ESPN The Magazine’s annual celebration of athlete’s physical form — in all it’s glory — turns 10 this week
This is the time of the year, the 10th to be precise, when some among us choose to divert our gaze when the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine hits the newsstand, your mailbox or, most likely, your web browser.
It’s time again for the magazine’s Body Issue, which has been described as iconic, for the usual self-promoting reasons. If you haven’t been paying attention, this annual issue features photos of athletes, of all shapes and sizes, some well-known, others relatively obscure, in their birthday suits.
In stark black and white, the athletes are posed discreetly to keep things relatively kosher, as opposed to voyeuristic, the idea being to celebrate the well-sculpted bodies of preeminent athletes to honor of their commitment to be the best at what they do.
And this, the magazine perfectly captures. We believe the editors who boast that these people are ripped. Good for them. They have personal trainers. Anything they try on will fit. They can go to any beach in the world, even on the day after Thanksgiving, without fear or embarrassment.
What a blessing! What a life! What a metabolism!
Over the years, like most things ESPN creates in its laboratories in Bristol, Conn., the idea has been to hype the Body Issue to the max to create intense public interest, reminiscent of what Sports Illustrated as done over the decades to promote its swimsuit issue, which is truly iconic, if you insist on using the adjective.
Well, it has worked again. The ESPN Body Issue arrives Friday with 10 different covers. Inside, if you choose, you will find photos of 16 athletes, including Jerry Rice, Yasiel Puig, Greg Norman, Karl-Anthony Towns, Dallas Keuchel, Adam Rippon, Saquon Barkley, Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, the basketball player and soccer star, who are being advertised as the first gay couple to appear together in the magazine.
Each player has their own reason for participating, as you might suspect.
The Houston Chronicle reports that Keuchel, a star pitcher for the Astros, had his photo shoot at a limestone quarry on an off day last month, Keuchel told the newspaper why he decided to gain about 15 pounds during the offseason.
“I’m not trying to be the leanest, the most fit person,” said Keuchel. “I enjoy a burger, some fries, ice cream all that stuff. I need some fat. I need some extra meat on my body. It’s your job. It’s your business. Your body is what’s going to allow you to keep playing however long you want to play for. To me, I want to play for as long as possible because it’s something I truly love.”
ESPN has a digital photo archive of all the 286 athletes who have appeared in the issue over the 10 years and a documentary about its first decade will be on the network July 6 for all to see.
But I feel compelled to be transparent here, for a moment. Before arriving at tiebreaker.com, I spent over a decade covering women’s basketball, collegiate and professional, for two newspapers in Connecticut.
Over those years, while covering UConn’s nationally renowned basketball program, I came to know Bird and Stewart quite well, shook their hands, asked them questions, chronicled their successes and championships. They were always wearing uniforms or warm-ups.
I even spoke to their mothers many times. I became friends with Stewart’s kind and gregarious grandparents.
“I’ve invested a lot into my body because I want to take advantage of my time as a professional basketball player as much as I can. I put a lot of time and care into my body, because I know that if my body is prepared well, I’m going to go out and perform well,” Stewart told ESPN. “I’ve really embraced myself, being tall, understanding my body, and the story that your body portrays. I have a story, and I hope people can see that.”
I’m happy for you, Breanna. But come Friday, I can’t. I just can’t.