Celebrating Strength and Commitment: ESPN’s Body Issue is Back

I’ve said it before: I LOVE ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue. It’s everything that Sports Illustrated turned its back on when it decided to devote a monthly issue to Playboy-esque models in teaser swimsuits. Ugh, just thinking about that issue makes me mad. It always makes me mad when people KNOW BETTER.

But ESPN celebrates ATHLETES. And not just model-y, skinny-looking ones like swimmer Natalie Coughlin, basketball player Brittney Griner or last year’s cover woman and World Cup Champion goalie, Hope Solo. This issue celebrates beauty in STRENGTH. 

This picture sums up my point, I think:


The hammer thrower is Amanda Bingson. The Photographer is Peter Hapak for ESPN The Magazine, and I’m hoping he won’t sue a humble blogger like me for drawing attention to his work without asking permission. You’re awesome, Mr. Hapak! So are you, Ms. Bingson.

Come to think of it, why don’t I quit while I’m ahead here. In this week when America basks in the glow of its World Cup championship, it’s appropriate to take a moment to sit back in awe of the vehicle and canvas of an athlete’s art: her body. Go to ESPN’s Body Issue and see what I mean.

Hey, Sports Illustrated, Want to Get Out of the Porn Biz? Check Out ESPN’s Body Issue

I used to subscribe to Sports Illustrated. ME, not my husband. This fact always used to surprise my 10th grade English students, when they read my name on the back of the magazines I used to bring to class.

[Side note to teachers: teaching figurative language? SI is the perfect tool! If you think about it, their writers have to be at the top of their game, since “so-and-so beat so-and-so” would otherwise be a pretty boring story line.]

So yeah, I loved the writing in SI. In every issue, I could usually count on one story to make me cry with an account of some athlete’s heroic struggle against poverty or injury, or some small town’s support of a beloved coach with cancer.

Then came that week in February. The Swimsuit Issue. After the first year when I “read” it through, in horrified curiosity, I tossed it straight into the recycling. Later, after protests from readers like me, SI offered an opt-out option for a reduced subscription. I took it.

But I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t supporting a magazine that indulged in pornography once a year. Yes, I KNOW that SI also supports a sports industry that is rife with drug use, abuse, and corruption…but those things are all at least related to SPORTS. Women in ridiculous “f— me” poses wearing ridiculous non-swimwear…that just upset me. Pissed me off. And finally drove me to drop my subscription.

Enter ESPNs Body Issue. It finally does what a sports magazine SHOULD do: celebrates the bodies of ATHLETES in all their hard-won glory. Porn? Hah! The cover photo is not stunningly gorgeous (and aptly named) Venus Williams standing in white sand dunes, drape blowing as befitting a Roman goddess–it’s baseball player Prince Fielder (also aptly named). Prince’s body? Let’s call it…ample. And tattooed. The man is STRONG. But I doubt anyone’s going to be misusing his photo in inappropriate ways.

This blog post has a lil’ problem now, of course: a photo is worth 1,000 words, and ESPNs photos are all copyrighted. I could take a page from my own book and use my figurative language skills to DESCRIBE to you the way hockey player Hilary Knight’s abs stand at attention as she pulls on her skates (and nothing else). Or the way the curves of boxer Danyelle Wolf’s biceps mirror those of her glutes. But if I were you, I‘d just click on the link to see for yourself.

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

My POINT is, though, I had never heard of boxer Danyelle Wolf. I don’t like boxing, but I do like living in a world where women can do it if men can do it. And because of Danyelle Wolf’s hard work, I admire her beautiful body, and in so doing, I read her words:

“Bleed and sweat now so you don’t have to in the fight.” That’s what I tell myself whenever it gets tough. I want to be dead-dog tired during my training session and I want to push myself because, when it comes to fight day, you want to push through all those mental blocks.

I picked up my first pair of boxing gloves just five or six years ago. When I started training to be a triathlete, people would stop me and ask if I was a fighter. One day some guy asked, “What gym do you fight out of? Because you have the build of a fighter.” So I met him at a gym the next day, he showed me some punches and some basic combinations, and it was a very humbling experience. I said that day, right when I put those gloves on, “This is the sport I’m going all the way in on.”


I’m  pretty sure I never read an interview like that from a “swimsuit” model.

Way to go, ESPN. Maybe you can teach SI a thing or two about sports magazining.

What do you think about the Body Issue? Or Sports Illustrated’s “swimsuit” issue? Even if you’ve not seen it, do you think ESPN is doing the right thing by highlighting the bodies of athletes?