After decades of domination the career facts surrounding surfing’s 38-year-old 10-time champion Kelly Slater are getting harder and harder for the mainstream sports press to ignore.
Since clinching his tenth last week at the Rip Curl Pro in Puerto Rico, Slater’s been doing a brief New York media swing, where some respect is being doled out by the likes of CBS, CNN, AP the Dan Patrick radio show and a bunch of international media outlets.
There’s even talk of a decent size ESPN television interview coming, which would give them the opportunity to correct their blunder from Saturday night, when, during their “plays of the week” segment they confused his tenth world title with a tenth Rip Curl Pro title.
TV and radio is great, but small consolation to his millions of fans, who are baffled by the fact that he’s been ignored by the mainstream sporting periodicals during his reign.
To be clear, Slater’s fans are also sports fans. So naturally they’re weighing his achievements up against any and all athletes, alive or dead, and they have concluded that he stacks up pretty nicely.
Sure. I mean, surfing hardly qualified as a sport when Slater’s reign began, and surfers still argue about that now, but with nearly 35 years of professional surfing history in the books the ASP pro tour has come a long way. How exactly? Well, put it this way, Magic Johnson only made $400,000 in his rookie year in the NBA. Kolohe Andino isn’t even on the elite world tour yet, but reliable insiders say he’s making more than double that between sponsors, based purely on his potential.
Kelly’s bonus after his 10th world title is reportedly worth 22 million in Quiksilver stock, far more than the 10 million dollar rumor that was going around.
So is it a travesty that Kelly hasn’t graced these covers?
You bet. Especially considering some of the people (dogs, horses, etc.) that have been appeared on the covers of these otherwise fine periodicals. Sports Illustrated has more of a checkered past in this department, as you’d expect since they’ve been around longer. They featured Big Bird (and later Larry Bird) in 1977, Ice Cube in 1999, Chris Rock in 2000 and Stephen Colbert in 2009. Really SI?
Some of the more questionable Sports Illustrated covers in history…
Most of the time it’s worthy athletes who grace the cover, like Michael Jordan, who is to SI what Princess Dianna is to People magazine. He’s appeared on SI’s front page 56 times. Yup. 56. More than a year’s worth. The guy was good…really good, but you telling me Kelly couldn’t have snagged maybe just one of those? After all, their careers were a mirror reflection in the 90s, even through retirements and comebacks. But Slater kept on going after his six. It’s 2010. Kelly still world champion. Jordan is doing underwear commercials with Charlie Sheen.
Muhammad Ali appeared on 38 SI covers. He won the heavyweight title three different times, and is arguably the most popular athlete of all time — so we get it — but that’s still one more cover than his 37 career KO’s, and let’s be honest, more than half of those guys were complete scrubs. For those keeping score, Slater reclaimed his throne five separate times: 1992, 1994,2005, 2008, 2010.
Sports Illustrated’s earlier attempts at surfing covers included Phil Edwards in 1966, and Tom Trager in 1987. Apparently the photo editors didn’t realize Trager (who is a surfer) was skimboarding in the shot.
Tiger Woods has had 30 SI covers. Golf is a sedentary sport, so don’t get me started. But let’s just say Slater has Tiger in his sights. Whah? Yep…That’s right. Senior’s tour baby. He’s only had Ferris Bueller-ish lessons, yet he’s a scratch player now with 12 years of training left and a lot of free time.
But enough of this stuff. The point is Slater is due. And his fans are leading the charge. They’ve even started a facebook page to rally the cause, which is exactly how Betty White, the 88-year-old Kelly Slater of television sitcoms, ended up hosting Saturday Night Live recently. Despite the fact that White’s core audience goes to bed at 4 p.m., they kept pressing, and succeeded in a big way.
The SI crew may want to check the ratings on that Betty White episode. It was one of the highest rated of the SNL season. It’s just the kind of thing that happens when you step out of your comfort zone.
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