New York Post, Friday Sports Special February 21, 1997

Once a Year, Smut Takes Over for Sport

       Fifty-one weeks per year, the question is, "Did you read this week's Sports Illustrated?"
      Once a year, however, the question changes. It becomes, "Did you check out this week"s Sports Illustrated?"
      "Check it out." That"s what the hustlers chant on 45th and Broadway as they distribute flyers for strip joints and lap-dance dives. "Check it out!"
    Fifty-one weeks per year, Sports Illustrated takes the high road. It chronicles the moral decay in sports, assails the staggering greed that has rendered sports unrecognizable and encourages readers to reject the bad and champion the good. Right on!
      SI is especially sensitive to issues of women and women's sports.
      SI finds it repugnant that women are treated as sex objects; that colleges recruit young male athletes by suggestively waving pretty women at them; that a Gary Sheffield has never been married but has children from three different women; that too many male athletes don't think the word "no," applies to them; that many male athletes are sexually promiscuous, then shirk the residual responsibility of fatherhood.
      With a growing sense of horror and alarm, SI cites the sexual abuse of women by the likes of Lawrence Phillips, Christian Peter, Richie Parker and O.J. Simpson.
      Fifty-one weeks per year, SI fights the good fight, railing against the sleaze and greed that have come to dominate sports.
      But once a year, for the last 34 years, Sports Illustrated pulls a Jimmy Swaggart, and then some. SI not only falls from its pulpit, it jumps in, wallet first. SI not only disregards all the sensitivity training it provides, it's eager to profit mightily by marketing up and selling what it purports to deplore. Women should not be treated as sex objects, except one week per year, then - va, va, va, voom! - SI steps on the gas.
      The SI swimsuit issue! Check it out! Hot babes in the flesh! Check it out, my good man! Guaranteed to get you where you want to go! Check it out! We got 'em in all colors, all flavors, all sizes! Check it out!
      Like most strip joints when the prime flesh is in the house, SI even adds a cover charge. The newsstand price is bumped from $3.50 to five bucks for the swimsuit issue, this year, a special "bonus" issue of the magazine. The ad rates zoom. SI can't print enough of them. You can buy the swimsuit calendar, the home cassette, the CD-ROM, watch the primetime TV show.
      For all its sensitive treatment of women; for all its moralizing from high above the fray, SI knows that sex sells and SI wants its annual cut. The very phrase that outrages SI about the condition of sports is what SI this week pays homage to: Show me the money!
      And SI's attempt to cloak its ourtageous hypocrisy is darkly comical. The cover headline on this year's high-brow, peep show points to a very topical, compelling sports issue - "Nothing but Bikinis."
      The issue includes an historical overview of the bikini. Pornographic movie makers recognize this as the half-baked, gratuitous plot, they include lest they violate the Supreme Court's decree that films offer something - anything - that can be interpreted as holding a modicum of socially redeeming value.
      And just in case the historical piece on the bikini didn't do the trick, there's the feature about Tyra Banks covering a Laker game. There's a wonderful shot of Banks embracing Nick Van Exel, who was portrayed less than a year ago in SI as an unrepentant thug; a "gangsta hooper" (the same issue noted that Lawrence Phillips had slipped in the NFL draft after beating the daylights out of his ex-girlfriend).
      Aside from the Biography of the Bikini, and Tyra Takes in a Ballgame, there's flesh, flesh, and more flesh. This issue of Sports Illustrated has as much to do with sports as prostitution has to do with love.
      The table of contents includes the following: "Page 76 - Strip! That's what Niki Taylor did perfectly while stalking bonefish." But remember, sports fans, women should not be treated a sex objects and anyone who does should get counseling or go directly to hell!
      Truth is, "Nothing But Bikinis" is a lie. There's more nothing than bikinis. The "bi" in bikini means two, as in two pieces. Many of the women featured are wearing no tops, nor much in the way of bottoms, either. You can find Waldo easier than some of the "swimwear." One woman isn't wearing any kind of bathing suit, but rather a see-through item that, ironically enough, is called a "coverup."
      And SI, in its on-going farcical effort to offer the feel of a legitimate swimsuit catalogue, prints the prices and makers of the swimwear, even though much of the swimwear was either removed or left back in the hotel. "You forgot the top to your suit, Niki? Aw, for cryin' out loud, it's supposed to be a bikini issue! Alright, we'll just have to shoot you without the top. I sure hope SI doesn't mind."
      Placing the swimsuit maker's name and list price for the suits constitutes a great service to shoppers. Sure. "I think I'll get this for Marge for her birthday." In the interest of consumerism, SI should've printed the cost of bail because people who dress this way on a public beach or at a public pool are subject to arrest.
      A good friend at SI yesterday told me to lighten up; that no one forces these models to pose and they make big money for the effort. Well, the same can be said of SI - no one forces it to publish this kind of issue and it makes big money for the effort.
      Last year, when my nine-year-old fetched the mail that included the swimsuit issue, she confronted me, upset, as if she'd discovered dad on the mailing list for a skin mag. "Great," I said to myself, "I now have to hide Sports Illustrated, of all things, from view."
      (I act similarly when reading the sports pages of newspapers, including The Post, when I've turned to a page that includes ads for strip joints. I now have to check for the presence of kids while reading the sports pages!)
      This year, I made a preemptive strike, grabbing SI's swimsuit issue from the mailbox, then rolling it into a cylinder - the back cover advertisement exposed - before returning to the house. Imagine, I had to sneak Sports Illustrated into the house! Can't SI send it in a plain brown wrapper?
      Next week, its money made, SI will return to telling us about a greed-striken sports world and reminding us that women are not sex objects. No doubt we'll read about this week's allegations of the latest physical and sexual abuse of a woman by Lawrence Phillips. No cover charge.