When U.S. Olympic basketball star Sheryl Swoopes, a candidate to grace the inaugural cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED WOMEN|SPORT, announced in January that she was pregnant, some SI staffers were convinced our cover jinx had struck preemptively. But Sandy Bailey, who edited the premier issue of WOMEN |SPORT, was delighted. "That settled the issue of who would be on the cover," she says. "Here was an athlete about to make her debut in a new pro league, the WNBA. Pregnancy changes everything for her. You couldn't ask for a better symbol of the differences between men and women."
Nor could you ask for a better symbol of anticipation, which is what we at SI are feeling as the first test issue of WOMEN|SPORT arrives in the mailboxes of 450,000 female SI subscribers this week and at newsstands by April 21. (A second trial issue is set for September; each issue can be ordered by calling 1-800-528-5000.) The creation of this magazine is our response to both the explosive growth of female participation in sports since the passage of Title IX 25 years ago—in 1971 one of 27 girls participated in high school sports; today, one of three does—and to the burgeoning popularity of women's sports among fans. "The stunning success of American women athletes at the Atlanta Olympics opened eyes," says Bailey. "There were a lot of women with fascinating stories about breaking barriers, being ignored, playing in foreign countries. And with leagues like the WNBA starting up, those stories kept going after the Games. The time was right to try a magazine like this."
Though WOMEN|SPORT has some elements of traditional women's magazines, such as sections on health, exercise and new products, it is unique in its focus on women in sports. In the first issue, to cite a few examples, SI's Alexander Wolff writes about the divergent paths taken by Swoopes and other members of the U.S. Olympic basketball team since Atlanta; Stephanie Mansfield chronicles the "comeback" of disgraced skater Tonya Harding; Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen reveals her midlife love of weightlifting; and SI's Johnette Howard writes about a male volleyball coach accused of sexually abusing his female players. "WOMEN |SPORT contains the same type of important stories that are associated with SI, and it has SI's same high standard of journalism and photography," says managing editor Bill Colson. "But the stories are told from a different perspective for a different audience. I think readers will find the pieces provocative and the writing sharp and irreverent."
As a member of the pre-Title IX generation, Bailey shied away from covering women's sports when she began her career as a sportswriter at The Clearwater ( Fla.) Sun in the 1970s. "I wanted to show that I knew as much as the guys did about football, basketball and baseball," says Bailey, who went on to write and edit for The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times before joining SI in '93. "Back then, you wanted to write stories that, if no byline existed, you wouldn't know a woman had written. You didn't want to have a female perspective."
Bailey's attitude, like that of society at large, has changed. "We've come almost full circle," says Bailey, who sees evidence of that at home, where her nine-year-old son, Kyle, covets his 12-year-old sister Kathleen's Dot Richardson-autographed softball. "It's nice that women in sports can finally feel comfortable being women."
Nice, and long overdue. "