Sports Illustrated Sends Blacks to Back of Book (photos)

The Improper, February 14, 2010

More than 70 percent of professional athletes are African American, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the latest issue of Sport’s Illustrated’s much ballyhooed swimsuit issue.

The 184-page issue, the magazine’s most profitable, boasts 18 models, but only two are African American and you won’t see them until page 140.

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Sports Illustrated has been publishing the swimsuit issue continuously since 1964, and Tyra Banks has been the only African American model to grace the cover. She first appeared in 1996, but shared the cover with model Valeria Mazza, who is white.

No two models since then have shared a cover. All have been white. Only one other issue, 1994’s, featured multiple models. Kathy Ireland, Elle MacPherson and Rachel Hunter appeared together.

Tyra repeated on the cover solo in 1997, but the photo caused a controversy because of allegations that Banks’ hips were photoshopped to make her look slimmer.

In this year’s issue, Jessica White, 26, is one of two African American models. She’s an industry veteran, who was signed, at 16, by the IMG agency and has represented such brands as CoverGirl, Chloé and Gap.

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Although she’s as much a veteran as Decker and Refaeli she’s only featured in three of 140 photos.

White is joined by Damaris Lewis, 19, who appears on page 178.

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This year, the magazine introduces six new “rookies” to the issue. None are African American. Sonia Dara, who is Indian, is the only minority. She’s also a Harvard student.

Some models appear in ads and on table of content pages early in the magazine, but the rookies lead off the photo feature starting on page 41. The lead model, Christine Teigen is part Thai and part Norwegian.

Decker’s spread begins on page 53 followed by a double page photo of Refaeli on page 55.

African-American models like Iman and Naomi Campbell broke through the race barrier long ago in fashion, but the under representation of minorities in modeling continues to be a contentious issue to this day.

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Since Sports Illustrated covers an “industry” that makes its living off of black athletes, you would think it would go out of its way to make sure its best-selling issue was more representative.

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