Vonn Watch: Sports Illustrated Cover is Predictable

Sports Illustrated February 8, 2010 Cover

I’ve thought to myself and predicted out loud that leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics that we would see a LOT of Lindsey Vonn in the media.

Vonn is first a GREAT athlete, but she also represents the norm of feminine attractiveness. The combination of athleticism and attractiveness make Vonn the likely poster girl of the US Olympic Team, and the media hasn’t disappointed in constructing her as such.

Not to be left out, Sports Illustrated is featuring Vonn on their February 8,2010 cover (pictured here). For those of you who follow SI Covers, know that female athletes are RARELY featured on the cover.

2007 Sports Illustrated Covers Featuring Women

Over the last 60 years researchers have shown that about 4% of all SI covers have portrayed women.

When females are featured on the cover of SI, they are more likely than not to be in sexualized poses and not in action–and the most recent Vonn cover is no exception.

NOTE: Please read my follow up post below in the comments section, in response to blog readers differing opinions about this post.

Follow up response:

I’ve been getting a lot of comments in this particular blog. It seems I’ve touched a nerve and many disagree with my interpretation of Vonn on the cover of SI. And many of the comments provide alternative perspectives, which is good for discussion. First, let me say I am a fan of Vonn. I have nothing against her and am proud she is a Minnesotan. I am also not saying that Vonn thrives on the attention of the sport media, or seeks it out. I believe she is being covered so frequently because of the combination of the skill, accomplishment, AND her appearance. I have to disagree that this pose is “in action”. In sport media research, we would code this Vonn cover as a passive shot. She is not actually ON the slope skiing, with her helmet on. She IS in a posed tuck position in an attempt to simulate what actually skiing would look like. Yes she is “in uniform” but not her complete uniform and she appears to be on the slope. Picture this as a way to frame what I’m trying to get at: Picture a male ski racer in a similar pose on the cover of SI, smiling at the camera. Would we see that? How would you react to that picture, verses the picture of Vonn? As one blog commenter seemed to hint at, this pose is “ok” because she is hot and sexy, so she is nice to look at. How would “we” feel if the female skier did not meet normative standards of feminine attractiveness (i.e., she was “ugly”) and was in the same pose? I appreciate everyone’s willingness to share their opinions.

Some have brought up a good point that male athletes have been photographed in similar poses, and I do not deny this fact. However, the argument is that because female athletes only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage regardless of the medium, that when we DO see them it is MORE LIKELY in poses that highlight traditional gender norms, femininity and framed in a way that can be interpreted as sexualized. So yes, Ohno or Kitt have been on the cover in similar ways but we will more likely see male athletes in action, on the court/ice/mat, and in their uniform that we will female athletes, this is a proven fact over the last 25 years of sport media research. -nml

Follow up Part 2 (2/6/10): Thank you to everyone who has submitted a comment. I have approved a sampling of the hundreds of comments that are representative of the varying opinions about this cover and issue. As you can read in the “About This Blog” tab, my goal with this blog is “help readers see the issues I write about with a different perspective (not necessarily one that you agree with)”. It is clear not everyone agreed with the critique of the Vonn SI cover and that is the point, to stimulate dialogue about an issue.  If you are interested in one explanation as to why this post generated so much discussion and attacks on me personally , click here.

Follow up Part 3 (2/8/10): This blog got so much exposure due to the fact it was picked up by USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and more recently CoCo Perez, among other media outlets.

164 Replies to “Vonn Watch: Sports Illustrated Cover is Predictable”

  1. Nicole M Lavoi. You are a joke. I left a great post here last night. It was spot on and was so detrimental to your argument referencing the SI subrciber list/fan base/audience. Number of male athletes to women athletes. Other SI covers with olpympic athletes in simmilar poses common to their sport without their helmet on (i.e. sidney crosby’s cover: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/11383/index.htm ). Obviously I went into much greater detail but I just want everyone to know on here that you are a joke for deleting my comment. If you are truly trying to run a fair discussion don’t delete comments simply because it puts your comments to shame.

    I will continue to post here and make people aware that you have deleted my comment because it was so damaging to yours.

    -Good day


  2. Your followup response is even more “out There” then the origal text.
    You have no idea how to help the female cause, just be proud that a great athlete is on the cover.


