Come September, ESPN The Magazine will take its place in the ash heap of history. The Worldwide Leader in "Progressive Sports and Naked Athletes" is discontinuing the magazine this fall, after 21 years in operation, but will make sure it ends with one final edition featuring nude athletes. When its business was flagging, ESPN The Magazine merely resorted to glorifying athletes out of uniform, and the strategy still didn't prevent it from going under.
The late F. Darrin Perry designed the magazine's format in 1998 as something akin to "a Rolling Stone of sports magazines, in which athletes were presented as rock stars," wrote The New York Times' Steven Heller in Perry's 2004 obituary. He placed an unconventional emphasis on big and dramatic photos that drew more attention -- especially to those naked athletes, one-upping Sports Illustrated's swimsuit editions.
The magazine suffered financial losses in the single digit millions in recent years. ESPN plans to redirect the magazine’s features and reporting efforts to digital platforms, where it said “the vast majority of readers already consume our print journalism.”
“Our journalists will continue to create the same exceptional content,” ESPN said in a statement. “Consumer habits are evolving rapidly, and this requires ESPN to evolve as well. The only change here is that we are moving away from printing it on paper and sending it in the mail, following September’s release of The Body Issue.”
ESPN spokesperson Paul Melvin said, “Storytelling is central to what we do and ESPN The Magazine drives some of the best sports writing and storytelling in the world. The Magazine has just enjoyed its finest creative year and we’re looking forward to a tremendous 20th year of more award-winning narratives, features, imagery and reporting.”
Journalists? Storytelling? There are no journalists telling stories behind the cameras at the naked body shoots, where no extravagance was spared. Those appeals to viewers' prurient interest will likely continue to appear on the main ESPN website. Javier Baez standing naked holding a baseball bat, Colin Kaepernick walking naked on a beach, softball player A.J. Andrews sailing over baked desert ground with glove outstretched don't even constitute "photo journalism."
The 2018 Body Issue featuring the raw variety of sport utilized 352 employees requiring months of preparation and multiple shooting locations. Apparently draining the bank in the process.
The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal wrote with a straight face that the body issue is intended to showcase athletes’ toned bodies. Fitness Magazine shows toned bodies; ESPN's Body Issue peddles bare flesh. Some sports media refuse to stick to sports; ESPN refuses to stick to clothing, and it's not working. The mag rag has not been profitable for some time, writes James Miller, author of the book "Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN."
Is it any wonder that ESPN is being sued, by former employee Adrienne Lawrence, for sexual harassment? She portrayed ESPN as a “company rife with misogyny” and accused males of scoring women based on sexual attraction and watching porn in their presence. Garbage in, garbage out.
Aside from the sexual obsessions of ESPN, the magazine also leaves behind a legacy of unpopular social justice reporting. Senior writer Howard Bryant is as far Left as anyone in sports media, and he consistently carried the torch for social justice. In recent times, Bryant referred in the magazine to Kaepernick as "still the unquestioned inspiration to millions" and also touted gun control activists. Race-baiter extraordinaire Jemele Hill was also a contributor to the magazine.
ESPN The "Woke" Magazine is where one could go to read about U.S. Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad saying minority athletes must look up to (disgraced) 1968 Olympic protester John Carlos, Kaepernick, Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe and so many activists in the WNBA.
Among the magazine's media admirers was The Week's Tim O'Donnell. He wrote that today's announcement by ESPN "has sparked a wave of nostalgia in the sports journalism world, with many folks taking to Twitter to pay tribute to the magazine's well-respected journalism which netted three National Magazine awards for general excellence."
"RIP ESPN The Magazine," Sports Business Daily's John Ourand wrote on Twitter.