In the past, ESPN The Magazine hasn't been afraid about traveling away from the popular path when it comes to its annual body issue: The inclusions of a 77-year-old Gary Player or an eight-months-pregnant Kerri Walsh Jennings are testaments to that.
This year, the choice that fits that bill is Prince Fielder, one of the larger players in Major League Baseball.
Here's a look at the most talked-about cover:
Nice try Prince Fielder, but George Costanza was way ahead of you: https://t.co/BpSXSzoCIz— The Fake ESPN (@TheFakeESPN) July 9, 2014
Unsurprisingly, much of the reaction toward the Texas Rangers first baseman with a 5'11", 275-pound frame came in the form of jokes.
Some Photoshopped Fielder's pose into hilarious situations, some were downright moronic with their comments, and ESPN's parody account was quick to draw comparisons to George's famous photo shoot with Kramer:
I'd like to see the average BMI for the folks who mock Prince Fielder today.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) July 8, 2014
While Fielder doesn't look like a physical specimen, let's not forget that he's in good enough shape to make a living as a very successful professional athlete. As Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra notes, most of the joke-makers don't likely have much room to talk:
Fielder himself, via ESPN's Morty Ain, addressed the misconception of his body shape suggesting he isn't athletic:
You don't have to look like an Under Armour mannequin to be an athlete. 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.
Another cover athlete who has garnered a lot of attention is Marshawn Lynch. Of course, that has more to do with him being Marshawn Lynch than his actual body.
A couple days before the release of the magazine, the Seattle Seahawks bruising running back already started his marketing campaign, targeting his lady fans:
Shawn won’t talk to the press but he’ll pose naked..? Lmao. This fool— Doug Baldwin Jr (@DougBaldwinJr) July 8, 2014
Considering Beast Mode's bashfulness when it comes to the media, wide receiver Doug Baldwin was just surprised to see his teammate in the magazine:
He may not talk to the press often, but when he does, it's always memorable. And his interview for the Body Issue, via Ain, is on par with "the ambiance or the decor" and "I'm just about that action, boss."
From his reasoning for being in the issue—"I got to show some love for the fat backs"—to his description of growing up in Oakland—"We used to walk to house parties, play doorbell ditch, have rock fights, do front flips and backflips off concrete walls off and into the bushes"—it's difficult to find the best quote here.
But promising he would have gone Beast Mode on Michael Phelps in the pool is an instant classic: "Michael Phelps wouldn't have been on the Wheaties box if I stuck with swimming. I've been swimming since I was a little kid. I still swim. I'm the best. I am Olympic caliber right now, hell yeah."
That highlights an underrated aspect of this popular magazine: It's as much about the unique individuals and stories as it is the pictures.
Amy Purdy is another example. At 19, she was given a two percent chance to live after contracting bacterial meningitis. She was in a coma for over two weeks and lost both her legs below her knees.
Now, she has a bronze medal in the snowboard cross from the 2014 Paralympic games, she has finished second place on Dancing With the Stars, and she is clearly in unbelievable shape:
Robin Roberts, who knows a thing or two about being an inspiration and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, applauded Purdy:
The amount of love and positivity coming in about my body shoot images is amazing! Thank you all for being such beautiful supporters!!— Amy Purdy (@AmyPurdyGurl) July 9, 2014
Purdy also took the time on Twitter to thank her fans for the support:
I love the ESPN Body Issue, because they give equal playing time to men and women and it's always fantastic— Molly Lambert (@mollylambert) June 24, 2014
There's much, much more to the issue, too. Michael Phelps, Venus Williams, Serge Ibaka and Jamie Anderson join Fielder and Lynch as cover athletes, while there are 22 athletes in total.
Each brings something unique to the table, which, as Grantland's Molly Lambert argued, is part of the attraction:
ESPN seems to up its game every year, and this year doesn't appear to be any different. From Fielder to Danyelle Wolf to Larry Fitzgerald to Coco Ho to Travis Pastrana, there's unequivocally a reason for everyone to pick up this magazine.