NOT the Same: Vonn v. Kitt Sports Illustrated Covers

Sports Illustrated Covers of Olympic Skiers

In rebuttal to the “Vonn Watch” Sports Illlustrated cover blog post I made, many people commented and pointed out that A.J. Kitt was similarly posed in 1992 and no one called it sexual. I don’t recall  the media buzz, so I’ll have to take their word on this point, but I’m inclined to believe it to be true.

Many argued the cover of Kitt was “exactly the same” which provided evidence that male athletes, particularly skiers, can be similarly portrayed in the media.

I would argue from a sport media research perspective that these covers, while at first glance appear to be “exactly the same”, they are in fact not similar in many key facets. The reason why the Kitt photo is unlikely to be interpreted as sexualized, while the Vonn cover might, is the focus on this post.

1. Kitt is literally “in action” doing his sport, Vonn is posed in a tuck position–she is not literally skiing.

2. Kitt has his helmet on, Vonn does not. Skiers don’t ski without their helmets.

3. Kitt is looking down the hill as he would DURING COMPETITION, Vonn is posed looking sideways (not downhill) into the camera.

4. Kitt appears to be actually in context on the mountain, Vonn in her picture appears to be super imposed with the mountains in the background. (However, I am not certain of this)

5. Kitt is leaning down the hill which connotes forward motion during his event, Vonn is static and while she is in a tuck position there are many other positions she performs in the course of a race that could of been used that might be construed as less sexualized.

Another point many made on the blog about this photo comparison, is that we had to “see Vonn without her helmet” because otherwise no one would know who she is because skiing is such an obscure sport. However, Kitt is pictured with his helmet on where we can’t see his face. He is identified by a caption. I would argue skiing is no more or less obscure today than it was in 1992. Therefore, the argument that we need to “see Vonn’s face” to know who she is does not hold up.

I will make one last point that might lend credence to the sexualized argument (albeit subliminally). There is one ironic twist to the Vonn cover photo if you didn’t catch it prior. Someone who works in the media pointed out to me that if you look at how the text in the bottom right corner aligns, you can clearly see the word “AsS” is spelled out vertically (start with the capital “A” in America and look down to the next line of text). Is this coincidental?

Is it great that a female was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic preview issue–YES! Could the photo chosen been a better representation of the great athleticism and talent of Lindsey Vonn–YES!

13 thoughts on “NOT the Same: Vonn v. Kitt Sports Illustrated Covers

  1. I am sorry, but you do a great disservice to women’s equality when you make reaching, paranoid arguments such as this. One could just as spuriously argue that Kitt’s covered face is oppressive.

  2. I don’t see what’s wrong with a prominent female athlete being attractive, nor do I see what’s wrong with SI noticing that and showcasing her face on their cover. Lindsey Vonn with a helmet would have been a less attractive, effective cover, especially considering the magazine is marketed towards men. Wouldn’t anyone(male or female) want their cover photo to be flattering? Anyways, if SI had chosen Apollo Ohno I’m sure we would have seen him posed in such a way that either showcased his face, or his athletic body, or most likely both.

  3. The only fact which here is to criticize is a misuse of a scientific popularity to ban every little whiff of erotic out of normal living. There is definitivly no sexuality on the cover. If seeing sexuality on the cover it might be more helpfull to ban spandex out of sport.

    Fortunately i live in “old europe” where beeing nude or topless on beach or sauna is fully normal. Even in conservative Spain and Italy is that common. Just in the so called liberal US exists a complete schizophrenic relation to the human body and its sexuality.

    If searching the origins of sport more than 2K years ago it shows nude activists with the Old Greeks as the inventors of Olympic Games. With the mindset of Mrs. LaVoi they must have been totally perverted.

    I am glad that i live not overseas.

  4. Sorry, but it’s ridiculous! If she had posed nude or in a bikini, then it would be sexual, but so?! C’mon… Shame on the US moral!

  5. Are you crazy? She shows nothing, american people are so prude…. Stay where you are and let us in peace! Can´t understand such a behaviour….

  6. I think it’s true. Vonn is in a sexy pose rather than a skiing pose. Also, she doesn’t move or concentrate, she’s definitely standing. The man is starting off for a race…

    Maybe it’s hat men who buy most sport magazines, buy the magazine? They buy it because of male sport stars, or female sport stars in sexy positions?

    Vonn is hot… I would like to spend some time with her 🙂 –> Today I was skiing and it’s super.

  7. Emily,
    Thanks for your post. I agree that the picture and the buzz about it detracts from Vonn’s (and other female athletes) athletic accomplishments, but I also feel that is we want to promote women’s sport in a legitimate way then someone has to raise the issue of the problems surrounding media coverage. I’d rather not have to raise the issue at all, that would mean we would regularly and equally see athletic females covered in the sport media mostly in ways that highlight athleticism rather than physical attractiveness. And yes you are probably right about the stretch on the conspiracy theory, but when someone pointed it out to me it made me take pause for sure! -nml

  8. This was an excellent critique, as was your previous one about the same cover. I was shocked to read so much criticism of your previous post. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis and courage to share it with the public, even if it is not well-received.

  9. I guess what I mean to say is this: all the attention and time spent on bemoaning the sexualized cover of Vonn is time we are NOT talking about her accomplishments. We are taking away from her achievements even more than the cover did. Take the high road, ignore the buzz (it will be dead sooner that way), focus on the sport. THAT’S how you get people to respect women in sports.

  10. For starters, I am laughing out loud at the “A-s-s” theory you state. talk about reaching! I have to say that really does not lend any credibility to your opinions, despite the fact that I do think some of them are good. Honestly, stay away from the conspiracy theories, it sounds rediculous.
    Secondly, I have to say that I was completely blindsided by all the hooplah surrounding this cover. I myself am a recently retired professional athlete, and when I saw the cover of SI I thought how awesome that a woman is showcased. I further thought, given how she is portrayed in the picture, that she must be even that much more of a badass competitor to allow herself to be photographed that way. I think everyone that is claiming how sexualized this photo is are the ones who are actually discrediting Vonn. She is obviously confident enough in her ability and talent, that she can now have a little fun and femininity enter the picture (no pun intended). I asked around, and the men in my life agree: bottom line, to make it onto the SI cover, you have to have talent, end of story. By claiming that a mistake was made in choosing this picture people discredit her confidence and her talent.

  11. Good points. Kitt must be tINY or maybe a WIMP. Vonn’s lack of helmet and goggles are clearly the difference to me. There are several great, identifiable photos of her in action that SI could have and perhaps should have chosen. I would have gone with Apolo Anton Ohno, who is poised to become the most decorated winter Olympian in US history.

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