10 Forgotten Female Athletes Who Worked With Hef And 10 We Wish Had

From the wise words of the late great, Hugh Hefner, “Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.” These words couldn’t be any more significant in today’s society or more poignant with the recent passing of the Playboy founder. Hefner was a pioneer, not just for men but for women as well. Sometimes called a "sexist," other times called a "feminist," Hefner is without question a staple in American culture and has paved the way for freedom of expression, sexuality and body imagery.

Hugh Hefner’s magazine Playboy became well-known for is nudity, but it’s pictures aren’t the raunchy pornographic images many claim them to be. Many of the women that have posed for Playboy have been surprised at the tastefulness of the photographs and have used their opportunity in Playboy to promote a positive feminine body image. Because of these positives, women were more inclined to accept the Playboy offer from actresses to models to athletes.

However, not everyone jumped at the opportunity to pose in Playboy, and we’re not going to blame them. It takes a lot of courage to stand naked in front of a camera and takes a lot of courage to say, “No.” Still, we’re very grateful for the athletes that said, “Yes,” and wish we had a chance to see more athletes posing for the legendary magazine. Although we’ll just have to dream about all the sexy athletes that we’ll never get to see, we’d like to remind everyone about the many great athletes that have posed for Hef over the years. Here’s a list of 10 you forgot worked with Hef and 10 we wish would have.

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20 Maria Kanellis (Did)

via newsweek.com

No one would say Maria Kanellis was the most successful Diva in WWE, but they’d be lying if they said they didn’t remember her. Before Maria and Mike Kanellis became a power couple, Maria came to WWE from the “Diva Search.” She started as the innocent but ditzy backstage interviewer and eventually became the ditzy wrestler. She spent much of her time in WWE jobbing to more popular Divas and valeting the likes of lower mid-carder, Santino Marella.

Even without ever winning the Diva’s Title or being the most popular Diva in WWE, Maria’s most memorable moment was her acceptance to be on the cover of Playboy magazine. WWE sponsored Maria hard, and turned the Playboy cover into a storyline to help promote it. In storyline, Ashley Massaro, a previous playmate, tried to convince Maria to pose for Playboy despite her on screen boyfriend, Santino Marella’s objections. The storyline even included an appearance from Hugh Hefner himself to help sell the angle (and magazine). Live on Raw, the Playboy cover was unveiled much to Santino’s vexation.

19 Ronda Rousey (wish would have)

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Ronda Rousey was the most dominant fighter in MMA and UFC history. Her uncanny athleticism became front and center when Rousey earned a bronze medal in judo, during the 2008 Olympics, becoming the first American woman to earn such a medal. Her confidence and work ethic were second to none with her 12 consecutive wins. All but one of her victories went past the first round as she dominated MMA. Rousey was named Best Female Athlete Ever in an online ESPN poll back in 2015.

Despite being one of the toughest fighters in history, Rousey could show off her feminine side. Her public appearances on talk shows and late night TV let everyone know that she could be as tough as nails and still be a beautiful woman. Her popularity and sexy looks made her a perfect target for Playboy. Unfortunately, Rousey has pretty much shot down any chance of her appearing fully nude even before the nude pictorials had ended. Rousey is quoted, “No one should see my cash and prizes for $5, okay. I don’t care how much money they gave me.” Okay, Okay. Whatever you say, just don’t hurt me.

18 Amanda Beard (Did)

via arizonaalumni.com

Amanda Beard is an American professional swimmer and an Olympic gold medalist. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she won the gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke for which she holds the world record. She won two more silver medals that year to go along with another gold medal, her two silver medals from the 1996 Olympics and a bronze medal that she won in 2000.

After her stellar swimming career, she turned to modeling, making appearances in Sports Illustrated but more importantly in the 2007 issue of Playboy. In the issue, she is quoted as saying, “I am trying to send a positive message that different body types are sexy.” You don’t have to explain yourself, Amanda. If Amanda posed for a positive message or a paycheck we certainly aren’t complaining.

