Don’t kid yourselves – image is everything in this business. The saying bad press is still press applies to most situations in sports but the history of athletes exposing themselves on magazine covers has resulted in a mixed bag of responses down the years. Fit female identities are expected to show off as much skin as possible and the men are positioned in a way that fits the social construction built for them from the media.
Then again, these celebrities don’t suffer fools lightly. Big endorsement deals follow the smart agents and canny athletes who spot an opportunity when it presents itself. More controversy equals greater media coverage and longer discussions around the water cooler at work. Whether it’s LeBron James, Dennis Rodman, Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams or Ronda Rousey, these sports stars make the choice that the positives outweigh the negatives.
If a picture can tell a thousand words, then those words can be discovered in the dress, the facial expression and body positioning. Sometimes the athlete will want to make a bold statement about their sexuality or sporting prowess, or want to demonstrate a vulnerability to garner public sympathy. Often the theme of an article will be explained in graphic detail by the image, enticing the reader to drop whatever they were doing to engage with their story.
These publications aren’t stupid; they know exactly what message they are sending out by depicting Charles Barkley in chains and golfers going topless. But we’re not here to harass these editors, in some ways this is a doff of the cap to acknowledge the moments when magazines went viral, even on the occasions that predated the Internet. Now that’s impressive! Here are the 20 Most Controversial Mag Covers In Sports.
20 Ronda Rousey - Mens Fitness 2015
19 Lexi Thompson - Golf Digest 2015
18 Pam Postema - Sports Illustrated 1988
17 All-Boston - ESPN The Magazine 2011
16 Paulina Gretzky - Golfer’s Digest 2014
15 Lindsey Vonn - Sports Illustrated 2010
14 Mike Tyson - The Source 1995
13 Serena Williams - ESPN The Body Issue 2009
12 LeBron James & Gisele Bundchen - Vogue 2008
11 Dennis Rodman - Sports Illustrated 1995
10 Jadilla Rahmouni - Interviu Magazine 2014
9 Tiger Woods - Vanity Fair 2010
8 Gina Carano - ESPN The Body Issue 2009
7 Ricky Williams - ESPN The Magazine 1999
6 Jason Collins - Sports Illustrated 2013
5 Barbie Doll - Sports Illustrated 2014
4 Muhammad Ali - Esquire 1968
3 Dog Fighting - Sports Illustrated 1987
2 Charles Barkley - Sports Illustrated 2002
1 Amanda Beard - Playboy 2007
Burlesque dancers, adult film stars and actresses with a sense for the theatric pose in Playboy magazine, athletes do not. Amanda Beard went where no breaststroke swimmer has gone before in 2007, gracing the cover of the racy publication to make bigger headlines than she ever did in the Olympics. The headline said it all, “The world’s sexiest athlete nude.” If that doesn’t sell copy nothing will!
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