Some Call LeBron James' 'Vogue' Cover Offensive Barry Bonds is looking for a new baseball team, Chris Weber calls it quits, and critics say LeBron James looks like King Kong on the cover of Vogue. For more, NPR's Tony Cox talks with sports bloggers Chad Brown of Alpha-Blog-Sports, Jemele Hill of ESPN.com, and D-Wil of Sports On My Mind.
NPR logo

Some Call LeBron James' 'Vogue' Cover Offensive

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/89151096/89151084" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Some Call LeBron James' 'Vogue' Cover Offensive

Some Call LeBron James' 'Vogue' Cover Offensive

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/89151096/89151084" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES. It is time now for a look at the week in sports with our very own Tony Cox. Hey, Tony.

TONY COX: Hey, Farai. So have you seen this month's edition of Vogue magazine?

CHIDEYA: You mean the one with me on the cover? Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Well, it's the cover that's getting all the attention. The latest Vogue features a photograph of NBA superstar LeBron James and supermodel Gisele Bundchen. It's only the third time that a male and the first time a black male has ever been featured on the cover of that magazine, and this cover is one folks are really talking about.

So let me introduce our sports bloggers, who are here to tell us just what the fuss is all about as we kick off this week's roundtable. We have D-Wil. He writes for the blog Sports on My Mind. Chad Brown blogs for Alpha Blog Sports. And Jemele Hill writes for ESPN. Hey, everybody, welcome to the show.

Mr. CHAD BROWN (Blogger): Hello Tony, how are you doing?

Ms. JEMELE HILL (Blogger): Thank you.

Mr. D-WIL (Blogger): Hi, how are you doing?

COX: I'm doing great, thank you. So let me briefly describe this photo. Before I do, by the way, let me let you listeners know that you can see the cover posted on our Web site at newsandnotes.org. So back to the photo.

LeBron James is there in shorts and a sleeveless top - it's his own line of sportswear, by the way - bouncing a basketball with one hand, and in his other arm is supermodel Gisele Bundchen wearing a strapless green dress.

Now, LeBron sort of looks like - well, that's the issue, isn't it, Jamele? What does he look like to you?

Ms. HILL: Well, he looks beastly. You know, he's snarling, he looks very angry, and then, you know, she sort of looks like, hey, I'm on my way to a great party or a high-class affair, and he just looks like kind of an animal, and if anyone has studied on the history of King Kong or seen any of the imagery that was from the movie, the movie posters - I'm talking about the old ones, you know, from the '30s and stuff - this picture looks exactly like a huge percentage of the pictures they used to put out about King Kong.

And in fact a reader, after I wrote a column about it, sent me a photo that's even closer to the one that we have up on our Web site on ESPN.com, where the woman - I guess it's supposed to be Fay Wray - the damsel is wearing the exact color dress that Gisele has on.

And because everybody was saying, oh, well Fay Wray used to be in white wool, and this poster that I have, she is wearing the exact same color, and it looks - the photo looks identical, like a total snapshot from the '30s, and I just had a huge problem with the image it presented, and you know, people have to keep in mind that Vogue has been around for about 115 years.

LeBron is the first black male on the cover, the third male period, and it's funny how when you go back and look at the other men who have been on the cover, I believe it was Richard Gere and George Clooney, they sure look a whole lot different than LeBron looks right now.

COX: Well, let me bring the other guys in to talk about it, because first, the talk both online and on the air - D-Wil I'm going to come to you first, this week on sports radio about this brouhaha has been mixed.

Some people, white and black, say get over it, there's nothing wrong with this photo. Others, again black and white, say I see how this could be offensive, and Vogue, and LeBron, you should know better. So is it the way LeBron looks, how Gisele looks, how they look together, or is it just because he's black and she's white, D-Wil?

D-WIL: Well, I don't think color has anything to do with it.

COX: Really?