17 Trish Stratus (wish would have)

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One can’t think of great women wrestlers without thinking of Trish Stratus. Trish was a pioneer in the WWE, going from a gorgeous model with no experience, valeting Test and Albert, to becoming one of the greatest women’s wrestlers of all-time. Like Sable, Trish became an instant sex symbol for WWE. However, unlike Sable, Trish refused to pose for Playboy, despite there being an enormous demand for it. Trish would pose for multiple swimsuit photo shoots for WWE but never took that final leap of appearing in Playboy. Trish has said that posing nude is just “Not her thing” and that she didn’t want her posing in Playboy to “overshadow anything I might do in the industry or in the ring.” We really wish we could be mad at Trish for her decision, but she's just too dang nice.

16 Ashley Harkleroad (posed)

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Ashley Harkleroad is a retired American Tennis player who is now a part of the Tennis Channel’s commentary team. She turned pro at only 15, but her career was underwhelming and is not as well-known as more popular or more accomplished athletes. To the delight of Tennis fans, however, in 2008 Harkleroad’s fame increased after agreeing to appear in the March edition of Playboy, citing Amanda Beard’s appearance as inspiration. After recovering from a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst, Harkleroad recalls, “I was just laying there for three weeks, and, you know, an offer came to me.”

We’re glad it did. Her sexy tennis outfits went even farther (or shorter I should say) in her Playboy spread and, by posing for the magazine, Harkleroad has become the first Tennis player to appear in the magazine. We salute Ashley Harkleroad for being the first Tennis player to receive such an illustrious honor.

15 Danica Patrick (wish would have)

via pinterest.com

Danica Patrick defied the odds by becoming a female Indy Car and stock car racer in a male dominated sport. Over the years, she has become the most successful woman in the sport, with her IndyCar win in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 being a first for women. She placed third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, which is the highest for any woman as well. She has had many other firsts for any woman in NASCAR and the IndyCar Series throughout her career.

Her success and popularity earned her an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated and two appearances in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. She was offered to pose for Playboy in 2005 which would have been another first for the sport, but she declined.

14 Mia St. John (did)

via womenfitness.net

Mexican-American professional boxer, Mia St. John turns a head or two with her impressive boxing career with 49 wins in 65 fights. She has won championships in the super welterweight and lightweight divisions and earned herself the nickname, “The Knockout." And what a knockout she is.

We all knew Mia St. John wasn’t just a pretty face, but in 1999, she showed off her pretty face and feminine body when she posed for Playboy appearing on one of the most iconic covers of Playboy ever. Mia has stated that her family encouraged the photo shoot, and Mia herself has encouraged other athletes do the same. She has encouraged other athletes to get as much out of their career and fame as they can and capitalize on any opportunity. We won’t argue with Mia on that.

13 Stacy Keibler (wish would have)

via huffingtonpost.com

Like Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler arrived in professional wrestling during the tail end of WCW. While WCW at that time was a chaotic mess, fans never had any problem remembering Stacy Keibler (who went by Miss Hancock in WCW). Fortunately for fans, when WWE bought WCW, Stacy came over to WWE during their “Invasion Angle.” Like Torrie Wilson, Stacy wasn’t much of a wrestler, but WWE made sure she was on the screen valeting, The Dudley Boys, Test, Scott Steiner and Randy Orton.

Standing nearly six feet tall, Stacy Keibler, with her beautiful smile, became instantly popular among all wresting fans and eventually caught the attention of Playboy. However, unlike Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler turned down two offers, much to the dismay of young males. Stacy said, “It’s just not something I want to do with my career.” Stacy explained it’s easier to just let us to use our imagination.

Believe me, Stacy, we have been.

12 Gabrielle Reece (did)

via nbcnews.com

Gabrielle Reece is a 6’3” professional volleyball player so, let’s be honest, she's probably not well-known. Reece played volleyball at FSU and holds the school’s records in solo and total blocks. She had a successful professional career in volleyball, participating in the 4-person Beach Volleyball Championship and winning it. She also lead the league in kills and accumulated the league’s highest awards such as offensive player of year and blocks leader.

While attending FSU, Reece’s modeling career took off. Reece appeared on the covers of several magazines and named one of the five most beautiful women in the world in Elle. Her beauty did not go unnoticed as Reece posed nude for Playboy in 2001. She has since become a spokeswoman for Nike, made appeared in television programs and written several fitness columns and books.

