The Death of ‘Sports’

“Too early” and “Too late.” Those should be the respective epitaphs for Condé Nast Women’s Sports and Fitness and Sport, the last two general-interest sports monthlies, both given the Jack Kevorkian treatment by their publishers last week.

When it debuted three years ago, Condé Nast Women’s Sports and Fitness—née Sports for Women—was nothing less than a truly audacious concept. Back before the launch of the WNBA and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s high-profile ’99 World Cup Championship, spending $35 million to launch a general-interest women’s sports magazine was an almost incomprehensible act of faith, especially from a company that was built on the objectification of the female body. For a brief shining moment, anyway, sweat was that year’s black, muscles were a must-have fashion accessory, and Sally Jenkins shared the feature well with Candace Bushnell. But the bottom line is that while women’s sports fans represent a substantial and growing niche, the mass audience wasn’t there—at least as far as big-account advertising was concerned. So after giving Sports for Women less than a year, Condé Nast honcho Si Newhouse retreated, changing the mag’s name, halving its frequency, and dumbing down the editorial mix with butt-shaping stories aimed at the readers of Fitness and Shape—before losing interest and pulling the plug altogether.

Sport‘s demise was simpler; it simply got left behind like a Rambler on the information superhighway. Spurred on by ESPN the network,ESPN the Web site, and ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated has moved steadily away from covering sports, focusing instead on personalities, previews, commentary, and Dennis Miller-style snarkiness, essentially invading the niche that Sport, which devoured its monthly competitor Inside Sports two years ago, occupied, however tenuously. But before you yawn, remember that Sport was once a great magazine, featuring the likes of Roger Kahn, Dick Schapp, W.C. Heinz, Charles Einstein, and Ray Robinson—the kind of rag that you could proudly place on your coffee table next to Esquire or The Saturday Evening Post. R.I.P.

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily . . .

As Nat Stone rounded the bend of Brooklyn’s northwest coast last Thursday, a small band of people at old Fulton Landing began to cheer, having finally caught sight of him. He was making his way to the River Café, which represented the completion of a quixotic 6000-mile journey he began over a year ago—in a rowboat.

“I used to spend hours as a kid looking at an atlas, and I noticed that the eastern United States was actually an island . . . if you go through the canal in Chicago,” explains Stone. “I got it into my head that I was going to row a boat around that island.” By the time he was 12, Stone already possessed something of a rowboat fetish, having built a couple of boats out of plywood in his grandfather’s basement. To the best discernible knowledge of those who make up the hotbed of the rowboating subculture, Stone is the first person to ever make this particular loop. “Though someone may have done it in a kayak, you can never be sure, says Stone”

Nat set off on April 24, 1999, from the same Brooklyn spot he arrived at last week. He made his way up the Hudson, through the Erie Canal, and into the Allegheny River. From there, he hit the Ohio and took that to the Mississippi. He then went straight down and hit the Gulf of Mexico after about 100 days. Broke, with hurricane season looming and in need of a more seaworthy craft to make the saltwater leg of his trip, Stone went home to Maine for six months. He resumed his voyage this spring with a new boat and a full head of steam. Down South, he was amused to hear people yell out, “Hey Gump!”

“I guess that kind of highlights the aspect of the trip that may be a little obsessive. Though I must say, I have found a real decrease in hospitality as I’ve gone up the coast. I haven’t been to New England yet, but I don’t have high hopes.”

Some Justice, Some Peace?

At a time when the Yankees on the field couldn’t seem to do anything right, those in the front office snagged David Justice with all the timely elegance of Derek Jeter chasing down a short liner. Instead of succumbing to panic that accompanies a 3-7 stretch in Yankeeland, and mortgaging the farm, um, system for a shot at Sammy Sosa, the Yankees got probably 90 percent of Sammy’s production at less than a quarter of the price.

Justice is also a better fit for this suddenly fragile team. A lefty DH/left fielder who sports the most beautiful swing this side of Darryl Strawberry, Justice should, like Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill, get goosebumps just looking at that short right-field porch. He’s also a much more patient hitter than Sosa or Juan Gonzalez, and thus more appropriate for a Yankee lineup that suddenly swings as freely as Robert Downey Jr. And as a playoff vet, Justice should stir up the Yankee clubhouse less than the other high-profile sluggers.

Justice’s negatives—his defensive liabilities (but no bigger than Sosa’s or Gonzalez’s), his big salary (but much smaller than Sosa’s and Gonzalez’s), and Halle Berry (she’s in X-Men with Famke Janssen and the bald guy from Star Trek)—are basically inconsequential. More to the point, the Yankees were able to hold onto three things: The talent—lefty pitcher Alex Graman, first-baseman-in-waiting Nick Johnson, and outfielder Jackson Melian—that will help the team contend and rebuild at the same time. The surplus talent—Alfonso Soriano, Drew Henson—that could help them land the pitching help they need to fend off the Sox and Jays. And the money that will allow them to wade into next winter’s kid-in-a-Nintendo-store free-agent market as if they were the Orlando Magic.

One question, though: When will the Yanks schedule David Justice Uzi Night at the Stadium?

Contributors: Allen St. John, Sinclair Rankin, Neil Demause Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman