Sports Illustrated: The Covers
When I was first asked to review Sports Illustrated: The Covers, I knew just how I would proceed. It was a book about covers, right? So what was there to review? I would just flip through the pages, comment on their historical content, write a line or two about the evolution of photography through the SI lens, then be on my merry way.
The moment I turned the first page, I knew this was more than just a book about sports covers. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Sure. Just like Playboy is more than just a magazine with nude women...it has great articles too." [wink, wink] But it's true. This latest book by the Editors of Sports Illustrated is like a light under a barrel; it'll shine for you if you only lift the cover and give it a chance.
For myself, I was hooked after reading the first few pages and learning about the SI "jinx." Apparently, SI covers make instant icons, but also destroy promising careers at random. The first victim was skier Jill Kinmon, who crashed into a tree and became paralyzed while her cover issue was still on the stand. Then there was racer Pat O'Conner, who died in a 15-car pile-up only a year after his cover ran. Another victim, 15-year old figure skater Laurence Owen, died in a plane crash a week after her cover photo ran. But of course not everybody died. When SI billed Curt Flood (St. Louis Cardinals) as "Baseball's Finest Centerfield," the jinx pounced on his head, and he ended up at 0 for 14 before missing five games due to injury.
Gripping stuff, huh? Well, thank goodness Sports Illustrated: The Covers has more to offer than just "jinx" statistics. There are many other statistics, like ranking athletes by the number of times they've graced the covers (Michael Jordan - 49; Muhammad Ali - 38, etc.), and even ranking those outstanding athletes who racked up wins but never made the covers (i.e., Annika Sorenstam, who won 72 PGA tour events and 10 major championships, but...no cover). The book is also chocked-full of charts, like the "Decade at a Glance," chart; the "College Ranking" chart; the "Most Appearances by Teams" chart; and the "Swimsuit" chart, to name a few.
For variety this book even offers a section on enthusiast Scott Smith, who began collecting SI issues at age 13, and has now garnered precious autographs on 2,657 of the 2,853 issues with humans on the cover. His collection is valued at over one million dollars!
Sports Illustrated: The Covers is a BIG book (11.9x11.1, and 208 pages), and it's heavy, too. But it is bound well, has a beautiful jacket cover, and is made to last. It has to be, since it contains thousands of covers dating all the way back to its debut on August 16, 1954. These chronological covers tell the history and evolution of Sports Illustrated from its simplistic days of oil-painting-like covers to its current format of jaw-dropping, in-your-face action shots.
I could sing this book's praises all day, but since I've got to stop somewhere, I'll leave you with this: As an African American, I am very impressed with this collection of covers (56+ years of American history), and with Sports Illustrated magazine itself. Why? Because SI has been covering the lives and talents of African American athletes as far back as the '50s and '60s--a shameful period when segregation was a way of life and African Americans were considered second-class citizens. These covers are proof positive that SI was (and still is) "liberal and fair," and as such, is (and was) years ahead of its time.
How I wish I could offer Sports Illustrated some sort of medal, but the magazine has already won the National Magazine Awards for General Excellence in 1989 and 1990--the publishing industry's highest award, so what could I possibly give that would equal that?
Wait, I have just the thing, and it's perfect, too! I can give them...five stars.