11 Caroline Wozniacki (wish would have)

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Caroline Wozniacki is a Dannish Tennis player who’s not only easy on the eyes but an excellent Tennis player to boot. She’s appeared in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but has eluded Playboy throughout her career. Her agent has told the media That kind of photo series we’ll keep away from right now. They are not the right fit with the image she has built.”

We’re not sure what that image is considering she’s been criticized for wearing revealing outfits during her matches in the past. We’ll just have to settle for the swimsuits and body paint photoshoots. Thankfully, the young, beautiful, 5’10” Scandinavian apparently has no concerns about her image regarding those.

10 Candice Michelle (did)

via WWE.com

Like Maria Kanellis, Candice Michelle isn’t the most well-known “Diva” in WWE history. Although, Candice has had a little more success than Maria, greatly improving her in-ring skills and winning the WWE Women’s Championship, Candice might be better known for her work outside the ring.

Like Maria, Candice got her start in WWE as a Diva Search contestant after appearing in small roles in films and in television. Candice became a full time character on WWE and feuded with Ashley Massaro. During the feud, Candice was offered to pose for Playboy and agreed saying, “(T)his has actually been a dream of mine since before I came to WWE.”

Like Maria, WWE helped promote the shoot and turned the appearance into a storyline. Candice would turn on her ally and former playmate, Torrie Wilson at Candice’s Playboy cover unveiling on Raw.

9 Heather Mitts (wish would have)

via Heavy.com

Heather Mitts is a retired American professional soccer player and former Olympian and a three time gold medalist for the Women’s U.S. soccer team. Throughout her soccer career, her good looks become noticeable, and a modeling career was virtually assured. She appeared in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, voted “Hottest Female Athlete” on ESPN.com, voted sexiest player in the WUSA in an online Playboy poll and appeared on the cover of Philadelphia magazine as one of the city’s “sexiest singles.”

Having such a successful soccer and modeling career made Heather Mitts a perfect fit for Playboy. Mitts however, would turn down a couple offers to pose naked for the magazine saying, “It’s not something I would do.” When referring to posing naked she added, “It’s got to be something my dad’s okay looking at.”

Can’t your dad just look away? We get it. Not everyone is cool showing their parents a naked photo of themselves. I supposed Heather’s dad can be proud that his daughter totally disappointed us.

8 Chyna (did)

via wwe.com

“The Ninth Wonder of the World” is a WWE legend, breaking gender barriers in a male dominated profession. Chyna will go down in WWE history as one of the greatest wrestlers ever for her dominance in the Women’s Division, winning the Women’s Title, as well as her presence among her male counterparts, being the only woman to win the Intercontinental Title.

Not only would Chyna make a huge impact in the ring, she would carry her presence over to Playboy in the November of 2000 issue, cementing her mark as a sex symbol of the 90s and early 2000s. She would appear on the cover of Playboy again in February of 2002.

7 Jennie Finch (wish would have)

via flosoftball.com

Jennie Finch is a former American Olympic gold medalist, for the USA National Softball Team, with her team winning the gold in the 2004 Olympics and the silver in the 2008 Olympics. During her time at the University of Arizona, Finch destroyed NCAA records by winning 60 consecutive games while belting a career 50 home runs. Her Olympic ERA is 0 while her career record for the USA National Team is 36-2 with a career ERA of 0.42. Finch has cemented her legacy into softball lore, setting the bar for excellence in pitching and as a feminist icon.

Her popularity, dominance and attractive features has allowed her to pose for Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and was named one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in People magazine. Playboy offered her lucrative offers to pose for them, Jennie Finch has alluded that her role model status for younger girls made that impossible.

6 Katarina Witt (did)

via hawtcelebs.com

Katarina Witt is a retired German figure skater who has won two Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988. She has won several World Championships, making her one of the most accomplished figure skaters of all time. Throughout her career, Katarina Witt’s outfits have been a subject for debate. Her costumes were often deemed too sexy and required a change in the policy. Figure skaters had to wear clothing that covered the buttocks and crotch, banning costumes that were too revealing. Despite the change in regulation, Witt continued to find a way to push the costume boundaries to their limit.

In 1998, when she was 32, Witt decided to forego the limits and pose nude for Playboy. The issue was the second ever to sell out. During an interview Witt claimed, “(T)he biggest compliment (in posing for Playboy) was that more women than men bought the magazine.”

5 Tammy Sytch aka Sunny (wish would have)

via wrestlingnews.com

Sunny became an instant sex symbol from her memorable time in WWE as a valet. Sunny was “the girl” the WWE back in the early 90s and considered the “first Diva” of the company. Her popularity with the fans became apparent when she became the most downloaded woman of 1996 when the internet was in its infancy.

Surprisingly, despite her backstage “reputation,” Sunny would never appear in Playboy. Though Sunny was offered to pose, shockingly, she would turn down the Playoff offer. She recalls, “I was just very reserved at that time. At the time, I just wasn’t ready emotionally to handle something like that.” "Reserved" is usually not a word associated with Sunny, but I suppose we can’t blame her for being leery of the pressure posing in Playboy can bring.

4 Ashley Massaro (did)

via Wikipedia.com

If you haven’t figured out the trend, WWE was heavily seeking models to join the company. It’s obvious the models were only there to pose for Playboy later and provide WWE with widespread notoriety. As a result, the Diva Search was instituted, and thousands of models tried their luck at impressing WWE officials. Ashley Massaro was one of the lucky ladies to make the cut for the 2005 Diva Search. Ashley would end up winning the third ever contest and like, Christy Hemme before, was heavily promoted.

After about a year in a half in the company, Ashley Massaro would be offered the cover of Playboy in 2007. In classic WWE fashion, Ashley’s cover was unveiled on an episode of Smackdown and a feud erupted from the unveiling. Ashley would feud with a jealous Jillian Hall and resentful Melina Perez to help promote the cover.

3 Luciana Aymar (wish would have)

via lucianaaymar.com

Luciana Aymar is an Argentinian field hockey player and is argued to be the greatest field hockey player of all time. Playboy has a tendency to go after the most popular women at the time, and Aymar’s highly decorated career made her a prime target. Though she was offered to pose for the iconic magazine, Aymar declined saying, “The money they offered me was fine, but I said ‘no’ because I care for my image. I have fans who are children and did not seem right to tie my image with the magazine.”

We appreciate Luciana thinking about the children, but did she ever think about us? All kidding aside, we respect Aymar decision as much as we wish she would’ve made a different one.

2 Torrie Wilson (did)

via samuellathropphotography.com

While Sable was instrumental in bringing WWE to Playboy magazine, Torrie Wilson kept the line moving. Before Playboy, Torrie Wilson was heavily involved in WCW and then in WWE after WCW’s purchase. Her only notable storyline involved her “father” Al Wilson, who was romantically involved with her rival, Dawn Marie and peaked with a “Stepmother vs Stepdaughter match.”

As a wrestler, Torrie Wilson’s career was kind of “meh.” However, her career as a valet in WWE and WCW turned her onto a sex symbol. Her booming career in wrestling spawned two Playboy appearances in May of 2003 and again in March 2004 with Sable. Wilson has credited her Playboy appearances with "helping her popularity in WWE” and taking her career to the “next level.”

1 Nadia Comaneci (wish would have)

via sporting.com

Nadia Comaneci is a Romanian gymnast and one of the most successful at her sport. Throughout her career, she has earned a total of nine Olympic medals, five of them gold. She became the first gymnast to earn a perfect ten. Comaneci popularized the sport and gained world wide attention. Her popularity and beauty caught the eye of Playboy who offered her an opportunity to pose for them. Comaneci’s response was, “I turned them down. I see many sporting champions which pose naked. Let’s say these photos are not trivial, and the money goes to charity, then it’s okay. But I am not willing to do this. Anyway, who would want to see me naked?”

Oh, Nadia, don’t be so modest.  We would have loved to. I suppose we have to respect Nadia’s decision, but it’s hard not to think about what could have been an amazing spread.

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