It is often associated with sporting events but can occur in more secluded areas. It usually involves running quickly which also reflects the original meaning of the word before it became associated with nudity. Streakers are often pursued by sporting officials or by the police.
Lady Godiva was an English noblewoman who, according to a legend dating at least to the 13th century, rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. The name "Peeping Tom" for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Tom watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.
At 7:00 PM on 5 July 1799, a man was arrested at the Mansion House, London, and sent to the Poultry Compter. He confirmed that he had accepted a wager of 10 guineas (equal to £930 today) to run naked from Cornhill to Cheapside.
The first recorded incident of streaking by a college student in the United States occurred in 1804 at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) when senior George William Crump was arrested for running naked through Lexington, Virginia, where the university is located. Robert E. Lee later sanctioned streaking as a rite of passage for young Washington and Lee gentlemen. Crump was suspended for the academic session, but later went on to become a U.S. Congressman.
Streaking seems to have been well-established on some college campuses by the mid-1960s. The magazine of Carleton College described the phenomenon in negative terms associating it with rock culture, drinking and destruction. At that time, streaking was a tradition on the Minnesota campus during January and February when temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
In 1973, what the press called a "streaking epidemic" hit Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, with streakers being seen in residence halls, at football games and at various other on-campus locations and events, including Spring graduation. The trend continued until spring 1974, when Ralph W. Steen, University president, hoping to end the streaking fad, designated a day to streak the length of East College Street, a tradition that - with a few breaks - has continued to this day. The "epidemic" was covered by all of the major media outlets and became the first time streaking received concentrated national press coverage, including an article in Paris Match covering the phenomenon.
Time magazine, in December 1973, called streaking "a growing Los Angeles-area fad" that was "catching on among college students and other groups." A letter writer responded, "Let it be known that streakers have plagued the campus police at Notre Dame for the past decade", pointing out that a group of University of Notre Dame students sponsored a "Streakers' Olympics" in 1972. There was also a streaker at the real Olympics in Montreal, Canada, in 1976.
Definitions and etymology
The word has been used in its modern sense only since the 1960s. Before that, to streak in English since 1768 meant "to go quickly, to rush, to run at full speed", and was a re-spelling of streek: "to go quickly" (c.1380); this in turn was originally a northern Middle English variant of stretch (c. 1250).
The term "streaking" was popularized by a reporter for a local Washington, D.C. news station as he watched a "mass nude run" take place at the University of Maryland in 1973. That nude run had 533 participants. As the collected mass of nude students exited Bel Air dorm, the reporter, whose voice was broadcast live over the station via a pay phone connection exclaimed... "they are streaking past me right now. It's an incredible sight!" The next day it was out on the Associated Press wire as "streaking" and had nationwide coverage.
Streaking is distinct from naturism or nudism in that streakers usually intend to be noticed and may choose a place with a large audience for their act, regardless of the risk of arrest (sometimes even intending to end up in police custody), whereas naturists and nudists generally prefer to be left in peace. It is also distinct from "flashing", in that the intent is generally not to shock or traumatize a victim. Streakers may streak only once or a few times, possibly as a result of a dare, or may streak so often it can be considered a hobby.
The most public form of streaking is running naked before huge crowds at sporting events. However, many streakers seek quieter venues, such as a neighborhood at night after most people have gone to bed. Some have even found it especially satisfying to streak on rural highways in the very early hours of the morning, when there are not many commuters on the road. A number of streakers do not intend to expose themselves to others, but find it thrilling to do it in places that often have people present, but do not at the time of their streak. Streaking may be an individual or a group activity. It is not uncommon for videos of some of the more daring streaks to find popularity on the internet.
Of note is that since its heyday in the 1970s, being caught streaking in the United States now involves a risk of being charged with indecent exposure and consequently the title of "sex offender" upon conviction. Many jurisdictions have precedents (for example, in California, In re Dallas W. (2000)), establishing that public nudity, even if offensive, may not rise to the level of indecent exposure unless it is sexually motivated. However, that does not preclude attempts at prosecution. The prevalence of streaking (and, more generally, public nudity) greatly varies from place to place. It is reportedly quite common in San Francisco, where the police are prohibited by local authorities from making arrests for public nudity absent an outright lewd act.
In a game against the Melbourne Storm at Olympic Park in 2007, a Brisbane Broncos fan streaked across the field waving his supporter jersey over his head. He was apprehended at the other side of the field to large applause.
During an NRL finals match between the Wests Tigers and the New Zealand Warriors at the Sydney Football Stadium on 16 September 2011, a streaker ran onto the playing field forcing the game to come to a halt as security guards attempted to apprehend the man.
Michael O'Brien was the first known streaker at a major sporting event when on 20 April 1974, he ran out naked onto the ground of an England vs. France Rugby Union match at Twickenham. The 25-year-old Australian was captured by a policeman, PC Bruce Perry, who covered his genitals with his police helmet. The photograph of O'Brien under arrest became one of the most reproduced photographs of a streaker. O'Brien, long-haired, bearded and naked in front of a jeering and cheering crowd is surrounded and supported by bobbies as he is arrested. The policeman's helmet is on display in the museum at Twickenham. A later streaker at the same venue, although merely topless, was Erica Roe on 2 January 1982.
On 22 March 2009, a female streaker ran onto the pitch brandishing a green flag during the televised match between London Irish and Northampton Saints. It was in front of the season's largest crowd away from Twickenham, 21,000 fans bearing witness.
In the sport of cricket, it is not uncommon for a male streaker to run out to the field purely for shock and entertainment value or political purposes. One example was in the First Test of the Australia versus the I.C.C. World XI, when a rather drunken man darted out toward the field naked, shocking the Australian and World XI players, halting play until he was spear tackled to the ground by field personnel. In one notable incident in 1977, Australian test cricketer Greg Chappell spanked an invading streaker named Bruce McCauley with his cricket bat; McCauley then fell to the ground and was arrested by police.
Former cricket streaker Sheila Nicholls went on to have a successful career in the American music business. In 1989 Nicholls ran onto Lord's cricket ground fully nude and did a cartwheel to the crowd. She was photographed and filmed full frontal on live TV.
"A Family Legacy", is a short film featuring Australian AFI award winning actor Nathaniel Dean. It is an example of streaking at large social & cultural gatherings. The freedom of self-expression is presented in the film with a sense of social satire.
Streaking became popular at Australian rules football matches in the 1980s, particularly Victorian Football League Grand Finals, with a trend started by Adelaide stripper Helen D'Amico in the 1982 VFL Grand Final between Carlton and Richmond, wearing only a Carlton scarf.
In 2005, German football club FC Hansa Rostock successfully sued three streakers who disrupted their 2003 match against Hertha Berlin, to recoup the €20,000 they were fined by the German Football Association for failing to maintain adequate security at their ground. During a 2007 exhibition match between Wellington Phoenix and Los Angeles Galaxy, a female streaker took to the pitch trying to unofficially promote a business run by New Zealand sporting personality Marc Ellis.
In the 2006 Winter Olympics, streaker Mark Roberts interrupted the men's bronze medal curling match between the U.S. team and the UK team, wearing nothing but a strategically placed rubber chicken. For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, officials warned visitors against streaking, amongst other forms of "bad behaviour".
The 1996 Wimbledon's Men's singles final between MaliVai Washington and Richard Krajicek was interrupted by a female streaker just before the toss. Melissa Johnson, a 23-year-old student, thereby became Wimbledon's first streaker. She ran onto the ground with an apron on, which she lifted to reveal her vulva to the players and crowd. In 2006 a quarter-final match between Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon was interrupted by a male streaker, who was escorted off court by police. He was later identified as Dutch radio DJ Sander Lantinga, who was streaking for a TV show called Try Before You Die.
