Sports Illustrated readers are NERDS!!!!

June 5th, 2008



Bizarro is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Yeah, I did a double take too.

Bizarro, for those not in the know, could best be described as “Superman on Opposite Day.” He’s a twisted reflection of the Man of Steel, down to the inverted Superman logo on his chest.

On the cover, he’s flying above a baseball field, shocked to see a Tampa Bay Devil Ray holding Yankee Derek Jeter in triumph. The caption, in perfect comic book format reads: “Bizarro Baseball! Featuring The Mighty Rays! The Last-Place Yankees! And Other Mysteries of the ’08 Season!”

OK, it’s a kitsch cover, a throwback to how comics looked about 15 years ago, but still — there’s no real reason for a Superman villain to be there. The cover would have made the same point without Bizarro.

Mark Bagley, who illustrated the cover, is one of the best artists working in comics. He did 111 consecutive issues of Ultimate Spider-Man in an era when, for most artists six issues on a book is considered a good run. He also completed that run in about seven years, averaging well over a comic a month. Bagley is now at DC Comics, so connect the dots: DC is owned by Time Warner, which publishes Sports Illustrated. It doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out how he got the gig.

But it takes a lot more guesswork to figure out why Bizarro’s on the cover. Even with the word “Bizarro” on the cover, it assumes a lot of the reader. It assumes the reader is familiar enough with the Superman mythology to know that this guy — backwards “S” and all — is a mirror image of Superman. He’s one of Superman’s better-known villains, but certainly not in the same league as Lex Luthor, whom everyone knows.
Bizarro’s on the cover because the editors figure most of their readers will recognize the character.

In other words, the editors are saying what I’ve suspected for years: readers of Sports Illustrated are nerds.

Obsessive statistics, weird terminology (Cinderella was an abused shut-in, not an expectation-defying college basketball team) and cross-country trips just to visit a ballpark… yep, nerds. Then, there’s the oft-repeated line about how fantasy football is just Dungeons and Dragons for jocks.
(Remember that scene in Revenge of the Nerds II when Ogre realizes he’s a nerd? No? Yeah, I don’t blame you).

Sports has a lot to offer comic book fans: human bodies at their prime, fantastic feats of athleticism, ego and contrived narrative (that’s why I never really got into sports: not enough plot).

Still, one Sports Illustrated cover isn’t going to erase the jock-nerd stigma. Booger won’t be loaning Coach Harris his Dr. Strange comics anytime soon. (Or, as one of my favorite writers responded when asked about his favorite sports teams, “I don’t know. The Gilmore Girls?”).

But comics don’t have much to offer sports fans.

Comics, which at the second-tier publisher level (non-superhero) cover every story genre from romance to history, don’t offer much in the way of sports. Yeah, there’s Tank McNamara, a comic strip that requires an awful lot of ESPN fluency, and that’s about it. I remember one comic where a zombie hockey player helped solve a mystery, some issues of the X-Men where they take a break from fighting Magneto to play pick-up sports and a graphic novel about a Jewish baseball team. I’m sure there are more, but the fact is, in comics, there’s nothing like “The Natural” or even “The Mighty Ducks,” stories that are just as much about the people as they are about the games. An Orioles game might bore me to tears, but if I channel surf onto “The Natural” or “The Sandlot” I’ll need to clear my afternoon.

The nation’s biggest jock magazine put a B-list super villain on the cover. Comics need to return the favor.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@potomacnews.com.

4 comments to “Sports Illustrated readers are NERDS!!!!”

  1. Funny… a few weeks ago when this came out, the Junkies (local DC-area radio guys, formerly known as “The Sports Junkies” when we were in high school, before being put on HFS in the morning and forced to change their name) were commenting on how this was far and away the worst Sports Illustrated cover OF ALL TIME.

    That being said, I think that Bizarro’s mention on Seinfeld 10 or 12 years ago did a lot of raise the average American’s awareness of the character (and certainly mine, since, as you know, I do not read comic books).

    My final comment is on the narrative of sports. There is great plot in sports, both inside each game and in the bigger picture of a season. (And, in some cases, spanning seasons.) Just as I don’t enjoy comic books because I admittedly haven’t taken the time to understand them, I feel that most people who don’t “get” sports similarly just don’t understand them. In baseball, often viewed as a boring sport, there is great drama not only in every game but in every single pitch. However, to appreciate it, you need to not only understand what is going on behind the scenes, but to know that SOMETHING is going on behind the scenes–which most casual fans do not. Even if you don’t, I must imagine that even a casual observer could appreciate, for example, the NBA Finals (even if you hate the NBA style of basketball) between LA and Boston, throwing back of some of the greatest sports series ever played a quarter century ago.

  2. Oh, and as for sports fans being nerds, you are correct–just look at perhaps the most knowledgeable sports fan ever, Schwab of ESPN’s “Stump The Schwab”.

  3. What’d they say about the cover? Anything specific?

    For me a good narrative involves a protagonist, antagonist, climax, resolution, etc. I see the argument, but so many sports teams are simply hired hands. It’s not exactly the Yankees saving Princess Toadstool by beating the Red Sox, but in the case of something like us boycotting the Moscow Olympics, well, that I’ll concede.

    At least we agree sports fans=nerds.

    PS- this site is so much more fun now that I’ve figured out how to put pictures on the blog.

  4. I don’t remember specifically, just that it was stupid and they didn’t get it. (I got it, but just didn’t think that sports-wise it was topical… who cares if the Rays are in first place in the AL East in May? Maybe in August it is a cover-worthy story.)

    As for hired hands… professional sports have changed in that respect over the psat 20-30 years due to the advent of free agency. The NFL is the worst, as it is very hard for teams to “protect” their players from leaving (they can place one “franchise tag” on a player per year which prevents them from seeking free agency would they otherwise be able), and due to the salary cap, if they accumulate lots of young talent, it will be impossible to pay them all what they’re worth once their contracts are up. That being said, each of the three past decades has seen a dynasty… the Redskins in the 80’s (OK, some might say the 49’ers), the Cowboys in the 90’s, and the Patriots in the 00’s. Baseball is probably the best in keeping teams together since there is no salary cap whatsoever, and teams have more control over the rights to players that they draft or sign as rookie free agents. Of course, there are only a few teams that are willing to spend $100+ million to pay a bunch of veteran stars (a.k.a., The Evil Empire). Basketball is somewhere in the middle, because although there is a salary cap, teams are very small compared to baseball and football, and likewise a single player can affect a team much more, so it is possible to keep together two or three stars on the same team for a long period of time.

    Antagonist = Yankees, Red Sox, Duke, UVA, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Lakers, or whomever my team is playing

    Protagonist = My team or whomever is playing one of the above-mentioned teams

    Climax = the actual game

    Resolution = College Park burning to the ground