  3. The fact is that some sports simply are more suited to have posed photos while some have more exciting ones. For instance of the six times michael phelps was on the cover 4 of them were posed and one of the nonposed was of him celebrating. The action shots that make the cover are generally iconic moments which can be defined in a single shot, and thats something that some sports such as swimming and skiing dont offer in abundance.
    Secondly, if you look at photos of Ms. Vonn in action you would would see that there is litttle to distinguish her from any other professional skiier. The problem is that when you do a story on a person people like to see who the story is about. Most of the action shots that you talk about are for coverage of an event that already happened. Just google “football si cover” or even just “si cover” and youll see that just about every posed shot is for an article about a person and that few action shots are for team/player profiles. While it is important to be aware of gender inequalities and stereotypes your anger is misplaced in this instance.


  4. I agree with just about everyone on here! She is not being “sexualized” in any capacity. It’s not like they took this picture and used it without her consent. I’m sure when they did the photo shoot they took many pictures in many poses, and the magazine and Ms. Vonn came to a decision together.
    As far as this picture being “posed” rather than an action shot, I took a quick look at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/home/index.htm, and at least a third of Sports Illustrated covers are posed! What’s the big deal?
    On another note, Ms. Vonn has put in countless hours of hard work and exercise throughout her life. She worked hard for the body she has, and if she wants to show it off (which I don’t even think she’s trying to do in the picture), it’s her choice. She doesn’t need some feminist blogger, critiquing every move and blaming it on the mainstream media.
    So what if she’s the poster girl for the Olympics because she’s a beautiful woman, thats oviously not the only reason because she’s extremely talented as well. It’s not like the USOC chose Jessica Simpson to be a downhill skier to try and appeal to the US people!
    nml, for your own sake, lighten up!


  5. Hello!!! She apparently did not have a problem doing the photo shoot… How about asking HER how she feels about it, not how YOU feel she “should” feel… If she does not object, you have no grounds to object…


  6. There are a lot of great comments here from varying points of view. I believe you got your answer Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi; Your point of view is not shared by the greater public voice, those who read your blog believe you are part of the problem and not the cure, and that you should likely re-visit your thought process and come up with another blog that re-thinks your comments and actions.

    Bravo people, it is refreshing to read the intelligent comments listed here. You are all correct, this political correctness our world previously embraced, is finally on its’ way out!

    Read more intelligent comments on


  7. Doc,
    OK I am not an educated man. In fact I am a soldier preparing to go overseas again to fight for this sort of non-sense. I do happen to have a fairly good grasp on reality, the reality is that sex sells. However, to say that her pose was sexual is simply ridiculous. It is what she does. She is pumping up her resume for her after Olympics charge on the business world, you should be proud of her for a smart business decision.
    I am also quite proud of you. You have succeeded to make this story a national news event, I would say that certainly has boosted your stock. Congrats on making a completely non-issue something that will detract from the amazing feats these athletes train their whole lives for.
    Can we please stop and agree that Men and Women are wired differently……In the Army we have gender norming for physical activity. It is what it is. Oh and forgive me for actually enjoying a beautiful woman’s appearance. Shocker!
    Take care Doc, I hope ya get a big fat book deal or TV consultation job!


  8. You have got to be joking…please tell us you are just kidding.
    I’m glad she made the cover. She is the BEST in her sport. Who said she was attractive?
    Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh deserved a cover for their Gold in womens beach volleyball…but would that have been to provocative, with them wearing nothing but their uniforms?
    It’s not like she took her shirt off and pumped her fists in the air like Brandi Chastain.

    Father of two girl skiers, who will be excited to see Lindsey on the Cover…
    BRING HOME THE GOLD Lindsey !!!
    You too Julie Mancuso
    GO USA!


  9. I think your article will ensure that even fewer women appear on the cover of SI as the publisher attempts to avoid such manufactured controversies in the future. In your follow up, I can see a bit more how the shot should not be construed as “in action”, however, I still cannot see how that fact makes the image “sexualized” in any way. Sure, you can more clearly see her face, which strengthens her branding as representative of the sport, but to make the assumtion that merely being able to see her in this way is sexual is a reach. As for the tuck position, that is consistent with the way the sport is played – that’s a undeniable fact. Overall, it’s my opinion that your article does more harm than good to the cause of women in sport. As a psychology alumi of the University of MN I find it troubling that you are able to use that institution as a vehicle to promote this line of thinking.


    1. eagerowl-if you click on the ‘About This Blog’ tab you’ll that I explicitly state that what I write in this blog are my views and not representative of the U of MN. I provide one perspective, and I never say it is right or wrong. -nml


  10. To focus on the percentage of female athletes on sport magazine covers ignores the business ($$$…) that determine magazine covers. What percentage of men shown on fashion covers aside from GQ? But to the point, if Lindsey Vonn was less attractive I don’t believe you would have taken your position. Lindsey is attractive but the cover is not sexually exploitive.


