Gina Vaynshteyn
July 31, 2014 11:10 am

Volleyball star Sabina Altynbekova is a world-wide sensation. She has 270,000 Instagram followers, 200,000 Facebook fans and a slew of YouTube homages dedicated to her best moments on the court. All that attention should be good for her sport, so why is she potentially getting kicked off Kazakhstan’s Junior Women’s National volleyball team?

According to several reports, she’s just “too beautiful.” Her coach, Nurlan Sadikov, told Tengrin News that the attention on Altynbekova is getting out of hand, and her presence has become a “distraction.”

“It is impossible to work like this,” Sadikov reportedly said. “The crowd behaves like there is only one player at the championship.” Instead of supporting the overwhelmed 18-year-old, teammates are apparently angry and frustrated with the situation.

While the obsession with Altynbekova is actually pretty intense (fans have created social media sites dedicated to her; she has even been sketched into an anime character), the fact that her coach and team members don’t have her back is disturbing, especially since the volleyball player didn’t ask for any of this. According to the Daily Mail, Altynbekova confessed, “I was flattered at first but it’s all getting a little bit much. I want to concentrate on playing volleyball and to be famous for that, not anything else.” Instead of blaming Altynbekova, Sadikov and her teammates should be making it very clear that they support her and her career.

Objectifying attractive women in sports is nothing new (nor is treating beautiful women who are also athletic like they’re sexy rare unicorns). Skylar Diggins, a WNBA player who recently had Drake and Lil’ Wayne publicly salivating vying for her attention and not really caring whether she had a boyfriend or not (she did), became known (partially as a result) as “one of the hottest women ballers in the country,” according to Hoops Vibe. Though attention from these musicians probably amassed more appreciation for women’s basketball, this attention was directed in all the wrong places. Diggins is a super-impressive and talented athlete (she started as a point guard for Notre Dame and is their leading scorer of all time) with an amazing record, it’s just unacceptable to reduce her to a pretty girl with a ball.

And, let’s face it: To suggest that a woman is “too attractive” to play any kind of sport is a blatant byproduct of sexism. Men in the sports industry have massive fan followings as well, but you don’t see any turmoil over their looks, and you don’t see male athletes’ careers threatened because they are too “hot.” Pro players like Fernando Verdasco, Blake Griffin, and Reggie Bush are worshiped for their attractiveness; yet, they are not considered a “distraction,” nor are they blamed for how others choose to celebrate them.

Athletes like Sabina Altynbekova should not be punished for having overzealous fans, they should be protected. If Sabina were a man, would she be called a “distraction” or would she be considered “marketable?”

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