D-WIL: If Gisele were black, it would be considered a black-on-black crime, so to speak, with LeBron in the same pose as a King Kong - the same King Kong-type pose. I feel that it only exacerbates the issue that Gisele Bundchen is white. However, I don't see any difference between - it's LeBron James's pose that is the center of this controversy, and that he is the first black man to be on a cover, on the cover of American Vogue, the clothes that he's in, the nature of the article itself, which is about heavenly bodies, yet his body is not really shown.

He's in loose workout clothes, as opposed to Gisele being in a form-fitting dress. So his body isn't even - the beauty of his body is not depicted in that photo.

COX: One more thing on this topic before we move on - we're not going to spend the whole day talking about this, Chad, and this is it - two things. How much should LeBron be expected to be conscious of the implications of this photo, and I say that because LeBron, who is in his early 20s and is already a big-time businessman, has come out in defense of the photograph, saying that he likes it and that he's just showing a little bit of emotion. So shouldn't that be case closed?

Mr. BROWN: Well, you have to remember, LeBron has been quoted as saying he wants to be an international icon before being a world champion. So it's quite possible that that's why he doesn't have a problem with it.

For my own take, I'm more offended by the lack of originality. It'd be more interesting if LeBron was made to look runway-ready and Gisele was made to look ready to take it to the hoop. I mean, I'd be interested to see what the response would be from that.

COX: All right, well, let's move on to another topic because have a couple of other things to get to. We want to talk about basketball more in just a moment, but first let's go to baseball because the new season started this week, and the game's greatest hitter finds himself without a team.

Last year at the age of 42, Barry Bonds had 28 homers to go along with a .276 batting average and a .480 on-base percentage. That still makes him a dangerous hitter who, if healthy, could contribute to a team's offense.

Now he says he wants to play another season, but no team, publicly at least, Jamele, has shown any interest in taking him. So how can that be? Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that he was also under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice?

Ms. HILL: Well, I think most of the owners are kind of looking at this from the perspective of, he's going to bring a lot of headlines, he's going to bring more than likely a lot of negative attention. I think they're looking at it very short-sighted because, as you quoted his batting average, there are a lot of teams that can use those stats even now, and you also look at the fact that regardless of how people feel about Barry Bonds, they come to see Barry Bonds.

He's an instant park-filler, and so they're missing sort of the economic advantages, I believe, and focusing too much on the perjury, and I know that may sound ridiculous, but in this sense that trial's probably not going to happen this year, so they wouldn't even really have to worry about it.

I mean, sure, he's going to be asked about it in every turn. It will bring some attention to the clubhouse, but overall I thought that he handled that pretty well his last year in San Francisco. So to me, if you feel like you still need a certain amount of homeruns, you still need someone to fill seats in the park, I think it's a pretty good mix.

But obviously a lot of the owners, they don't see it that way. I know people have accused him of collusion. I wouldn't say collusion as much as I would say sort of everyone looking at the same picture and deducing the same thing, that they feel like he's worth - he's not worth the trouble.

CHIDEYA: Well, D-Wil, do you think that there perhaps - you follow baseball closely - do you think that there may be talks taking place secretly somewhere involving Bonds?

D-WIL: Actually, no, I don't think so, and I do find that collusion, I think collusion is a perfect reason for this happening, actually. The main complaint about Barry Bonds is that he will bring a circus-like atmosphere to the clubhouse.

The media creates that atmosphere, not Barry Bonds. It's not as if he's calling up media members and asking them to show up to his Barcalounger in the clubhouse. So that's a media creation that's put onto Barry Bonds that's given as an excuse for him not playing or not being able to play, that he will, quote, "wreck a clubhouse."

I think that's a specious claim, and I think the owners are using that type of claim to say that he shouldn't be in our clubhouse.

COX: So Chad, is this is the end for Barry Bonds?

Mr. BROWN: I'd like to think not. He can still play, and he's still a draw. I was in Boston when the Giants came and played the Red Sox back in June, and the place was swarming with people to see him.