  11. Ms. Lavoi, you bring up excellent points. This tells us more about how SI views its readership and how they want to sell magazines. Forget WHO it actually is on the cover: it is the objectification of the feminine form to get you to plunk down money. The truly amazing picture of this athlete is on p 52-53. Don’t tell me that isn’t powerful, dymanic and exciting. Comparing the 2 pictures together, the conclusion is SI believes its readers need to see the suggestive/submissive pose to get them to buy their magazine. And by the way, standing still, looking head-on (Anton Ohno’s pose as mentioned above) is not the same as bending over and grabbing your ankles with a grin on your face.


    1. The conclusion could also be that SI’s photographers did not take the action shot of Vonn (I doubt the magazine sends its photogs to many skiing events) and thus didn’t want to put someone else’s image (Robert Jaeger/EPA to be exact) on its cover.

      Furthermore, the cover story is a feature about Vonn and not about a game; SI’s action-shot covers tend to be for the latter (NFL playoff games, NCAA championships, etc.). One need only look at the alternate Canadian cover of Sidney Crosby–taken in an athetic pose in his hockey uniform sans helmet–to render the idea of sexualization in this instance moot.


  12. I think you’re going way too far in criticizing this cover. While I whole-heartedly agree that women athletes are NOT shown enough on the covers of S.I., and when women are on the cover it often gets sexualized because they focus on the attractive athletes (see Jenny Finch, Mis Hamm, Danika Patrick, etc.), there is absolutely nothing sexualized about this picture. Yes, it’s posed…but S.I. (as do other sports mags) OFTEN has posed pics of athletes on its covers (men AND women) when it is a specific story about that athlete and not about a recent accomplishment of theirs. In the latter case…THEN you would often see a real life action shot of that individual winning the championship, race, etc. Lindsey IS the face of the winter Olympics this year, just as Michael Phelps was the face of the summer Olympics in ’08…and it’s because she is the best damn skier, male or female, that we’ve had since Picabo Street, and possibly one of the best ever! Just the same as Phelps was. Her attractiveness just helps her with branding, as I’m sure we’ll see over and over in commercials for the next few weeks (and hopefully after should she win a gold or three!). While S.I. does have its problems in sexualizing women in sports, I think there are FAR worse examples than this shot. If you are a researcher, please do better research on the topic before calling them out on something so silly as this. Or just save it for the swimsuit issue instead!


  13. I don’t believe the writer actually called this pose sexual — she stated that SI covers featuring women are frequently sexualized. The pose isn’t sexual — it just illustrates the gender issue of her thesis — that women are more likely to be shown in ways that emphasize their gender rather than their capabilities, which I think is accurate.


  14. What a myopic point of view. Ben Rothelisberger graced the cover of SI barechested wearing eye black and football shoulder pads and nothing else. There is clearly enough sexism in the world without having to invent anything. Typical of lazy bloggers. Do your homework.


  15. This is ridiculous, she is a freakin skier. Its not like she is in a bathing suit having a snow fight with her sugar daddy. I am a 22 year old male and this cover has absolutely no sexual innuendo. I just think that the writer needs to get laid and or has absolutely nothing significant to write about……. other that the record number of women that participate in winter sports and the amazing show that they put up at the winter x games…….. this writer is one of the reason why women don’t receive the same respect as men in the sporting world, because they come up with absolute bullshit such as this.



  16. Wow.. when I first saw this cover, I just thought it was a really, really cool shot of a great female skier. As a female sports fan, I was proud. I am so disappointed that someone could find something sexual about it. To me, that says more about the author of this blog than it does about SI.


  17. This definitely is a sexual inuendo . Sex sells. Period. She is beautiful and will make the common guy like me pay attention to her when she is on tv. SI is demographically a men’s magazine. I never heard of lindsay before this, and now I’m interested. SI did Lindsay, the sport and the Olympics a favor.


  18. Vonn’s cover was not an action shot, but neither was it a beefcake or full-on glamour shot. It’s something SI has done for many years for their “preview” issues — it has an athlete posing in uniform to promote their sport.

    Another example would be LeBron James when he was called The Chosen One on the cover (the photo was created with him with basketballs using a trampoline, I believe).

    I most certainly didn’t find that sexist or sexualized beyond the fact that the athletic form is to some extent sexual in nature simply because it is the highest form of the human body, male or female.


