FIRST-PERSON: Sports Illustrated's (& America's) slide downward
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- Sports Illustrated's annual pornography issue hit newsstands the week of Feb. 12. It is the one time of the year the iconic sports magazine eschews any mention of athletics and plasters its pages with images of might-as-well-be nude models.
Some will argue the models found in SI's swimsuit issue can be found regularly in other popular magazines aimed at a male audience. While this is true, those "other" magazines do not market themselves as America's premier sports publication.
SI introduced its first swimwear edition in January of 1964. Originally it was published to generate interest during a slack time for sports news.
The initial SI swimsuit issue featured only five pages of models wearing suits that, I might add, were modest by today's standards. The remainder of the magazine was, as always, dedicated to sports news and features.
Fast forward to 2012 and SI makes no pretense. Nothing is modest. There is not a single sports-related story in this year's swimsuit edition.
When a serious and reputable sports magazine can publish an issue like that, it is clear America has embraced pornography.
"The mainstream acceptance of pornography has become a social fact," wrote Ben Shapiro in his book "Porn Generation."
In fact, it seems that what is known as soft-core pornography hardly raises an eyebrow in American pop-culture. The hard-core variety is less tolerated in public, but if statistics are correct, it is ever-present and living large on computer screens and cable television.
Further evidence that the pornography on display in the SI swimsuit issue is now socially acceptable: The models featured in the magazine routinely appear on the newsmagazine programs of national news organizations. And news outlets wonder what has happened to their credibility.
SI has even persuaded serious athletes to shuck their clothes, as well as their dignity, and appear in the swimsuit issue. This year's issue sports a professional golfer, a soccer player and a swimmer.
One fact I found shocking is that a female writer, New York Magazine's Amy Odell, wrote that "one-third of the issue's 70 million readers (actually viewers may be a more accurate word) are women."
Though some in America still want to debate the definition of pornography, most accept it is literature and images that are designed but for one reason -- to cause sexual excitement.
No matter how you try and spin it, the SI photos of women with more skin showing than they have covered have only one purpose. The inescapable byproduct of all forms of pornography is that it reduces women to the sum of their body parts. They are rendered objects rather than persons. The SI swimsuit issue does a good job of achieving that.
Pornography creates an imaginary standard in the male mind that no female can ever match. No matter how it is experienced, pornography -- even the soft-core socially acceptable variety featured in Sports Illustrated -- leaves a lasting impression and reduces women to objects to be ogled rather than individuals with personality, intellect and ability. Men would do well to remember Proverbs: "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised" (Proverbs 31:30).
Regardless of what Sports Illustrated says it believes about female athletes, one time a year it reveals what the magazine really thinks about the ladies of sport. And if that is not objectifying and insulting, I don't know what is.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).