Sports Illustrated may be on life support, but let me tell you about its wonderful life


One day, not long before he died, I was talking on the phone with longtime Sports Illustrated writer Ralph Wiley. He was a legend in sports journalism and for years a staple at SI. He’d end up with 28 cover stories and over 200 bylines during nearly a decade at the magazine. I cherished Ralph. I wanted to be Ralph.

I asked him what it was like to work at SI. His response went something like this. I get to work with the best. I get to be part of a group of writers who do some of the smartest work in our business. What’s it like working there? Think of the best professional thing to happen in your life and multiply it by 100.

In the same way that Wiley wasn’t just a sportswriter, as he spoke about societal issues that others refused to, SI wasn’t just a sports magazine. It represented a piece of America. When you picked up the magazine, you knew you were getting some of the best writing that existed in journalism. But you were also getting a window. Into athletes. Into the human mind. Into how teams and stars worked. You didn’t just read about LeBron. You learned what made him excel. When Muhammad Ali was on the cover, what was inside were the blueprints of Ali’s greatness. The schematics. The flesh, the blood, the brain. All of it.

I could list all of the brilliant writers, names like Frank DeFord, Rick Reilly, Dan Jenkins and many others. While SI was obviously about some of those remarkable journalists, it’s what SI formed collectively, along with the stunning photography, that made it so special.

We learned on Friday that many of Sports Illustrated’s writers received layoff notices. Maybe this is some type of temporary situation and the writers could be hired back. We don’t know for certain. What we do know is that something like this, no matter what happens next, doesn’t seem to bode well for the future of the magazine.

Maybe this is also the time to remind people who may not know just how staggeringly good SI has been in the past. If this news is as devastating as it appears, then the greatest thing ever produced in sports journalism is essentially dead. But let me tell you how it lived.

SI was more than a sports journalism gold standard. It was the gold standard for how to be good at anything you did. SI was IBM. It was Apple. It was a rocket ship. It was a poem. It was a good political leader. It was human and warm and bold.

For those of you too young to remember, it may be difficult to digest the true value of SI. Think about the power of TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. SI was on that level. It carried stunning levels of influence. Bob Hope was once on the cover. So was Stephen Colbert. So were Presidents. When SI published, people read it. When SI called, players and coaches answered.

Even as SI entered the modern journalism world, shifting more to an online product, it remained hugely relevant. It recruited a new crop of writers who did similar work to the ones who built the reputation of the magazine in the 1970s and 1980s.

Then, like so many other news organizations, the ad revenue began to dissipate. The magazines themselves got thinner, the swimsuit issue not as relevant, and other sports sites began to eat into SI’s once substantial power. There was a recent story about the magazine using AI. It wasn’t the greatest moment for SI. There were earlier layoffs. All of those things led to the recent devastating announcement.

“This is another difficult day in what has been a difficult four years for Sports Illustrated under Arena Group (previously The Maven) stewardship,” the union said in a statement. “We are calling on ABG to ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years.”

Maybe this will all change and the writers will get their jobs back. But even if they do, how long can SI survive operating like this?

What’s certain, what’s more than certain, is that SI will live forever. It was that good. In ten years, in 50, in a 100, hell in a 1,000, people will remember SI.

I was thinking what Ralph would say and he would probably say just that. Then he’d get back to writing something great. Because that’s what he and SI always did.





This article was originally published by a www.usatoday.com . Read the Original article here. .