ESPN’s annual ‘Body Issue’ popular – and controversial

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ESPN The Magazine’s annual birthday suit issue, otherwise called “The Body Issue,” is 10 years old this year. Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue that comes out each February mainly features models; ESPN instead focuses on male and female pro and amateur athletes, both retired and active in their respective sport.

Serena Williams’s 2009 Body Issue cover still ranks as ESPN’s bestseller – hers was one of six alternative covers used for the inaugural issue. This year it’s called BODY10, which hit newsstands June 29.

“The goal has always been for us to celebrate the athletic form – in every shape and size, and to allow people to stop and marvel at the works of art these bodies truly are,” said ESPN The Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alison Overholt. The four-letter sports network will air a documentary on the Body Issue’s decade on Thursday, July 5, at 6 pm Central time.

Crystal Dunn on the cover of The Body Issue Courtesy of ESPN

Despite their success, both SI and ESPN continue to get their share of complaints that both magazines are selling sex. National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s Haley Halverson wrote last year in the Huffington Post, “Many people are not surprised…since nude or sexualized images in magazines are so common . . .  [The issue] is most likely not intended to be sexually arousing.”

Williams’ photo shoot, if you recall, got double-criticism, and some, including this columnist, saw much of that criticism as racially motivated. This year’s Body Issue cover featuring Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird and her partner, soccer player Megan Rapinoe, is expected to irksome as well.

“It’s been great – 99 percent positive,” Bird said on the feedback she’d received to date. She told reporters on last week’s WNBA media call, including the MSR, “Some people, primarily on Twitter, [are critical], but I try not to read the comments. Some people don’t like naked bodies.”

Bird and teammate Breanna Stewart are the only WNBA players in the 2018 edition. “To be in the Body Issue is a big deal,” said. Stewart.

Other W players who have appeared in the issue include Cappie Pondexter, Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Lynx center Sylvia Fowles — 11 in total.

“It was completely up to me,” Parker said of her 2012 photo shoot. “I wanted to do it because I had a child. The issue showed that women can do it all — create life and get back in sports.”

The Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns is among six Black athletes in this year’s issue, including two Black females (track’s Tori Bowie and soccer’s Crystal Dunn).

Ogwumike appeared in last year’s issue: “I got mixed reviews because I came from a very conservative culture being Nigerian. I had a lot of conference calls with family members,” she said.

Fowles last week briefly talked about her 2011 Body Issue photo shoot: “I was awkward at first,” she recalled. “When I see everyone else’s [photos] I get jealous because [they are] standing in a studio. I was in California, in the middle of the desert. Why am I out there dying? It was hell-hot… It was fun.”

On criticism about her and other athletes posing in the Body Issue, Fowles stressed, “I don’t see anything wrong with it. I don’t think it’s sexploitation.”

“We’re women. We get criticized a lot in our sport – we need to wear this or we need to do that. I think it’s fine to be able to go out there and hoop and play hard, but you have a sensitive side to you [as well].”

“Our bodies are our asset,” said Parker

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