Doping-While-White (Participation)

What does article tell us about race and racism?
According to several news outlets, Lance Armstrong plans to admit to doping on the up-and-coming interview with Oprah Winfrey. Therefore, we, at decided to publish this article written by C.Modiano
By Charles Modiano
 On October 19, 2012

This week Sports Illustrated issued its investigative cover story about Tyrann Mathieu who was kicked

off his LSU team for smoking marijuana. Last week a 1000-page scathing USADA report detailed how

Lance Armstrong operated “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program

 that sport has ever seen” that included 11 witnesses, bitter ex-teammates, cover-ups, bribes, and ruthless bullying. For SI, Armstrong just wasn’t cover material — again. A college kid smoking weed?

Now that’s the scandal.

While SI’s handling of the drug habits and relapses of Michael Phelps and Josh Hamilton were handled so very differently,

a full ”Smoking-While-Black” column will be saved for another rainy day. Lance’s latest cover omission addresses the continuing

question of “Doping-While-White”. Namely:

What must a white doper do to land a Sports Illustrated cover?

Mark McGwire once gift-wrapped an SI cover by crying in front of millions on television. SI took a pass. Roger Clemens— star of The Mitchell Report — also begged for attention on Youtube, 60 Minutes, and in Congress. Still no cover luck.

After a decade of America media protection by a national American media that largely refused to investigate Armstrong until 2010 (SI finally did in 2011), the 1000 page report wasn’t long enough.

The Armstrong pass is no isolated incident. This is what white privilege looks like.

Mark McGwire Cover - Sports Illustrated September 07, 1998Lance Armstrong Cover - Sports Illustrated December 16, 2002Roger Clemens Cover - Sports Illustrated May 13, 1991

Despite receiving a total of 29 positive SI covers, “Saint Lance”, “Big Mac”, and “The Rocket”, have not produced one

single doping cover.

Not in 2012. Not when the stories first broke. Not ever.

This fact is astonishing considering how Sports Illustrated has taken such an aggressive and proactive role as the drug police.

In 2009, Manny Ramirez landed an SI cover with a grinning face, shifty eyes, and furrowed brows. Alex Rodriguez didn’t only land a cover, but an SI writer led the investigation and broke the story. Barry Bonds? SIpaid up to$15,000 for the right to issue the Game of Shadows book excerpt — one of three separate steroids-related covers of Bonds.

This math doesn’t add up, but questions do.

If SI’s most celebrated alleged dopers are white, why have all of the cover mug shots come in color?

Barry Bonds Cover - Sports Illustrated March 13, 2006Alex Rodriguez Cover - Sports Illustrated February 16, 2009 Manny Ramirez Cover - Sports Illustrated May 18, 2009

This is the related context in which Mathieu-over-Armstrong cover choice must be viewed.

It is no isolated incident, and this is what media racism looks like.

It’s built on a collection of stories that create an unmistakably racist narrative — even if the stories are not

individually racist themselves. And if you are unclear about that narrative, just check web comment sections for

verification or”most-disliked athletes” lists for similar faces. Those yelling “race card” only want to talk about one

story, one cover, or one tree, but lack the will or vision to view the forest.

Sports Illustrated didn’t just put Mathieu on the cover, but also launched an aggressive investigation, allegedly

harassed Mathieu and his family, and allegedly tried tobribe witnesses to say negative things  (SI denies the allegation).

While new SI writer, Pete Thamel is no stranger to hunting for simplistic racialized narratives, SI’s decisions go far beyond any one writer.

These are editorial decisions. This is about the continued culture of leadership by Sports Illustrated Group Editor in

Chief Terry McDonnell who has been ruining the publication that I, and many others, grew up reading and loving.

Yes, it’s true. SI has always had problems rooted in its incredible imbalance of whiteness and testosterone. However, ever since McDonnell introduced his 2002 arrival with a cover of Charles Barkley in chains, SI has become more like his previous magazine — the tabloid US Weekly. McDonnell virtually eliminated covering foreign athletes (so sorry Roger Federer and Manny Pacquiao), almost completely ignoredwomen athletes unless the uniform is a bikini, and has covered athletes of color in ways that is noticeably different in quantity, quality, sensitivity, and level of investigation than white ones.

The doper cover pass was not only received by Armstrong, Clemens, and McGwire, but also all-stars Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, and Ryan Braun. Mathieu also beat out juicy NCAA scandals driven by Bobby Petrino, Rick Pitino, or thecorrupt NCAA system itself (would SI even dare such a real NCAA expose?). Others to escape scandal cover treatment under McDonnell are Brett Favre, Lenny Dykstra,Tim Donaghy, Josh Hamilton, Todd Bertuzzi, Donald Sterling, Chris Benoit, and Patrick Kane to name a few. Of course, SI is certainly not alone in dispensing white privilege.

Like Sergant Hartman from the movie Full Metal Jacket, some outlets have notably pursued white scandal with an egalitarian “everyone’s a maggot” approach. When the New York Daily News first exposed Mark McGwire (and most other white dopers), their explosive Operation Equine story was widely ignored by national media. When the sports blog Deadspin issued racy photos of Josh Hamilton and Brett Favre, they were first ignored by national media before prompting debates on sports media ethics.

Yet, most national media uniformly celebrated those Game of Shadows authors who illegally leaked Grand Jury testimony on Barry Bonds. It seems that Deadspin’s real crime was exposing Brett instead of Barry.

While there is some measure of honor to the Full Metal Jacket approach, the ultimate goal is not for national sports media to treat white athletes like athletes of color. It is to treat athletes of color like white ones.