So he can still be a draw and he can still play, so it may end up that he'll - he may end up being somewhere like Tampa, but I think he can still find a home. It may not be what he wants, but he should be able to find someplace.

COX: All right, let's jump back from baseball back to basketball. Chris Webber announced his retirement yesterday. The 35-year-old power forward had been on the roster of the Golden State Warriors for the second time in his career, and at his press conference he said his, quote, "wheels fell off," end quote.

I want to mention Webber because it seems sad, in a way, how his career has ended. Here was one of the shining lights of his era, rookie of the year, a major member of the Fab Five at Michigan, a double-double scorer and rebounder, a great talent marred by injury who never got a ring, ended up playing on five different teams, drafted by Orlando, then went through Golden State, Washington, Sacramento, Philly, Detroit and finally back to Golden State. What's his legacy, Jamele? Is he going to make it to the hall of fame?

Ms. HILL: Well, I'd like to think that he would because his career numbers still look pretty good, and you know, he was still on two pretty competitive teams, being in Sacramento and Detroit. But I think, you know, he just will be remembered, unfortunately, as the guy that just never quite got there, that just couldn't get the right mix.

You know, he missed the title, obviously, when he was with the Fab Five. He missed the title when he was with Sacramento, could never get over the hump there, and he missed again in Detroit. And so unfortunately for him, and then of course everybody knows about the time-outs, I think his failures will always be sort of played up more so than his accomplishments, which is a real shame, because as a power forward he was a really dynamic player, a very smart player, a great passer, added a lot to his teams. But I think there just will always be, and probably justly so, a segment that questions exactly how much heart he truly had in clutch moments.

COX: You know, there are a lot of great players who never made it to the championship: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, the list goes on, and now we can add the name of Chris Webber to this list, Chad. But somehow, along the lines of what Jamele is saying, he seems different than those guys, doesn't he?

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, he definitely does because it seemed that not winning a championship, it wasn't that he didn't want it, but it was not necessarily the end of the world, and in light of those names you mentioned, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, those guys made it to the finals.

Unfortunately, Chris Webber didn't. Whether you're going to put that on him I think would be unfair, but I remember - I'll remember Chris Webber simply for introducing me as a fan to the Sacramento Kings, because until he got there I only new as Sactown as a line in "California Knows How to Party."

I mean, basketball then was just Lakers. California basketball to me was the Lakers, and he, Vlade, (unintelligible) and Bibby and Doug Christie were amongst those - and of course Stojakovic - were amongst those who brought it to the forefront.

Now, they didn't get over that hump, unlike the Colts, who had a similar hump against the Patriots in football terms, but I mean Webber will always - Webber is kind of like - he's one of those somewhat tragic figures, but he still put up great numbers. I mean, his career was not a loss by any means.

COX: No, it wasn't, and had it not been for that famous shot by Robert Horry at the buzzer, that knocked him out of the finals about six years ago.

So it's too bad how that has come to an end. We had another topic we wanted to talk to, so I'm going to - talk about - but I'm going to ask you guys to hold onto it because we will revisit it. It has to do with the NFL wanting to come out and is considering a rule about how long your hair can be under your helmet. Unfortunately, the time has run short for us, so we can't do that, but I can ask you this in the 30 seconds that I have left. Your Final Four picks. Who do you think, Jamele, really quickly?

Ms. HILL: Well, one of mine, one of mine is already knocked out, but I had Georgetown in the Final Four. But the rest, I believe I have UCLA - UCLA, UNC, and I do have Memphis, so - and which pains me because they're playing my alma mater this weekend, Michigan State.

COX: Guys, we've run out of time. We'll have to rely on Jamele's picks, and we'll talk to you after next week...

D-WIL: Well, I feel comfortable with that.

COX: D-Wil writes for the blog Sports on My Mind; he joined us from Radio VPR in Vermont. Chad Brown for Alpha Blog Sports joined us from our New York studios. Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, on the phone. Thanks, everybody.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.