The Swimsuit Issue has had some good articles

Posted: February 20, 2012 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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My Sports Illustrated arrives on Wednesdays. Last week I couldn’t wait for it to show up in my mailbox. I was anxious, lonely, ready to spend a good half-hour with the magazine. I checked the mailbox at 2 with no luck, then finally found it at 4 p.m.

See, there’s this amazing article by Thomas Lake I wanted to read.

Also, the SI Swimsuit Issue arrived.

These days, the Swimsuit Issue is a separate magazine. Kate Upton graced the cover of that issue, while a guard with the New York Knicks made the cover of the regular magazine. The Swimsuit Issue started in 1964 and for decades it was part of the regular magazine, pictures of bikini babes sharing space with features on ACC basketball rivalries. Over the years some amazing travel stories and other bonus pieces appeared in the Swimsuit Issue. I wonder if the writers had mixed feelings when a big feature ran with the swimsuits. More people than ever see the magazine, but how many were there for the words?

The Swimsuit Issue’s been around a long time now. Nineteen-sixty-four. Forty-eight years. My dad was a junior in high school, and he’s, like, getting old now. That’s a lot of one-pieces and even more bikinis. But during that time, those issues also featured some amazing writing. And in the weeks following the publication of the Swimsuit Issue, the magazine featured the most entertaining letters to the editor.

So here’s a little stroll through the history of the SI Swimsuit Issue, which hopefully doesn’t lead to anyone canceling their TVFury subscription. It’s some of the best stories, most outraged letters to the editor, and a few of the famous covers.


The SI Vault – which remains the most important invention of the 21st Century and yes that includes Facebook – has a link to all the Swimsuit Issue Covers, though it hasn’t been updated the past three years.

Although the Swimsuit Issue officially debuted in ’64, there were other covers with women in swimsuits before that, including one in 1955 that featured your mom in her bathing suit, emerging from the water during a family outing to the local lake on a Sunday afternoon.

Maybe not scandalous now. But for 1955...

Model Betty di Bugnano graced that cover, on a magazine that would be unrecognizable to anyone who’s read SI since about 1970. Back in ’55 Sports Illustrated still focused more on leisurely activities. Bridge and dogs were as likely to be featured on the cover as a baseball star. This issue features a story headlined, “How do you Wake Up?” There’s no hidden meaning to the headline, no puns involving Tim Wakefield’s grandfather. It’s a story about the “seven basic types of morning risers. Which one you belong to depends on your temperament and temperature.” Frank Deford did not write it.

Babette March was the cover girl for the first issue in 1964. Again, SI was a much different magazine back then. One feature in that first Swimsuit Issue was about how loco-spotting was the No. 1 sport for more than a million English and not – not! – cricket.

The 1985 issue seemed to have outraged more people than normal. Paulina Porizkova – who a year earlier became the first woman from Central Europe to make the cover – appeared again, though I’m assuming that only caused an issue for the most jingoistic of SI’s readers. No, it was the skin.

This woman married Ric Ocasek. Okay.

This letter worried about the chastity of teenage boys:

The swimsuit issue obviously has become a hallowed institution. You must relish the outraged letters of shocked protest and amuse yourselves with a few canceled subscriptions. It is nevertheless sad to see SI, which so often takes the moral high ground, increasingly pander to its readers’ lusts with this gratuitous erotica. Do you even think, for example, of the thousands of teenage boys who read your magazine religiously? Would to God you had any interest in preserving their chastity. But the only name of your game is more sales and advertising income. For shame!
Portland, Ore.

The angry letters to the editor usually broke down into a few categories:
* People who were upset that women were objectified, especially since it’s a sports magazine that should be hailing their accomplishments as athletes, not pinups.
* Religious folks
* Parents of girls who don’t want their children believing that the only way to ever make the SI cover is to take off their clothes.
* Women who want to see men in skimpy suits. It’s only fair.
* Overweight or otherwise unhealthy males who jokingly – I think – say SI will give them a heart attack if they insist on putting attractive models in small swimsuits on the cover once a year.
* In the early years, the occasional missive from a surely handsome man who wants to know why more personal information wasn’t provided about the model. Like, is she seeing anyone or is she married? And if she’s not, would she be interested in a 48-year-old from Fargo who possesses a steady job but a shaky grasp on basic human hygiene?
* Parents of boys, who gave their kid a subscription, thinking Junior would read about the exploits of Joe Montana, Julius Erving or Mike Schmidt. Parents like this mom:

We just received your annual “swimsuit spectacular.” I threw it in the garbage. That isn’t the sport we had in mind when we gave our son a gift subscription to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED!
Palo Alto, Calif.

I guess I was lucky, since my dad had a subscription. If mom was going to send an angry letter to anyone, all she had to do was leave it in front of my dad’s cereal in the morning. At least one person enjoyed the ’85 issue, especially when comparing it to the 1984 version.

Your swimsuit issue was great: perfect photography and backgrounds, and all six girls were lovely. This one was nothing like last year’s issue, which, in my opinion, was Smut City. Nice job, SI.
Madison Heights, Mich.

