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History Lessons: Baring It All

From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, one April tradition gave U-M administrators a headache and student participants an unorthodox freedom: the Naked Mile.
By Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10

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Read time: 2 minutes
Men running down the street in underwear
In 2002, some Naked Mile runners heeded University warnings and avoided police ire by wearing, at least, their underwear.
Photo by Danny Moloshok/The Michigan Daily, courtesy of the U-M Bentley Historical Library

For almost two decades, the Naked Mile—an annual streaker run across U-M’s Central Campus—lived as both an exhilarating and preposterous tradition.

Student athletes conceived the Naked Mile in 1986 to celebrate the last day of winter term classes. Originally, the event saw just a small group running while wearing naught but sports equipment. But, as more students caught on over the years, the event’s size and notoriety grew exponentially. In 1999, the U-M Department of Public Safety (DPS) estimated 800 runners and thousands of spectators—including tourists, TV news crews, camera-bearers of salacious intent, and perpetrators of harassment and assaults.

Before 1999, there were relatively few arrests, and those usually involved charges such as intoxication. Beginning in 2000, the police began arresting more runners for indecent exposure. Leading up to the 2001 event, a U-M committee organized an active crackdown. Bulletins and emails were sent out to the student body, and the University even bought ad space in The Michigan Daily to warn potential runners.

Letters to The Michigan Daily displayed the spectrum of opinion of the event. Some saw it as a uniquely U-M bonding experience, akin to an afternoon watching football at the Big House, and safe due to the police presence. Others strongly disagreed, arguing that students were risking their future careers and that the cameras and bad actors would not be there if only men were running nude.

The DPS estimated only a few dozen runners for the 2001 Naked Mile, and attendance each following year dwindled further. By 2004, the event experienced its last gasp as a small group of students attempted to stage a run just before the end of classes, but to no real turnout.


Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10, is senior assistant editor of Michigan Alum.

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