Despite the particularly close up nature of snooker, there have been a number of streakers in snooker tournaments. The first was Lianne Crofts in the final of the 1997 Benson & Hedges Masters between Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan. Since then there have been two streakers at the World Snooker Championship. The first was Andrew Slater, who appeared in a Sven-Göran Eriksson mask and socks during a match between Paul Hunter and Quinten Hann in 2002. Then, during the final in 2004 between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Graeme Dott, Mark Roberts ran down the stairs and tried to claim asylum under the table.
In Super Bowl XXXVIII, streaker Mark Roberts disrupted the game by running on to the field. He was eventually leveled by New England Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham, and was subsequently apprehended. Despite the worldwide audience, this event was largely unnoticed due to that game's infamous halftime show in which Janet Jackson's nude breast was revealed due to what was called a "wardrobe malfunction". Roberts would return in 2007 during the first NFL regular season game held in England between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, streaking during the game at Wembley Stadium.
In 1999, a female streaker named Yvonne Robb was arrested for kissing Tiger Woods on the 18th hole at Carnoustie. In 2000, female streaker Jacqui Salmond streaked fully nude at The Open Championship at St Andrews. And in the 1970s, at the height of streaking's popularity, a male streaker who broke into the Augusta National golf course in Augusta, Georgia (albeit not while the Masters was in play) was actually shot with buckshot and slightly wounded.
In 1973, a female streaker (wearing tennis shoes to avoid falling) ran onto the ice at the Inglewood Forum before a Los Angeles Kings hockey game. Police officers followed her onto the ice but fell while pursuing her. She ran the full length of the ice and was taken into custody by other officers waiting at other end of the rink.
During the final minutes of the third and deciding game of the 2013 State of Origin series, a streaker, Wati Holmwood intruded naked upon the field, interrupting the play and possibly costing the Queensland team a try. He was tackled by security guards, escorted from the field and fined $5,500.
In Bruce Weber's account of a bike ride across America "Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc.," he prints a side picture of his 18 yr. old friend Billy, running naked at "a full & graceful sprint. Leaning forward, his arms pumping, he sped across campus...gleeful & mischievous...I don't know if I have ever seen a more joyous, animated, vibrant portrait of anyone, the embodiment of meaningless daring, an adrenaline rush, and happy rebellion."
In popular culture
The high point of streaking's pop culture significance was in 1974, when thousands of streaks took place around the world. A wide range of novelty products were produced to cash in on the fad, from buttons and patches to a wristwatch featuring a streaking Richard Nixon, to pink underwear that said "Too shy to streak." The prominence of streaking in 1974 has been linked both to the sexual revolution and a conservative backlash against feminism and the campus protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Perhaps the most widely seen streaker in history was 34-year-old Robert Opel, who streaked across the stage of The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles flashing a peace sign on national US television at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974. Bemused host David Niven quipped, "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings." Later, evidence arose suggesting that Opel's appearance was facilitated as a publicity stunt by the show's producer Jack Haley, Jr.. Robert Metzler, the show's business manager, believed that the incident had been planned in some way; during the dress rehearsal Niven had asked Metzler's wife to borrow a pen so he could write down the famous line, which was thus not the ad-lib it appeared to be. Niven's encounter with the streaker was voted the top Oscars moment by film fans in 2001.
Ray Stevens wrote and performed "The Streak", a novelty song about a man who is "always making the news / wearing just his tennis shoes". The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1974.
Russian project ChaveZZZ Reality released a single "Naked Runner" and a same-titled video-clip specifically dedicated to all streakers worldwide.
The current record for the largest group streak was established at the University of Georgia, with 1,543 simultaneous streakers on March 7, 1974. The University of Colorado comes in second with 1,200 streakers, and the University of Maryland ranks third, with 553 naked students streaking three miles in March 1974.
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- John Mollenkopf (January 26, 1967). "Crash Syndrome". The Carletonian. 'Examples of that problem [Carleton's social problem] are the large number of departing female students, the rise of class spirit, low grades, streaking, destruction, drinking, and the popularity of rock dances.'
- Stephen F. "Student Movements: Nudes". Digital Archives and Collections - Ralph W. Steen Library. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
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