A.J. Francis, a 309-pound rookie defensive tackle on the Dolphins, has a problem with the ESPN the Magazine Body Issue: There aren’t any guys like him in it.
The Body Issue, which hit newsstands today, features athletes wearing nothing at all (but placing their hands or sports equipment in strategic places), and it serves as a celebration of athletic physiques: male and female, big and small, young and old. But Francis thinks the 300-plus-pound lineman is the one body type that the Body Issue is overlooking. And he took to Twitter to state his case.
“Hey ESPN you need a fat guy in the body issue,” Francis wrote. “I’m fat and sexy and I’m not alone in that. The world needs to accept me and my people.”
Francis, who says “I hate vegetables” in his Twitter bio, later called his tweets about wanting to be in the Body Issue “lame attempts at humor.” But I think Francis is absolutely right: A large percentage of NFL players are fat, and a magazine that wants to illustrate the types of bodies that can be found in the world of sports should include at least one of those players.
The ESPN the Magazine Body Issue is sometimes criticized as just a ripoff of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but I don’t agree with that criticism. To me, the Swimsuit Issue is an outdated relic of a time when the target audience of Sports Illustrated — men — wanted to see scantily clad women and didn’t have many opportunities. Subscribing to Sports Illustrated was a way for men to ensure that once a year, they’d get to see plenty of pictures of models in bikinis. But in 2013, when men can see all the skin they want at the click of a mouse, I’m not sure who the Swimsuit Issue appeals to anymore.
While the Swimsuit Issue is both pointless and utterly irrelevant to what is supposed to be the mission of Sports Illustrated — illustrating sports — ESPN’s Body Issue takes real athletes and shows what they really look like. Usually that means rippling muscles, but sometimes real athletes have rolls of fat. If Francis wants to show that off, more power to him.