By Nicole Campoy Jackson
In recent years, we’ve seen a boom in athletic aesthetics, with small, independent sport-focused publications growing both in readership and in number. Where once Victory Journal held the niche, it now has company. These ambitious magazines bridge the gap between extraordinary professionals, fans, and the everyday athlete. More than that, they elevate what’s on offer far beyond box scores and memorabilia. Some are focused on sports as they connect with music, photography, and culture at large. Some are focused on a single pursuit, diving deep into the people and places of tennis, golf, and skateboarding. All clearly have design sensibilities more esoteric than those of Sports Illustrated. So, get ready to make some room on your coffee table, here are 10 titles that we’re currently spending time with.
There’s something communal and welcoming about Good Sport, a print + digital magazine that bills itself as having “roots in music, skateboarding, photography and living actively engaged lifestyles”. Maybe it’s the social-style photos that line its homepage of running groups, professional athletes chatting on a couch, a woman stretching in the shadows. Maybe it’s the focus on how these professional and everyday athletes spend their days. There’s no feeling of otherness on the reader’s part, fewer superhuman muscles. A relatable joy of athletic pursuits.
Here we focus entirely on tennis, a rare sport that does easily conjure sophistication on its own (see: Pimm’s Cups and strawberries with cream served at Wimbledon). Even so, Racquet Magazine feels like it’s right on time to serve the creative set that’s been recreationally picking up the sport in recent years. “Celebrating art, ideas, style, and culture that surround tennis,” Racquet Magazine offers a look at current events online, as well as a print publication, a podcast, and, cool merch that includes a recent collaboration with adidas.
Black, white, and orange all over, Spiral Journal focuses on American football in a thick annual, spiral-bound print edition. As a yearly publication, they are less concerned with game highlights and more with bringing football into a richer cultural conversation. Check Fox Sports for scores, read Spiral to elevate the game. Their first issue covers the concept of tribalism in the US and how football—the players, fans, traditions, et al—both unifies and challenges us.
Another sport that has been gaining ground culturally in recent years is cycling. The Domestique covers cycling athletes and fandom in equal measure, as well as “the everyday sports person achieving outstanding feats”, in beautifully printed issues. For their second volume, readers could select from a few uniquely designed cover options, driving home the point that this magazine is more than a quick read: it’s worthy of collection and display.
Golf, like tennis, is one of those sports more easily translated into sophisticated design. But Caddie Magazine seems to be one of the few outlets (if not the only) that makes the point in such an accessible, cool way. A major perk of picking up golf in the first place has to be the opportunity to travel for your sport (even as an average or entry-level player). Caddie caters equally to the player and their wanderlust online, in rich video productions, and in high quality bi-annual print editions.
Sports and wellness are different things that crossover easily. That’s where weMove comes in, bringing meaning and understanding and emotional awareness to our more quotidian movements. Sports are competitive, about beating teams or exceeding goals while wellness is about daily health and a holistic lifestyle. Both are welcome here. WeMove produces a podcast, a printed magazine, a forthcoming newsletter, video content, and experiences that will reconvene when Covid-19 is behind us.
Skateboarding has always had its own culture, sense of style, and even language, including the frequent and unfortunate lack of visibility and opportunity for women in the sport. Not so at Oh So, a magazine shedding light on the many women and their many achievements in skateboarding. You’ll find first-person perspectives from women in the sport and their impact around the world, stories of both pro and amateur female skaters, rad photography, posters, and sick skateboarding videos.
Franchise Mag is a fresh perspective on the NBA and international basketball culture. Each issue features incredible photography, illustrations, and visual art, as well as thought-provoking writing, and takes a look at a different aspect of the sport and the people in it. For example, Issue 06 takes us along with NBA rookie Rui Hachimura as he goes through draft week and documents a visit to Nike’s House of Jumpman. And, perhaps predictably, the merch is great as well.
Arguably the most surprising sport to feature on this list of design-forward indie sport magazines? Wrestling. And yet here we are. Orange Crush is an oversized and high-quality print magazine full of black-and-white photography and unique perspectives all about wrestling. Issue 2, to drive the point home, includes “rare wrestling drawings of punk rock legend Raymond Pettibon” as well as “the inner most thoughts of brawler Matthew Justice”.
The granddaddy, I suppose, of these small indie sports pubs is Victory Journal. Their coverage includes everything from gymnastics and soccer to pinball and bareback racing. They know full well that there’s more to sports than scores and rankings. There’s rich history and deep emotion, there’s personal achievement, crushing hardship, and tales of glory. As a result, they write about athletic pursuits that run the gamut, giving the floor to the promising career of a Syrian Jewish tennis player and to a mother and son climbing the Himalayas and even to the contestants of Coney Island’s 4th of July hot dog eating contest.
Nicole Campoy Jackson is a writer living in Los Angeles, CA