Originally created 02/26/97

Swimsuit issue is one tradition that needs to go



It happens every February. First comes the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, then the moral outrage quickly follows and finally come the angry letters.

For two decades now, I have gotten a chuckle out of these venomous missives from women's groups and school librarians and embarrassed fathers, most of them canceling their subscriptions.

Maybe I'm getting old, but the swimsuit issue no longer seems like a laughing matter. Instead, it strikes me as an outdated - and somewhat harmful - tradition.

Exactly what, I've been wondering, is the world's leading sports magazine doing publishing cheesecake shots of leggy models?

Exactly what does any of this have to do with sports?

And what message is SI sending with its latest effort, a 252-page issue filled with scantily clad women?

"Nothing But Bikinis," the cover headline coos. Nothing but babes is more like it.

Gone is last year's experiment with Olympic water polo guys. It's back to business as usual - wink wink, nudge nudge - for the boys of SI. So much for gender equity. So much for the other 51 weeks each year spent chronicling the accomplishments of soccer's Mia Hamm, golf's Laura Davies, basketball's Lisa Leslie and others.

With a single unfortunate aberration, all that journalistic progress goes flying out the window. Makes you wonder why SI even bothers to clamber atop its soapbox the rest of the year. Makes you wonder how much longer SI will even have its soapbox.

It's hard to take soft-core pornographers seriously.

Please don't confuse me with a prude or a First Amendment basher. Without free speech, I couldn't earn a paycheck. I can even appreciate the historical significance of a pig like Larry Flynt.

But there's a time and a place for everything. And something strikes me as unseemly about this SI tradition, which dates to the '60s.

Oh, it's all very tastefully done. And this time they've even found a way to squeeze sports into the mix, ever so sneakily.

There's an 11-page spread on beach volleyball, complete with a story about the women's professional tour. Sex sells. That seems to be the message here.

"If people want to come check us out because they're scoping our bodies, I don't have a problem with that," says Olympian Holly McPeak, "because I guarantee they'll go home talking about our athleticism."

Keep dreamin', Holly.

We also get a five-page story on cover model Tyra Banks, she of the Li'l Penny commercials. We learn just how nutso she is about her beloved Los Angeles Lakers. We learn this a few pages after she bares nearly all in classic beach shots.

The most shocking stuff, though, comes later in the issue. Another 11 pages are devoted to Steffi Graf, the reigning women's tennis champion.

Yes, that's Steffi peering out at the sea in a clingy white number. Yes, that's Steffi jogging along in a skimpy black bottom. Yes, that's Steffi, flexing her many curves in a desperate attempt to detract attention from her nose.

Great stuff ... if your name's Gunther Parche.

Someday my wife and I plan to have children. Should we have a little girl, it's likely, considering her old man's occupation, that she'll become interested at some point in sports.

Perhaps she'll inherit my addiction for weekly doses of SI. Perhaps she'll follow Hamm's example and play soccer. Perhaps she'll come to me someday and express a dream to be chronicled in the pages of her favorite magazine.

If I'm honest, I won't tell her the best way to get there is "practice, practice, practice." If I'm really honest, I'll tell her the truth:

The best way for a woman to make it into Sports Illustrated is to strip down to her underwear and pose seductively. The odds are so much better that way.