There are few sports publications that put out an annual edition of their magazine or newspaper that get as much publicity as the ESPN The Magazine Body Issue, and the 2014 edition is garnering serious attention.
While posting naked athletes hiding their privates will always gain mainstream attention, ESPN has done a great job with this edition, touching on all walks of life and all backgrounds.
This is less about sexuality and more about natural science.
With elite athletes such as Venus Williams, Michael Phelps, Marshawn Lynch, Prince Fielder, Amy Purdy and others willing to bare all in order to raise body image awareness, even those against this issue can’t argue the good it can accomplish.
The magazine is also a display of the struggles athletes sometimes deal with regarding their bodies, something that most fans reading the magazine can associate with.
As one of the greatest Olympic swimmers of all time, Phelps told Esther Lee of USMagazine.com about retirement and posing for the magazine:
I got fat and out of shape. It was hard because I had always eaten whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I would always be like, 'All right, I'll go work out,' and I would never ever go. Sure enough, 25 pounds later, I was still saying the same thing. That was just part of my learning process.
Seeing Phelps close to naked isn’t a shock for many fans who have watched his biggest successes come in a Speedo. For other athletes, most fans never expected to see them naked.
One of the biggest shocks was Texas Rangers star Prince Fielder. When asked about posing nude, Fielder told Lee about his athletic prowess and the grief he gets for his size:
A lot of people probably think I'm not athletic or don't even try to work out or whatever, but I do. Just because you're big doesn't mean you can't be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn't mean you're going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I'm not going up there trying to be a fitness model.
Fielder should be an inspiration for people who don’t have cut physiques. With some extra meat on his bones, the baseball player was not afraid to show it off and is comfortable in his skin.
That should be an inspiration to us all.
While the showcasing of less-than-perfect bodies was a big part of Fielder’s spread, there were much deeper messages sent by the appearance of another top athlete. Paralympian Amy Purdy spoke to ESPN's Morty Ain about how she lost her legs and the positive mindset it gave her:
Within 24 hours, I was in the hospital on life support, and I was given less than a 2 percent chance of living. It took five days for the doctors to find out that I had contracted bacterial meningitis. I ended up losing my legs below the knees from septic shock. But I have to say that if I had not gone through that experience, I certainly wouldn't be where I'm at today.
It’s a beautiful moment when a person is comfortable enough with herself to put all her issues and adversities on the table. While Fielder deserves immense credit for his decision to be part of the body issue, the real hero is Purdy.
There are many young people in the world who have suffered devastating injuries or illnesses who will see Purdy’s spread and gain hope that they too can become an elite athlete despite their current struggles.
The body issue will inevitably receive criticism (welcome to the year 2014), but as long as the magazine is making a positive difference in the lives of others, it should continue to sell and inspire.