  19. I think an “action” shot does not serve the purpose for the cover of SI. An action shot of Michael Phelps or Michael Jordan , or anyone else named Michael, is easy to obtain because of the proximity of the photographers and the ability to see their faces. Lindsey Vonn wears a helmet and goggles and skiing is not a heavily followed sport outside of the Olympics. Showing her allows those that are not as familiar with the sport a chance to put a face to a name. The fact that she is attractive is a bonus. I cannot be for sure, but I think Larry Bird has probably been on the cover a few times and he aint pretty.


  20. Most of my arguments against your opinion have already been stated so I won’t spend time flogging a dead horse. However, have you done any research into the percentage of Male models on the cover of Cosmo that are depicted with their shirts off or open to show their 6-pack abs? Regardless of the magazine, sex sells and, when possible, most will exploit that and target it towards their primary demographic.


  21. It is people like you (“Dr. Women’s Sports Expert”) that influence comedian’s like Daniel Tosh, to say ” Wow that is a great question can somebody please hand that mic to a man, so your sports question will be relevant.” Maybe the summer Olympics shouldn’t televise the women’s 200m breast stroke?!?!? Too many sexual symbols placed in that event, you got women, swimsuits, and the word breast. When a so called “women’s sports expert” brings out a sexually negative post on an athlete whose time to shine, before the biggest event, on the biggest stage shows way sexism is still around. -“Yes she is “in uniform” but not her complete uniform and she appears to be on the slope”-. Ok let’s just throw her helmet on so we can’t have any personal connection to the athlete. “It simulates an ACTION pose.” So if it’s not 100% real it shouldn’t be on a magazine. Wonder if she blogged about the ESPN mag that did a whole feature on men and women athletes naked posing?? They say any publicity is good publicity; there you go Doc you achieved it by getting people to go to your website.


  22. Sports Illustrated Objectifies Men!

    (tongue firmly in my own cheek. not like that you pervs!)

    I found these by searching “Google Images” for ((“Sports Illustrated” cover)).

    Aug 17, 2009 SI College Football Preview – posed, & bent over
    Apr 24, 1989 SI Tony Mandarich oiled up in his underwear
    Dec 25 2009 SI Stephen Colbert in lycra, bent over (he’s not an athlete, so it’s just for the sex appeal, obviously)
    Jul 27 2009, SI Tim Tebow, helmet off, bent over
    Mar 5, 2001 SI Nomar Garciaparra shirtless (clearly not a working)
    Feb 22, 2009 SI Cole Hamels “posing” as if he were pitching
    Aug 2, 2004 SI Michael Phelps, bent over crotch shot

    I do not claim this list to be exhaustive, it is just what I happened to find in the first 10 minutes of a google search.

    There were also many, many covers that were clearly sexist–none that I saw, however of female athletes–the swimsuit issues. Why are you so worked up over what is obviously an effort to share the face of an athlete who normally has her faced obscured by a helmet?

    It seems obvious to me, though obviously not to you, that an action shot would render any action shot of her unrecognizable, and anonymous, which is not in the interests of her, her team, her sponsors, or the magazine.


  23. I think this is really pointless. I mean wouldn’t you rather make a more pointed statement about women is music videos, or reality tv or something? I mean this women is in an Apline Skier. In downhill skiing you tuck like this to increase speed and make the body more aerodynamic. How you arrived at this being a sexaul pose baffles me.


  24. besides you and your ridiculous view that this pose is “sexual”, where else is this
    “drawing heat” from?…..
    how long does the aftertaste last in the evening from biting balls all day Dr.?
    sports illustrated is targeted to MEN and they are in business to make MONEY
    sexy female athletes attract men and their money…


  25. I’m going to try and be the only polite response you’ll get to this silliness today.
    “sexualized poses”?
    How about stupidized writing? (Oh Sh*t I blew the polite thing)
    You might want to try your future critiques out on a few close friends and enemies in the future before going to print with them. You are a thousand feet off base on this one Nicole.


  26. If she were on the cover in a swimsuit or something totally unrelated to skiing your point may be valid. Otherwise it’s fairly evident you are looking to pick a fight.

    You are aware skiers bend over when they ski right? It helps with the speed see?

    It’s not like they took the shot from behind with her looking over her shoulder licking her lips.


  27. What gives you the right to diminish this young woman’s moment in the sun? She is a great athlete about to compete in the olympics and you see fit to drag her into your sexist agenda for the sake of publicity? When this photo shot was being done, I bet she in no way thought that this shot was sexual… This type of commentary hurts your cause… Kind of like p.e.t.a. saying that Phil the groundhog should be replaced with a mechanical robot groundhog because of undue stress on the real one… I hope Lindsay calls you out on this!


  28. What are we to say about this posed photo of the USA Softball team smiling with their gold medals?


    Or this summer issue with USA pitcher Jennie Finch posing with a plastic bat, a ball, and normal clothes?


