After this party, I won't take issue with magazine's swimsuit pictorial

February 10, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

IT'S GOOD TO be Sports Illustrated publisher David Morris. The guy runs the world's most respected sports magazine and, on his very good days, gets his picture taken at A-List parties with some of the most beautiful women on the planet.

That's exactly how I envisioned a career in sports journalism when I was in college, but I guess I didn't study hard enough. Because while Morris was standing arm-in-arm with the two finalists from the 2005 SI Swimsuit Search on Saturday night, I was standing outside the ropes trying to figure out just went wrong with my career.

When he finally came over to talk, the women blended in with the crowd of famous athletes and rich SI sponsors at the Sports Illustrated Super Swimsuit Party at Jacksonville Beach, which was fortunate because I could not have held my stomach in for another minute. The next time I see them will be in the upcoming SI swimsuit issue, which has spawned this strange menage a trois of star power, sex and sports journalism with a capital "J."

Morris does not apologize for that. Sports Illustrated has been publishing swimsuit pictures for more than 40 years and somehow has been able to maintain its long-standing reputation as the premier source of serious sports feature writing and reporting. Once a year, the magazine is taken over by bikinied beauties basking on idyllic beaches, and yet the journalistic credibility of the publication remains virtually unblemished.

"If Sports Illustrated was a marginal sports magazine, we wouldn't be able to pull this off," Morris said. "Because people know it as the most credible sports magazine in the world, that allows us to take one week off and have a little fun."

He added something about all the positive things that have been spawned by the success of the swimsuit issue, including the tie-in with Super Bowl week and some worthy charitable endeavors, but I lost my train of thought when 2003 SI cover girl Veronica Varekova walked by. She looked stunning, of course, and all I could think to say was "Czech, please."

The swimsuit issue has always skirted the boundaries of mainstream publishing decorum, alternately rankling the moral majority and the feminist movement, but there are about 50 million reasons Sports Illustrated is willing to take a little heat. That's how many dollars that one issue - and its various spin-off calendars, DVDs and television productions - generates each year.

Sports Illustrated gives subscribers the ability to opt out of the swimsuit issue, and Morris said about 10,000 to 15,000 choose to forgo that edition of the magazine each year - out of a press run of 4.5 million.

"I can understand that there are some parents out there who might not want their 9-year-old to pick it up," Morris said. "I have twin 12-year-olds at home. Giving parents that option is the polite thing to do."

Personally, I don't approve of young kids seeing scantily clad women in a sports magazine, but I kept the SI swimsuit issue away from my son during his formative years and he grew up to be a Redskins fan, so what are you going to do?

The party, by the way, was great. There were reports that invitations were going for up to $1,500 to hang out at Jacksonville's Seawalk Pavilion and rub elbows with the models and celebrities. The press release also promised a number of NFL stars, including Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller, but most of them must have showed up after I got tired of getting hit on by all those supermodels and headed back to my hotel.

There's a pretty good party coming up Sunday at the Recher Theatre in Towson, where seven bands will perform in a benefit for "Annie's Playground." The show will be co-hosted by Orioles broadcaster Jim Hunter and 98 Rock DJ Stash and features several well-known local bands, including the Kelly Bell Band, 7 Days Torn and Voodoo Blue.

Not sure what Hunter is doing in that group of hip, young celebrities (other than considering a dye job), but he has worked hard over the past couple of years to help a group of neighbors in Fallston to build a playground in memory of 6-year-old Annie Cumpston, who was killed by a reckless driver in Baltimore in 2003.

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