But for Sports Illustrated, that might first require that they recognize the humanity of Tyrann Mathieu instead try to ruin the young man’s life in order to sell some copy. It might require viewing Mathieu just like they would Michael Phelps with a bong in his mouth.

It might require that SI editors see no difference between Tyrann and younger college versions of themselves.

Are they even capable?

The irony is sad, but true. The corporate-and-media-backed Armstrong got ignored for a decade, and once the final nail in coffin was issued, SI decides to harasses, stops, and frisk Mathieu in broad daylight. SI’s cover priority would be a sports media joke if only it didn’t mirror America’s actual drug policy that is so well explained in Michele Alexander’s must-read-by-every-American…

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness“.

At best, SI’s cover choices reflect that racist reality. More likely, SI’s pattern of imagery, especially whencombined with and others,perpetuates that reality.

But until SI leadership can empathize with Mathieu as if he were a human being, the question remains:

What must a white icon do to land a Sports Illustrated doping cover?

Lance Armstrong Cover - Sports Illustrated August 05, 2002Roger Clemens Cover - Sports Illustrated June 02, 2003Mark McGwire Cover - Sports Illustrated June 01, 1992Lance Armstrong Cover - Sports Illustrated June 28, 2004

Roger Clemens Cover - Sports Illustrated September 10, 2001Mark McGwire Cover - Sports Illustrated March 23, 1998Lance Armstrong Cover - Sports Illustrated August 02, 2004Roger Clemens Cover - Sports Illustrated May 24, 2004

Update: On October 20, Terry McDonnell officially resigned as Sports Illustrated Group Editor and will remain as a Senior Advisor.

Charles Modiano can be reached at


6 thoughts on “Doping-While-White (Participation)

  1. I found this article to be extremely eye-opening. Growing up as an avid reader of Sports Illustrated, I never really thought about their cover stories in these terms. Maybe it was because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, or maybe it was because Sports Illustrated had brain-washed me into becoming completely ignorant when it came to what stories they were actually covering. I remember seeing many of these covers displayed in the article above and thinking that they were just more normal issues of SI, but when you place them all side by side and make the argument that all of these famous white athletes who have been apart of scandals, never actually get called out on the front covers of issues (the way Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, etc, did) it makes me wonder why. Why does SI find it necessary to praise white athletes for all of their accomplishments, but when those same white athletes mess up, there are no stories to be found?

    The fact that SI released the Mathieu story instead of the Armstrong story is baffling to me. First of all, the Mathieu is simply a collegiate athlete who has not even been paid for his ability to play football yet. Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong is a 7 time Tour de France winner who cheated the entire time, but he doesn’t get the negative cover spot on Sports Illustrated. Instead they chose to put the story about the collegiate athlete who messes up by smoking weed. Forget about the man who duped the entire world for a good portion of the last decade, that’s obviously not as important as a misdemeanor arrest of a college athlete. It simply makes no sense to me.

  2. I was greatly interested while reading this article about how Sports Illustrated has time and time again picked African American Athletes who have been caught doing certain drugs over Whites athletes who have been caught doing the same thing to be featured on the cover of their magazine. The article opened my eyes to the issue and I was a bit shocked that Tyrann Mathieu was put on the cover instead of Lance Armstrong this past month even though it was known Lance Armstrong was known to be coming out about his drug use and coming clean in an interview with Oprah. Mathieu was found to be using Marijuana and was kicked off of the LSU football team, which is a sad situation, but it is not nearly as big as a story as the one about Lance Armstrong who won the 7 time Tour de France winner by blatantly cheating. However, Lance is not on the cover instead an African American college football player is who was caught smoking pot is placed on the cover.
    This is befalling to me, but what took me even more by surprise was when the article went even further and looked at multiple past Sports Illustrated covers that have featured Black athletes in trouble for doing drugs, but White athletes who are now known for doing drugs, featured on the cover in a clean, wholesome sort of way. It really makes no sense to me that white athletes are featured for their great athletic accomplishments over African American athletes and then when they make bad choice there is rarely anything said about it. The article brought up a lot of questions as well as anger to me to see the reality of racism and how it is still an issue when many whites try to prove racism is no longer a problem.

  3. I too was shocked to see the injustice based on race in the past on these covers but I would hesitate to claim this cover selection was based entirley on race. AS was pointed out above by Meg Mathieu is a football player while armstrong is a cyclist. The following of professional cycling in the US is not even close to following of college football, sI is aware of this and a quick glance at the stories advertised in the background of the cover will confirm that. Also having followed the sporting world for the past 15 years of my life I can tell you that every one knew Armstrong was on PED’s before this confession, and hes not the only one it seems almost every year a new cyclist is busted after winning a big title. Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador come to mind. Shifting gears quickly though I found the allegations of bribing witnesses to testify against matheui absolutly appalling and if found to be ture I would hope that “journalist” would be blacklisted from all major publications.

  4. I found this article very interesting because in order for a white athlete to be put on the cover of SI for doping or something they would have to do something really bad almost murder. But if a black person wants to be put on the cover of SI for doping all that athlete has to do is hold a cigarette in front of the paparazzi and everybody might go crazy. I believe that they get color people more in trouble because i think they expect it from them and not so much from white people. For black people they get in trouble right away but when it is a white person it sometimes takes for ever for them to get in trouble. For example, it took forever for Lance Armstrong to finally get in trouble and admit it. He would have never gotten in trouble if he had never won the tour de france race so many time. -Nohemi Meza

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