- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

Anna Kournikova brings an appealing face and body to the tennis court.

She does not always bring an appealing game to the court.

The latter does not undermine her popularity, as Sports Illustrated recently noted in a cover story.

To hear Sports Illustrated explain it, tennis is the least of it with Kournikova. If she were not a sharp-looking babe, she would be just another anonymous tennis player trying to win her first tournament.

To which can be said: The sun also rises from the east.

Sports Illustrated prefers to act dumb around Kournikova, if only to be politically correct while trying to make a buck at the newsstand.

"Skin-deep still counts," the magazine announced in mock surprise while checking in on Kournikova's tennis career and love life.

Of course, the magazine's editors know only too well that "skin-deep still counts," as their swimsuit edition indicates each year.

They do not publish photographs of homely women baring most of their skin. They do not publish photographs of obese women or old women. No, incredibly, all the women who appear in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition are young and easy on the eyes. This either is a remarkable coincidence or an indication that, surprise, "skin-deep still counts."

This is not to find fault with Sports Illustrated's decision to grant Kournikova a cover story.

Sports Illustrated is in an increasingly competitive business, and must work hard to maintain its relevance in an information-saturated marketplace. If a cover story on Kournikova helps achieve the purpose, if only for a week, no contrived justification is necessary.

Just bring the sizzle and spare everyone the duplicity. Don't pretend to be amazed that sex, even in these gender-enlightened times, still sells.

This is insulting to readers. Not that they probably minded after perusing the photographs of Kournikova.

Fluff-oriented editors rarely put ugly faces on the cover of their magazines, and nothing against the ugly, this space included. Princess Di made a career out of being a pretty face, living her life on the cover of magazine covers. That's just the way it is, and not only in the publishing industry.

You're liable to land a job over an equally qualified person if you are deemed more aesthetically pleasing than the person.

Sad as it is, human beings make a zillion discriminatory calculations on the basis of appearances. If you don't believe it, spend a night in several of the watering holes along M Street and see the highly discriminatory process at work.

The comb-over guys never get the babes unless they are flashing a lot of Benjamins, and even then, the Benjamins may not be persuasive enough. You strike out a whole lot less if you look like Tom Cruise.

Sex appeal cuts both ways. Michael Jordan would not be Michael Jordan if he looked like Gheorghe Muresan.

It has become fashionable to ignore these elementary truths, especially among those in the media who attempt to be deep thinkers.

They lament Kournikova's appearance-based popularity and then question how far we as a species, males in particular, have evolved. Not to be too heavy-handed, but the species evolved past the 6 billion mark last fall. That is a lot of sex appeal. That is a lot of sex, too.

Looking good is an advantage in countless ways and on a zillion different levels, and the plastic surgery industry flourishes on this premise.

The U.S. women's soccer team resonated with the masses in a big way last summer, and not just because the players were talented and won the World Cup. Many of the leading players also were attractive, which was no small element in a sport still fighting for acceptance in America.

It doesn't hurt to be a smart, gifted, hard-working person.

But fair or not, it doesn't hurt to be good-looking, either.

That is not a bad thing. That is the way the species is wired. It gets back to the whole survival-of-the-species thing.

Six billion and counting …

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