I picture Mr. Lederman sitting at his kitchen table when the ’85 issue arrived. A year earlier he told himself – and maybe he’d promised his wife or his priest – he’d never again look at an SI Swimsuit Issue. Not after that smut and those thongs and the double entendres of those captions. But now that the ’85 issue has arrived, maybe he’ll give it one more look, just a peek. Just to make sure the magazine hasn’t somehow gotten even smuttier. Because if it has, by god, that’s it, no more. And…thank god, we have lovely pictures and nice backgrounds. Let me write a letter complimenting the editors.

The 1985 issue featured a piece from the legendary Gary Smith about Australian lifesavers and a boxing piece from a young writer named “J. Austin Murphy”, who would go on to write The Sweet Season – as Austin Murphy. (For those who loved reading about the antics of Murphy’s siblings and dad in The Sweet Season, check out this entertaining 1984 piece Murphy wrote on his clan, including his brother Mark, a football star.)

Here’s that 1984 edition of Smut City. Again with Paulina:

No really, she married Ric Ocasek.

One of the stranger pieces to appear in a Swimsuit Issue was Frank Deford’s story from 1978, which was a series of imagined phone calls during Super Bowl week. It’s all dialogue and was headlined “Soooper Dooperrr.””

SI always had a writer accompany the models to the shoots and Rick Reilly did it on several occasions. One of his best stories from these expeditions came in 2001, when he took his 14-year-old son along on a trip to “thong paradise.”

Christie Brinkley had a three-peat of covers from 1979-81, a Bill Russell-like streak eventually matched by the legendary Elle Macpherson from 1986-88.

This woman married Billy Joel. Okay.

That Brinkley issue features a fun, quirky article by Douglas S. Looney, which anyone who’s ever attended a prep basketball game will enjoy. It’s called “This Olfactory Oracle Never Turns Up His Nose at a High School Gym.” Looney writes about how players, officials, Ben Gay, popcorn, used towels and a mass of humanity combine to create unique smells in prep gymnasiums.

The SI two weeks later featured the normal number of outraged readers. In today’s Internet world, the SI swimsuit issue is hardly cause of concern for parents or others who worried about the effect these attractive young ladies are having on the world. But in 1979?

My wife and I were somewhat taken aback by your cover and its subtitle. “Getting Away From It All.” You sure did! What sport were you trying to depict? How would I explain the inside photographs to my son? (Fortunately, I intercepted the magazine before he was able to see it.) Please don’t get away from it all. Get back to the business of sports.
Utica, N. Y.

My favorite letter from that year came from a young man in New York:

I am 11 years old. I usually enjoy SI but not the Feb. 5 issue. I don’t want to see girls in bathing suits. I want to see sports like football, baseball, etc.
Woodbury, N.Y.

Presumably, 15-year-old Joseph A. Loscalzo had different feelings about the Swimsuit Issue, although there’s always the chance Mom Loscalzo ghost-wrote her son’s published letter.

In 1989 SI celebrated 25 years of the Swimsuit issue and Deford wrote about how it all started. His story tells the tale of Jule Campbell, the most important person behind the Swimsuit Issue. For that ’89 special edition, SI put Kathy Ireland in a yellow bikini and put her on the cover.

She was great in Necessary Roughness.

In honor of those 25 years, several SI writers profiled several famous models, assignments they surely begged off of in order to cover a Big Ten game in Indiana in early January. Among the stories, Jaime Diaz wrote about Sheila Roscoe, and Bruce Newman featured the lovely and talented Yvette and Yvonne Sylvander. In a nice twist, Jill Lieber wrote a piece on a woman named Ann Simonton, who was the Swimsuit Issue cover girl in 1974 but eventually became an advocate fighting against the Swimsuit Issue. It’s a good read.

Sports Illustrated finally listened to aggrieved female readers who always wrote letters and featured some males in the 1994 edition, specifically members of the U.S. water polo team. Knowing that would likely drive readers away, SI put a dream team on the cover – Kathy Ireland, Elle Macpherson and Rachel Hunter.

One of these women married Rod Stewart. Okay.

Here’s this year’s cover with Kate Upton. A standalone issue now, no one’s writing features on all the pictured models. It’s almost as if the words don’t matter as much as the pictures in the Swimsuit Issue.

Somewhere, even today, in an ever-changing media landscape, a librarian or a mom or a dad is sending an email to the SI offices, chastising the magazine for sullying their chaste children. But I hope they don’t cancel their subscription. Because if they do, they’ll miss stories like the one I mentioned from Thomas Lake, which appears in the “regular” issue that now shares mailbox space, if not pages, with the Swimsuit Issue. Lake’s article profiles Wes Leonard, the high school player who died last year after hitting a winning basket. It’s another classic SI bonus piece, the type the magazine has produced on a consistent basis for decades.

The Swimsuit Issue became a pop culture phenomenon and remains the most famous thing Sports Illustrated ever produced. But even those who come for the pictures should stay for the words.

  1. Dan Fasier says:

    You think Rick Reilly would adopt me?

    • shawnfury says:

      If he did you’d have a lot going for you, including apparently a hot stepmom. Supposedly online he’s always talking about how good-looking his second wife is.

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