Time's Up for Sports Illustrated dehumanizing and objectifying women with their Swimsuit Issue
September 17, 2019

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Led by Man Accused of Sexual Harassment

Earlier this year the notorious Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was named to the 2019 Dirty Dozen List for its contributions to and normalization of sexual objectification. Since 1964 the annual issue has sexually objectified women for profit and sport, sending a message that women’s bodies are available for public consumption. The magazine would be more aptly named the “Sexploitation Issue” for the way it portrays women as objects for the sexual gratification of men. Now the company has hired a CEO who has already been accused of sexual misconduct. 

A History of Sexual Misconduct

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue CEO, Ross Levinsohn
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue CEO, Ross Levinsohn

Authentic Brands Group, LLC., recently purchased the Sports Illustrated brand and named Ross Levinsohn as the magazine’s incoming CEO. Levinsohn has a long history of executive titles, including stints at the Los Angeles Times, CBS, Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. But he also has a long history of sexual misconduct claims against him, including two separate sexual harassment lawsuits.

One of those lawsuits was filed by Levinsohn’s co-worker at the time, Christine Fox, when he was an executive at Alta Vista in 2001. According to this in-depth report from NPR, “Levinsohn conceded under oath that he had assessed the ‘hotness’ and bodies of female subordinates; Levinsohn also testified that he had discussed whether a female subordinate was working as a stripper on the side and that he engaged in speculation about whether she had slept with a co-worker.” 

He insisted that any such talk happened away from female employees, but his testimony was contradicted by another co-worker. Jessie Dennen, the recruitment and hiring chief at Alta Vista at the time, told NPR that Levinsohn’s conversations regarding speculations about Ms. Fox’s sexual partners happened even in staff meetings! “Ross created a definite frat boys’ club. They would openly rate women. I remember feeling uncomfortable,” she said.

The other lawsuit happened when he was a senior vice president for NewsCorp in 2006. The video producer, Amber Tribble, who filed the suit said that when she asked Levinsohn for a promotion, he pointed to a Fox Sports sideline reporter who was a former pinup model and said she “learned how to work her way to the top.” Tribble also alleged that the workplace environment was rife with sexual harassment under the leadership of Levinsohn and other executives. 

These are just some of the stories that have gotten more public attention. There are other, lesser known stories of Levinsohn, such as the one of him “aggressively kissing and pressing himself against a woman at a glitzy music industry dinner in plain view of his subordinates and clients” while being married at the time. When he was an executive at Yahoo, Levinsohn threw several large parties with company money to make business deals, including one on a yacht in France where several models were paid to be aboard. One of the businesswomen who was supposed to meet Levinsohn for a business deal at that party told NPR “she got off the boat as quickly as possible, saying she shouldn’t have to strike deals in a setting where men were gawking at bikini-clad women.” 

Another Perpetrator Playing the Victim

As we have seen time and time again, especially in the midst of the #MeToo movement, perpetrators of sexually inappropriate or harmful behavior rarely, if ever, take full responsibility for their actions. Often, they even flip the story to paint themselves as the victims, and Levinsohn’s story appears to be, unfortunately, no different. Levinsohn told Business Insider that the NPR article referenced above “weaponized the [#MeToo] movement and used it against me to damage me. I think I’ve been a champion and an advocate for women. The [NPR] article damaged my career. It hurt me personally. It impacted my children and my family.” Such a response is reminiscent of the reactions of others, like R. Kelly, whose bad actions have been made public through the #MeToo movement.

An Unsurprising Pick for a Long-time Sexual Exploiter

Sadly, we can’t honestly say we are surprised to discover that a man with such a history as Ross Levinsohn’s has been chosen to take the lead of a magazine that profits from the sexual objectification of women. A man who rates women’s bodies seems like a perfect match for a magazine that showcases women’s bodies, rather than their accomplishments and athleticism. 

Nevertheless, we are hopeful that Authentic Brands Group, LLC., will turn the sexually exploitive practices of their newly-acquired magazine around by discontinuing the Swimsuit Issue. NCOSE recognizes the cultural influence of Sports Illustrated, and its commitment to offer its readers authentic, high-level photography, design, and sports reporting; we simply want it to return to its sports-oriented roots instead of contributing to a toxic culture of sexual objectification.

Take Action

To read more about how Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue is fueling sexual exploitation, you can visit its Dirty Dozen List target page. There you will also find shareable tweets and graphics to spread the word about the magazine’s decades-long legacy of sexual objectification.

If you want to take action against the magazine and the culture it has helped to create, then you can click here to send an email to executives at Target and Walgreens asking them to remove the magazine from store shelves. Actions from more than 30,000 individuals like you got Safeway to remove the magazine from checkout aisles, and it’s time for Target and Walgreens to do their part, too!

The @SInow Swimsuit Issue objectifies and dehumanizes women, and is now being led by a CEO who’s already been publicly accused of sexual misconduct and “rating women” at work. Learn more and find out ways you can take action. Click To Tweet

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National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

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