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. In some instances, streakers are not fully nude, instead wearing minimal clothing.
Historical forerunners of modern-day streakers include the neo-Adamites who travelled naked through towns and villages in medieval Europe, and the 17th-century Quaker Solomon Eccles who went nude through the City of London with a burning brazier on his head. 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 £1,013 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 Northfield, 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 university president Ralph W. Steen, 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.
Fines of between £10 and £50 were imposed on streakers by British and Irish magistrates in the early 1970s. The offences used for prosecution were typically minor, such as the violation of park regulations. Nevertheless, the chief law in force against streaking in England and Wales at that time remained the 16th-century vagrancy law, for which the punishment in 1550 had been whipping.
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.
The first instance of streaking in English football took place on March 23, 1974. Prior to the start of the league match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Highbury, a middle aged man named John Taylor ran around the field. He was eventually caught by three policemen, forcibly made to wear trousers, and removed from the stadium. Taylor was fined £10 by the North London Court the next day.
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. The first known instance of streaking in cricket took place on 22 March 1974, the first day of the third test between Australia and New Zealand at Auckland. Half an hour before the end of the day's play, while New Zealand was batting, "a dark-haired young man" ran from near the sightscreen, through mid-wicket and disappeared between the stands near the square-leg boundary. The incident occurred quickly and police did not have time to react. Reports differ on whether the man was completely naked, with some accounts stating that he may have been wearing a flesh-coloured T-shirt. On the evening of the second day, while Australian batsman Ian Redpath was on strike, an "athletic young man" was caught on television cameras running across the ground on the leg-side. The streaker ran to the stadium's male restrooms, and was chased by police. However, when police entered the rest room they found 20 people inside, all of whom were clothed. Authorities were unable to identify the streaker and believe that he had an accomplice who provided him with clothes. There were no incidents on the third and final day of the test, leading some members of the New Zealand team to remark that "the match was for once streaker-less". One of the best-known instances of streaking occurred on 5 August 1975, when former Royal Navy cook Michael Angelow ran naked across Lord's during an Ashes Test. This was the first instance of streaking during a cricket match in England, and commonly mistakenly believed to be the first ever instance of streaking in cricket.
Another 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.
The English glamour model Linsey Dawn McKenzie performed a topless streak at a televised England v. West Indies cricket match at Old Trafford in 1995. Wearing only a thong and a pair of trainers, she ran onto the field with the words "Only Teasing" written across her breasts.
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 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 shot with buckshot and slightly wounded. 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.
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 the 1988 VFL Grand Final a fully naked woman streaked in the final quarter and was promptly arrested. The next year in the 1989 VFL Grand Final a woman streaked dressed as batgirl. Unlike the other two incidents, she was not fully naked, wearing underpants.
In Super Bowl XXXVIII, streaker Mark Roberts disrupted the game by running onto 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 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".
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 police officers 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"A Family Legacy", is a short film featuring Australian AFI award-winning actor Nathaniel Dean. It is an example of streaking at large social and cultural gatherings. The freedom of self-expression is presented in the film with a sense of social satire.
The season one episode of the sitcom That '70s Show titled "Streaking" features four of the main male characters (Eric Forman, Steven Hyde, Michael Kelso, and Fez) planning to streak a Gerald Ford rally, although Eric - wearing a Nixon mask - ends up the only one going through with it.
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.