Menus Subscribe Search
si-female-cover

Serena Williams on the cover of SI. (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED)

Swimsuit Issue Aside, ‘Sports Illustrated’ Cover Is a Female-Free Zone

• May 09, 2013 • 6:00 AM

Serena Williams on the cover of SI. (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED)

New research finds women athletes appear on less than five percent of SI covers.

That recent Sports Illustrated cover featuring Jason Collins was, in one obvious respect, a landmark. But in another way, it was business as usual for the venerable weekly.

The openly gay Collins is, after all, a man—and men are featured on the cover of SI about 95 percent of the time. That’s the conclusion of recently published research, which finds that, from 2000 through 2011, women appeared on just 4.9 percent of Sports Illustrated covers.

“SI covers have both reflected and swayed their audiences toward corporate sport, particularly lucrative football, basketball, baseball, and even hockey.”

That figure is “comparable to levels reported for the 1980s,” write University of Louisville sociologists Jonetta Weber and Robert Carini. “Indeed, women were depicted on a higher percentage of covers from 1954-1965 than from 2000-2011.”

For their research, published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Weber and Carini looked at 716 SI covers from January 2000 through June 2011. They excluded the annual swimsuit issue, “as its focus is not on sports performance per se.” While they found considerable variation from year to year, the total added up to a paltry 35 covers, or 4.9 percent of the total. A grand total of 11 featured women of color.

The imbalance looms even larger as you dig further into the numbers.

“Of the 35 covers including a female, only 18 (or 2.5 percent of all covers) featured a female as the primary or sole image,” they write. “Three covers included females, but only as insets (small boxed image), or as part of a collage background of both male and female athletes.”

The contrast with the magazine’s first decade of existence is stark. Between 1954 and 1965, women were featured on 74 SI covers, or 12.6 percent of the total.

Weber and Carini note that while that era was “not known for progressive gender ideologies” (as any viewer of Mad Men can attest), it was “a period in which SI featured a wider variety” of sports on its covers, including recreation and leisure activities. “In subsequent decades,” they write, “SI covers have both reflected and swayed their audiences toward corporate sport, particularly lucrative football, basketball, baseball, and even hockey. Female representation on covers dwindled over the period, and has remained at low levels for decades.”

Then again, if women athletes were on SI’s cover more often, they might have to sacrifice their dignity for the publicity. A recent survey of Rolling Stone covers found 83 percent of female musicians were portrayed in a sexualized fashion (often wearing minimal clothing), compared to just 17 percent of men.

Sports Illustrated did launch a female-oriented offshoot, SI for Women, but it folded in 2002 after only 20 months. If that publication’s content was be folded into the main magazine, it was not reflected in its cover choices.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.


August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.


August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.


August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.