Why is the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in February?
Sports journalism is boring in February, at least 52 years ago it was. So sports were fabricated in February. Barrel jumping on ice, demolition derbies, and…bikinis?
So 52 years ago, a bunch of men decided that bikinis were sport by proclamation.
My brothers and I grew up loving Sports Illustrated. The Swimsuit issue became a moral curve ball that buckled our knees. Even though it wasn’t sport we were given tacit societal permission, in the name of red-blooded male dominated locker room culture, to leer at mostly naked women. Two years ago my brother Greg said, “Let’s write a letter to SI.”
It was our penance for marginalizing and objectifying women under the thinly veiled guise of consuming a sports magazine that sold it’s soul one week each February.
Greg wrote the letter and I edited and approved it and we sent it on the 50th anniversary of the Swimsuit issue. (We never got a response)
An Open Letter to Sports Illustrated
As a kid coming of age in the 1970’s, I eagerly awaited each issue of Sports Illustrated. Through that window of writing and images I understood the thoughtful and magical side of the world of sport that otherwise, would be limited to an occasional weekend game on television. That sophistication and intelligence applied to sport helped shape my worldview and I’m thankful for that childhood experience. Thank you.
Over the past five decades, I have appreciated stories by writers — to name a few more recent — Gary Smith, Tom Verducci, and Rick Reilly that explore the heart and soul of humanity, struggle, triumph, family, beliefs, all in the context of sports. This is what you do best.
I didn’t get the swimsuit issue opted out this year, so when it arrived in the mail, my wife, my ninth grade son, and I decided to throw it away without looking at it. This moral drama has been replayed in countless homes since Babette March graced the cover of SI in 1964. Perhaps it’s a teachable moment, but I wonder why those moments have to be annually justified with pleas of beauty and sport, at the expense of the dignity of young women sacrificed on the altars of skin-deep imagination.
The only regret I have over what is published in your pages leaves me in an awkward position of explaining the validity of evocative nearly naked women posing for no good reason other than they inhabit fabulous bodies and they are paid well. I struggle to justify this to my 9th grade son, my wife and my daughters…not to mention my Mom back in the 70s, as she presented my SI swimsuit issue sans front cover and models removed. I suppose there are similar conversations of confliction in homes around the world.
Has there been serious conversation at Sports Illustrated about the conflicting values presented 51 weeks of the year and the one week of the swimsuit issue? Have you given your two hundred staffers an anonymous poll to find out if the swimsuit issue conflicts with their religious and human values, whether Jewish, Humanist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or other? I know you understand a certain minority of readers object to the swimsuit issue, because you’ve allowed us to opt out, and I appreciate that. I also understand, from a letter dating back to 1960 [thank you for the SI Vault!] by Sidney L. James, that sportswear, including the bikini, is sport, and that’s your call.
I confess that I have willingly seen a few past issues of the swimsuit issue over the decades I’ve been a subscriber. But I’ve found that my looking at the issue does not promote a good relationship with my wife, and seems to be counter to the teaching of Jesus that says to look on a woman with lust is tantamount to adultery, so Jesus exhorts us to love and appreciate the beauty of God’s created males and females but not to exploit another human for money, sexual pleasure, and power.
The crux of the matter is that it would be beautiful to read the magazine or web site and not have the swimsuit issue promos constantly put before me as a temptation to defy the teaching of my Lord and the wishes of my wife, and the hopes of my son that I truly love his mother enough to honor her and not look at women in bikinis young enough to be his sisters.
I suppose I could just move to another medium, because I know I have choices, but Sports Illustrated has been a great magazine for many years, and I truly want to remain a reader. But couldn’t you also move the swimsuit issue off the regular site and subscription?
Those who find the magazine offensive to values are as diverse as Muslims, feminists, homosexuals, atheists, Hindu, Jewish. We are not merely a prudish minority of Christian evangelicals who dishonestly sound off about pornography and secretly sin in worse ways. We’re trying to live out our faith and respectfully joining others who share human and religious values to join us in creating a better society.
I’ve tried to convey honestly, transparently, and fairly what one reader thinks. My request is that you poll your employees and editorial board for their opinion about how the swimsuit issue conflicts or matches their values? Then I trust that you’ll act according to the values of the organization.
My hope is that you are not imposing corporate policy and subscription values over the beliefs and values of your employees and readers, men and women, young and old, who annually wrestle with a plain contradiction of their beliefs about human dignity and morality, diminishing an otherwise respected publication that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit through sport and competition.
Greg R. Taylor