A SHORT HISTORY OF SPORT MAGAZINE
At its launch in 1946, SPORT magazine was America’s first significant general interest sports magazine. Long before its closing 54 years later, SPORTwas an American institution.
Fondly remembered today as pure Americana, SPORT was the brainchild of a small New York publisher, MacFadden Publications Inc, and became a triumph from the day its first issue hit the street with a color image of Joe DiMaggio and his son Joe, Jr. on the cover. That inaugural edition included eight full color plates — unheard of at the time — and almost immediately SPORT rose to over a million in circulation and became half bible, half guru to a generation of men coming of age in post-war America.
MacFadden seized an unappreciated subject like sports and took it mainstream. The formula was simple: combine terrific editorial features written by the greatest writers of the time with generous presentations of photography, particularly full-page color imagery. It was born as a novel idea and grew into a cultural icon.
In its early years, SPORT had the market for magazine-style sports journalism virtually to itself and, under founding editor Ernest Heyn, pioneered a brand of behind-the-scenes glimpses of the heroes of the day not previously attempted. The emphasis was not on the games or the teams, but on the elements of human drama that lay beneath. SPORT was an icon in the league of Life and Look and the Saturday Evening Post.
Insightful essays as long as 5,000 words - or, on occasions, such as the case of a Babe Ruth epic by Jack Sher in the January 1947 edition, 13,000! – focused on the personalities and human drama of sport. Each month SPORT was filled with evocative writing from its own stable of staff writers, plus submissions from the likes of Grantland Rice, Jimmy Breslin, David Halberstam, William F. Buckley and Dick Schaap.
But it was SPORT‘s groundbreaking use of color photography, particularly during its first 30 years, which captivated a generation of sports fans, many of whom wallpapered their bedrooms with the exquisite full-page photos that were the magazine’s signature item. SPORT used many of the nation’s top shooters of the post-war era, combining photography from staffers such as Martin Blumenthal, George Heyer and Kevin Fitzgerald with freelancers such as the incomparable Ozzie Sweet, Hy Peskin and Neil Leifer.
If imitation is indeed the greatest form of flattery, then SPORT received the ultimate compliment with the birth of Sports Illustrated in 1954. Time Inc. had tried to purchase the name SPORT, but its final offer of $200,000 was $50,000 less than McFadden was willing to accept. Undaunted, Time launched Sports Illustrated, borrowing liberally from SPORT‘s successful formula — the SPORTtalk digest of short items at the front of the magazine, the SPORT Special long feature at the back and, of course, full-page color photography.
Representative of SPORT‘s superiority, in the hearts and minds of the reading public, but also of the men who ran the leagues and teams across North America, was the magazine’s success in establishing the SPORT Award in 1955 for the most valuable player in the World Series. The concept was expanded over the years until a SPORT magazine award was presented to the outstanding post-season performer in all four major team sports, as sanctioned by the leagues.
But by the early 1970s, MacFadden, lacking Time’s deep pockets, was fading and thus ensued a dizzying succession of ownership changes for the magazine. There was also a corresponding zig-zag in editorial direction, and gradually SPORT lost its way, its distinctive voice and, eventually, its presence. In August 2000, after appearing every month for 54 years under 10 different owners, SPORT magazine ceased publication.
Its passing was mourned in many quarters. As The Wall Street Journal‘s Allen Barra, writing in Salon.com, put it, “Though it didn’t make any headlines, the news of the death of SPORT magazine … must have put a lump in the throat of those old enough to remember the greatest of all American sports magazines … Sports Illustrated was great, but SI, in an era when you couldn’t see all the highlights every night, was read for news; SPORT was for reflection.”
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe described SPORT as “an irreplaceable part of the American sports experience.”
And, in a rare departure for the competitive magazine industry, SI itself paid tribute to SPORT on its own pages with a heartfelt piece that began, “They closed the barbershop last week, the one in town, the first place — not counting school or a friend’s house — where your mother would drop you off and leave you …”
Such was the comfort afforded by SPORT magazine.
SPORT published 647 issues comprising approximately 10,000 articles and 40 million words between September 1946 and August 2000. The SPORT photo library holds more than 200,000 images. Together, those words and pictures represent one of the world’s most significant historical records of 20th century sports, and form the basis of The SPORT Collection.
SPORTtheMagazine.com was created by Sport Gallery Inc. with the intention of reviving the first original general interest sport magazine in order to shed light on the rich history of sport through the colorful and eloquent pages of SPORT magazine. Here in 2012, the online presence of SPORT magazine takes readers 65 years into the past, to the good ‘ol days of sport through the lens of SPORT magazine. Every month SPORTthemagazine.com features all of the content that appeared in SPORT 65 years ago that month. Articles, images, comics, quizzes, profiles, and more are available monthly on all of the greatest athletes of 20th century sport in the same way and sequence as they appeared 65 years ago, only digitized for the speed and ease of the 21st century.