Protest over swimsuit issue only skin-deep


Well, we're more than halfway through February and what a washout of a month it has been.

There have been, to date, no crippling ice or snowstorms to challenge the heartiest of souls. The NBA has returned from hibernation and offenses around the league still seem to be asleep, and the biggest event of the television sweeps so far is tonight's departure of George Clooney from "ER."


But thank goodness for the annual insanity that is the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which hit newsstands and mailboxes last week, and the reflexive fallout from supposedly concerned parents who fear the parade of half-naked women in bikinis will destroy the nation's moral center.

This year's complaints may actually have a bit more substance than usual since more of the picture-perfect supermodels went for the, shall we say, full monty than ever. Twenty of the 204 pages of the swimsuit issue, or roughly 10 percent (yes, I counted), have pictures of women who passed up swimsuits for either strategically placed sand or body paint.

And the Lycra has been flying. Columnists from around the country have taken their shots at SI about the supposed indecency of this issue, and one can only imagine how combative the letters of protest will be when they hit the magazine in the next few weeks.

What a load of buncombe all the protest is. How can anyone be surprised that a magazine that has featured women in all stages of undress for more than a couple of decades would push the envelope a little further?

And why wouldn't it? For every angered parent who has to beat a hormonal teen-ager to the mailbox for the swimsuit issue, there are probably three or four more men (or women) who will make their one and only purchase of Sports Illustrated over the next few weeks, until this issue gets pulled.

There's a reason that the swimsuit issue is annually the biggest SI seller, and that reason is, despite the best attempts of Americans to feign modesty, sex sells big-time in the good ol' US of A.

For instance, do you think Americans by the score downloaded copies of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress last summer for his take on the constitutional separation of powers?

Puh-leeze. We wanted to read for ourselves -- in graphic, gory detail -- just how far President Clinton went with Monica Lewinsky. From Hester Prynne to Playboy pictorials to the works of Madonna, Americans have always been obsessed with salacious material, and SI only feeds that obsession.

But here's an idea for parents who are outraged about the direction of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue: Go to the magazine's masthead on page 6 and count the number of staff writers, senior writers and senior contributing writers and see how many women you come up with.

If your math is like mine, you get two out of a pool of 38. That would be 5 percent, or half the percentage of naked women in the swimsuit issue.

OK, then count the number of women you find among the listings of editors, managers and directors. Again, if the math is correct, that would be four out of 35. That would be 11 percent, which beats the nakedness quotient, but isn't what you'd deem a rousing statement for feminism.

Now, here's one more idea for the angry, from the theoretical world: Ask yourself if SI will devote 200 pages total this year from all its combined 1999 issues to the coverage of sporting events involving women, and not from the planned SI for Women, but the actual main magazine with a circulation of more than 3 million.

There's your well-placed righteous indignation.

Birds on the beam

ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" schedule, just off the presses yesterday, features four Orioles appearances during the coming season.

The Orioles will play host to Texas in a Sunday game on May 23, then travel to Atlanta on June 13. On July 18, they'll play host to the New York Mets, in an interleague tussle, then meet Cleveland at Jacobs Field on Aug. 15.

Overall, ESPN will air 26 Sunday night games, leading off with the April 4 contest between Colorado and San Diego from Monterrey, Mexico, and highlighted with the May 30 tangle between home run champions Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and their respective teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs.

Since ESPN has four Sunday night games scheduled for September, we can only assume that the unpleasantness of last season, when baseball officials yanked games from the channel because ESPN had conflicts with Sunday night football games, has been resolved.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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