Top 10 Controversial Sports Magazine Covers

The cover page is meant to attract readers to buy the newspapers, regardless of the content within the paper. Thus, newspapers and magazines alike put strong efforts and thought into the creation of c

The cover page is meant to attract readers to buy the newspapers, regardless of the content within the paper. Thus, newspapers and magazines alike put strong efforts and thought into the creation of cover pages of their magazines. This can easily be seen at your local grocer or drug store. Between numerous editions of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Maxim, readers are initially drawn to each magazine due to the cover of it.

This is the same in any sports magazine that want to attract readers. The flash headline only helps the massive picture that lays on the front of any magazine cover. For example, the first issue of Sports Illustrated was released in 1954 and featured a picture of former Milwaukee Braves star Eddie Matthews and New York Giants catcher Wes Westrum. The picture is a straight away shot from the left side of home plate, with the arena and bright lights in the background. This magazine cover attracted readers and created a legendary sports magazine that has influenced many similar products.

In this article, we’ll analyze the most controversial sports magazine covers created, ranging from the sexiest to the most racist. Only then, will we be able to see what really draws in a crowd.

10 Vogue, LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen (April 2008)


This cover of Vogue may not technically be a sports magazine, but still holds a lot of undertones that may have not be recognized by the editors when creating it. Gisele, is a model best known for her time with Victoria Secret and is commonly recognized as the best of her time and the last of the classic era of models.

LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, is portrayed on this cover of Vogue holding Gisele in his arm while screaming into the camera. As soon as it was released, screams of racial undertones were called out, displaying LeBron as a common beast, holding on to a helpless Gisele. In his defense, I think any of us would hold on to Gisele and ward off predators if we had the chance.

9 Playboy, Amanda Beard, July 2007


American swimmer, Amanda Beard, posed nude for Playboy in 2007, 3 years after her last medal in any Olympic event. Beard has not retired from swimming in any respect, as she is still rallying to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, despite not qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Beard’s display in Playboy made her even more famous, although she was already considered one of the hottest female athletes at the time. Her posing for playboy did stir up some controversy, but she claimed to be trying to change the clichéd view of women.

8 Paulina Gretzky, Golfer’s Digest (May 2014)


Although this magazine isn't one of the most popular in the world, Paulina Gretzky certainly brought a new light to the world of golf. The daughter of Wayne Gretzky, Paulina’s photo at the front of the magazine brings an image that is not often seen or expected in the gold world. Generally, golfers are stereotyped to be conservative and traditional crowds.

Thankfully, Paulina has brought a new sass and edginess to the sport that is not usually recognized. Dating Dustin Johnson has brought her to a new sport and brought us back the Paulina that had become famous all across the Internet.

7 Sports Illustrated, Dennis Rodman (May 1995)


This magazine cover features Rodman wearing tight leather shorts, a black tank top with a zipper on the front of it and rocking orange hair. Oh yeah, there’s also a parrot just sitting on his hand. If people didn’t recognize Rodman as a strange character, this cover of Sports Illustrated definitely did the job.

Rodman had spent seven years in Detroit, winning two Championships, before going to the San Antonio Spurs. That’s when Dennis Rodman became the Dennis Rodman who goes to North Korea. Rodman’s image on the cover of S.I. was more than just a bit risqué, it was downright wild.

6 ESPN Magazine, Serena Williams (October 2009)


Serena’s magazine cover with ESPN Magazine was met with both praise as well as disappointment. In the Body Issue of ESPN, Serena posed fully nude for the magazine’s cover, an attempt to show off that the female can be both feminine and athletic.

The magazine attempted to show her femininity as well as the athletic figure that allows her to have her powerful strokes on the court. This is clearly shown as both arms are put in a position where she is flexing, showing off the gun show, and her legs are shown, signifying her hourglass body type. Truly, Serena’s magazine cover shows off both her power and feminine characteristics all in one picture.

5 ESPN Magazine, All-Boston Issue (October 2011)


This magazine cover was created to show Boston’s dominance as a sports city, which is hard to deny. At that point, the city had won seven titles in the four major sports in the US within ten years. The Red Sox had completed the 4-3 comeback against the Yankees in 2004, the Pats had created a dynasty, the Celtics won their first Championship in 20 years, and the Bruins had just won their first Championship since 1972.

Safe to say that Beantown was feeling like the top of the sports world, but it this was just a bad idea for ESPN. The magazine was criticized from the get-go as fans from any other city met it with rage, and those in Boston alike. The city-pride is one issue, but to call the city the most dominant sports city on a national magazine cover is completely different. Surely ESPN accomplished its goal though, to stir people up enough that they felt the need to buy the magazine and critique it.

4 Sports Illustrated, Barbie Doll (February 2014)


Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated released an issue with a Barbie doll as the cover of the Swimsuit Edition. This was the first time that Barbie had been featured on the magazine’s cover, sporting a black and white swimsuit and white thick-framed sunglasses on her head.

The reasons for criticisms are easy to see, as the caption reads “the doll that started it all.”  This picture screams out the degradation of women and the literal dehumanization of women, showing a doll in a swimsuit to be equivalent to women in swimsuits. This article was met with critique from all over the Internet and jumps in to be one of the strangest and most controversial magazine covers to date.

3 Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins (May 2013)


Jason Collins has been a traveled journeyman across the NBA for his whole career. As a 7-footer, Collins had a roll of a long time since he knows how to play strong defense and is a big body inside the paint. Now, Collins is known for being the first openly gay athlete in pro sports to be active.

This magazine cover was considered controversial by some and praised by others. Collins went for months into the 2013-2014 season without being contacted, until the Brooklyn Nets gave him a 10-day contract and then signed him for the rest of the playoffs as well.

2 Sports Illustrated, Charles Barkley (March 2002)


Barkley’s picture on this magazine cover shows his position on slavery and the discriminatory nature of the US. Barkley had a long history of wanting the younger generation to be given opportunities that he was not as a child. He has spoken about the lack of opportunities for poor young black kids in the US compared to those with money or those of a different race.

In this picture, he is being unchained, showing a slow progression of the American society to change. However, by the quote on the page, Barkley’s position on slavery and children is clear. With the recent news of Donald Sterling’s personal views, many wonder, is Barkley’s analysis true and still occurring today?

1 Esquire Magazine, Muhammad Ali (April 1968)


Easily the oldest cover on our list, Muhammad Ali’s cover of Esquire is one for the ages. This cover was released approximately a year after he refused to be inducted into the US Army. George Lois, the creator of the image, had stated that he wanted to get attention with his cover and this was one of the biggest messages that he could be sent.

Depicted as Saint Sebastian, Ali was shown with 6 arrows in his body. The 6 arrows represented the arrows shot into Saint Sebastian, all to show that Ali was a martyr, just as Saint Sebastian was. Standing with his arms tied behind his back and a dead look on his face, it is clear what image Lois was trying to display and he did it very well.

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Top 10 Controversial Sports Magazine Covers