Ahh, July. Among the greatest months on our yearly sports calendar. There's the beginning of NBA free agency; the MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. This year, we've got the World Cup on deck. And, of course, all of our favorite athletes hanging out in the buff as part of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue.
A tradition unlike any other in sports—OK, it's at least SOMEWHAT similar to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition—The Body Issue has become a yearly staple for the Worldwide Leader.
This year's issue will hit newsstands on July 11. But, like most things in this day and age, the palpable excitement led to an early online rollout.
ESPN provided the covers and the published spreads Tuesday. As has become my own personal tradition, I cranked up my Spotify playlist featuring Pretty Ricky "Your Body" on a 72-song loop and perused the pictures at my leisure.
Chief among the gallery is tennis star Venus Williams, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka. There are even some people whose names you may be hearing for the first time, like yachter Jimmy Spithill, BMXer Nigel Sylvester and boxer Danyelle Wolf.
Kidding aside, The Body Issue release is one of my favorite events on the calendar, simply because there is always one set of pictures that gets an inordinate amount of coverage in comparison to the others.
Last year, it was tennis star Agnieszka Radwanska, who was unfortunately attacked by groups in her home country of Poland and criticized by overbearing religious groups.
For her part, Radwanska handled the issue with grace and never once apologized for her decision.
This year's source of discussion made waves on social media for much lighter circumstances. Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder is not the trimmest nor most sculpted player in Major League Baseball. Few would dispute that. But waking up in the morning and seeing a completely buff Fielder in a post-swing pose was apparently too much for some people.
Tracy Clayton of BuzzFeed did a nice job of cobbling together the wide array of opinions on Fielder's spread. I'm more prone to stepping away from the idiocy and looking for the best possible joke angles, which did not disappoint:
Any "controversy" that comes from The Body Issue is, of course, silly for the most part. The athletes posed under their own volition, and ESPN has done an excellent job over the years of navigating the difficult waters that come with this terrain.
By displaying a wide range of players of different races, ethnicities and body types, the magazine is at the very least showing that athletes do not come in a one-size-fits-all package.
"We somehow manage to raise the bar each year," ESPN The Magazine editor-in-chief Chad Millman said in a statement. "This year's collection of exceptional athletes and stunning photography showcases an array of sports and body types. It inhabits our mission to pay tribute to these athletes' bodies and all they are capable of."
In that way, you want to applaud it. But we're also all cognizant of the fact The Body Issue exists to sell copies and perhaps add a few people to the subscription list. We're all running the same gambit—whether it be website traffic or copies sold—so only a tip of the cap is due when someone comes up with a unique idea like this.
The Body Issue has become kind of a cool thing. You take a look at the pictures, peruse the wide range of athletes and then move on to something else. There should be no difference in reaction to seeing Fielder in the buff than, say, Hilary Knight.
It's not as if you don't know what you're getting yourself into when you see a nude person on the cover of something called The Body Issue.
So, take it for what it is. A silly, eye-catching thing that comes around once a year and then goes away. Plus, nuuuudity (puts on cool guy shades).