    Or even Danica Patrick taking a photo looking into the camera over her racing helmet?


    All sexualized? All exploitative? All mis-steps for women?


  29. Nicole

    I googled your picture and your smile is very seductive in that picture. Stop sexualizing yourself (and us men). :p

    Seriously, what men would not look at an attractive woman or her picture (regardless of pose) and not have sexual thoughts? And before you think of us as animals (which we are), there have been studies after studies about men’s evolution and their visual cues. Nothing new here!


  30. Dr. Lavoi,

    Please don’t be discouraged by some of these comments – some of them are downright ridiculous.

    These kinds of media portrayals are exactly what I try to expose my students to in Sports and Media classes. This cover is just one of an increasing amount of portrayals – ESPN’s treatment of Serena Williams and Candace Parker, numerous depictions of female college sports teams in media guides and team posters – that speak to the issue of sexualizing female athletes and pointing our gaze to their bodies and not them as athletes.

    That some people can’t understand this is a pose and not action is unfortunate, keep up the great work.


  31. A really sickening interpretation, and not just from a rational point of view. The writer’s interpretation echoes the latter day hyper-conservative mentality that is increasingly taking hold in the USA. Linked to the all pervading approach that whatever is perceived as a vague threat to anything is to be pursued relentlessly, and with the aid of litigation too, where possible. People like you are driving thinking people like me to decide to leave North America.


  32. To everyone who says theres nothing sexual about this cover If the shot was taken from behind w her looking back would that be sexual, she’s in a down hill skiers position, right? If there was no sexual intention she would be in full gear looking straight ahead. If this pose is not pleasing to any man under 50 he’s not straight.


  33. You’ve made an issue out of something that wasn’t. You have successfully distracted people from Vonn’s accomplishments as an athlete and switched the focus to her sexuality.

    Beautiful people get magazine covers. If the had posed a successful female athlete who was unattractive you wouldn’t have opened your mouth at all.

    You really need to get over it and give up the double standard.


  34. Congratulations, you got yourself some headlines.

    Granted, they make you look like an out-of-touch radical feminist, or someone with no idea what “sexualization” means, but you got some headlines.

    Too bad you did nothing to actually advance the discussion of sex roles in society.


  35. Of course, SI posed her in a sexually alluring way. No question about it. Her butt is given prominence in the cover, and her smile verges on naughtiness! The vast majority of SI readers are male, need I say more?!?
    Nicole -you’ve nailed it with your observationss


  36. That’s the egg/tuck skiing position to me. Even with that smile, it seems to speak competition on the slopes. I would be more worried about the 7 year old girl that is competing to be a Carnival Queen in Rio!


  37. I think you’re right. Because most people have sex while on a snow covered mountain, wearing boots and skis while carrying two sharp poles.


  38. Take a look at USA today on Thur. this week .It has a similar picture of Olympic skeleton racer also posed and ties in I believe with what you are saying in recent blogs. Also another article on the same day ,same paper about the lack of female representation on the USOC. How is the hockey going ? I have not seen any recent info on stats. Some very thought provoking ideas in your writings.
    John houghton


  39. She’s a G*d damn skier — if she was in her helmet going down the slope, who the hell would be able to recognize her and notice who she is? The reason they can show some football players with their helmets is because people KNOW these players, and their jerseys distinguish them anyway. An action shot of a minor athlete (not to negate her accomplishments, she is a fantastic skier, but doesn’t have the fame or cache of 99% of SI cover athletes) would be useless, and could very well be my 55-year-old mom skiing, and no one would know the difference. The only possible way an athlete like Vonn could be featured on the cover is in a simulated shot with her helmet off and facing the camera. End of story.


  40. I think you need to do a little more research before you make acusations like this. Did you happen to see the Canadian SI olympic preview cover of Sidney Crosby in a similarly styled photo (Posed action shot, bent over, with no helmet). http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/11383/index.htm
    It’s just too bad that you had force this negative publicity on Lindsey so close to the olympics. I’m sure that really helps her focus. Nice job!


  41. This is a lose-lose for people like you, Nicole. Had she been featured in a non-ski related pose, you’d bash it because SI was taking away from her accomplishments and trying to sexualize her. Put her in a “natural” ski pose, with helmet and you’d find a reason to bash SI for that. It’s a lose-lose. You want to pick beef with it and you would have found a reason no matter what the cover was.

    News flash – skiing isn’t mainstream here. How do you promote someone who’s talented? The way SI did.

    People, like you, who find a way to complain about everything make me sick. Get off your soapbox.


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