There Is Life After Sports Illustrated and It’s A Kind of Sad

There once was a time when media consumption wasn’t constant. There was a time and a place for it.

For most of my life, my favorite piece of media, the time was Friday, either afternoon or evening, and the place was the couch. The media I looked forward all week to consuming was Sports Illustrated.

It would arrive every Thursday. If it didn’t, there was something wrong with mail delivery. Unless something really popped off the cover or in the flip-through while taking the subscriptions cards out manually at the trash can, I saved the magazine for Friday, when I could send myself into the weekend with a deep focus on sports.

When a favorite team or athlete made the cover, I would save the whole issue, even though the image would be etched in my mind. Just see the photo that accompanies this piece.

Before sports talk radio and the Internet, the letters column was the closest thing to national sports opinion we could get our hands on. From game stories that provided information nuggets you hadn’t seen anywhere else, even almost a week after the final whistle, to the Sidd Finch prank, to season preview issues to Steve Rushin’s word play to profiles that took you inside the games and people who play and coach them, reading the magazine was memorable time well spent. With friends who read it, we shared conversation about it. With friends who didn’t, I always felt a step ahead.

I first started reading SI in 1979, when I’d ask my dad to bring it home from his office, after it circulated through the waiting room tables. I was able to get my own subscription in 1983 and the magazine was a constant in my life until the traditional media business started to crumble.

Slowly, SI eroded. First, they sent some of the best writers on the planet into early retirement. Then they got rid of the photography staff. Next it was more “double issues.” Then an erratic printing schedule. It now comes in the mail at unpredictable, seemingly odd times, a sliver of its former self.

Now, in recent days, comes word that like with so many print media outlets before it, SI’s new owner is gutting its staff.

Here’s a message to “Maven,” the company now in charge: My subscription is up early next year. For 36 years and at eight addresses, I have always renewed, for as many years ahead as they would let me, taking advantage of a small price break and big peace of mind. But it just hit me. I don’t plan to subscribe any longer. The renewal notices have been tossed in the garbage, like the unnecessary in-magazine cards used to be. There are still one or two articles per issue I really enjoy but I can read those online, for free. Meanwhile, I can read one or two articles a day on The Athletic, where many former SI writers now work, that are worth the subscription price.

Media continues in a state of change. Maybe this was inevitable. SI is by no means alone. But this one hurts. This one is personal.