brian is believed to have been the first person to "streak" the audience at a major stadium. During a 1974 rugby match in London between England and Wales, O'Brian ran onto the playing field naked. The photo of his arrest illustrates the forbidden appeal that comes with streaking. Every streaker knows that it’s the easiest way to instantly please tens of thousands of people, and even the authorities have trouble concealing their delight when streakers strike.

In Germany, too, streakers succeed time and time again in making a run onto the field fast enough that they wind up on TV before producers can hit the censor button. Germany's most famous streaker, Wilhelm "Ernie" Wittig, prefers to disrobe at games played by his favorite soccer team, Arminia Bielefeld. In April 2005, more than 76,000 spectators witnessed Ernie as he ran -- al fresco, al molto fresco -- through Dortmund's Westfalenstadion. He managed to make it to the midfield and strike a bodybuilder pose before security guards could pull him off the pitch.

In contrast to mass nude happenings -- such as those staged by American photographer Spencer Tunick, in which the individual becomes anonymous among the masses -- stadium streakers have a vastly larger audience and one which is entirely focused on the exhibitionist's body. And unlike Tunick's nudists, streakers don't hide behind the cowardly banner of "art." No, they just aim to please the crowd with a bit of naughty fun. And the reactions of the authorities are just as important to the scene as the messages streakers often place on their bodies, which range from puns to links to Web sites for corporate sponsors.

Upstaged by a 'Wardrobe Malfunction'

The uncrowned king of streaking is Mark Roberts, a British man from Liverpool, who already has 400 public streaking appearances under his belt. He's been a guest on American talk shows, such as those hosted by David Letterman and Jay Leno, and has also secured the rights to the name "The Streaker." The pinnacle of his career as a streaker came during the 2004 Super Bowl, when -- wearing a football referee's uniform -- he sprinted to the middle of the field, dropped his disguise -- literally -- and danced about the field in the buff.

Millions saw Roberts, but unfortunately for him, Janet Jackson would go on to steal the show that night with a "wardrobe malfunction" that exposed her breast. Just before Robert's appearance, the pop star shocked the entire nation on prime-time television in an incident that would later become known as "Nipplegate." With so much attention going to Jackson, "Streaker" only played a supporting role in the evening's nude scandals. In the end, he had to pay a $1,000 fine. The fine may have hurt a little, but his stunt ultimately turned out to be a good PR move, as he soon landed contracts to appear in ads for French automobile maker Renault and the Spanish football club Athletic Bilbao.

Roberts, who dropped out of acting school in his early 20s, doesn't consider himself an exhibitionist. In his mind, he's an actor who provides his audience with 10 seconds of perfect entertainment. Indeed, it's hard even for security guards to get overly worked up about a man who once ran onto a golf course with "19th hole" written on his back and an arrow pointing to his derriere. On more than one occasion, the father of three has escaped his streaking incidents without punishment.

But moments of streaking glory aren't without their dark side. Fifteen seconds of infamy can often end with criminal prosecution on indecent behavior charges. Indeed, streakers run a fine line on the playing field between humorous self promotion and obscenity. After all, the stands are also filled with children who could be traumatized by the incident.

Some exhibitionist streakers are active in areas beyond the playing field, too. And there's a thin moral line that divides light-hearted nudist jokes and more sinister acts, such as streaking a school yard. After Ernie streaked children at a school in Bielefeld, he had to spend several months in jail.


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