The Sports Illustrated: The Covers book. The Sports Illustrated: The Covers book. (Amazon.)

Sports Illustrated has been in a tailspin in recent months, with news of layoffs, a controversy about AI-generated content, allegations of union busting and eulogies on its demise offered by leading sports figures.

But the struggling company’s employees got a strong vote of support Monday, as players’ unions from seven major U.S. sports issued a statement backing SI‘s unionized workers.

Sportico reports that players’ unions from the NFL, MLB, NHL, WNBA, MLS, NWSL and USL sent a letter to SI‘s management saying that if unionized workers are replaced by other workers, “Sports Illustrated will no longer be Sports Illustrated.”

The Arena Group had its license to publish SI revoked in January, leading to mass layoffs. At the time, the SI Union issued a statement to management saying they “expect The Arena Group to honor all the terms of our union contract.”

SI owner Authentic Brands Group is seeking a new publishing partner for the publication. However, since the layoffs and Arena Group license revocation was announced, the SI union has filed an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging the Authentic-Arena split was “engineered …  as a cover to union-bust and unlawfully target our members.”

The players’ unions issued Monday’s statement through their joint AFL-CIO Sports Council. It’s unclear what action the unions might take, but it’s possible players could refuse to cooperate in interviews and photo shoots. One of the greatest assets of SI through the years has been its unparalleled access to athletes. Obviously, anything that hurts its operation would diminish the value of its publishing rights.

Despite Sports Illustrated‘s well-documented struggles in recent years, Authentic reportedly has seen interest from possible publishers, including Front Office Sports and Minute Media.

Still, recent developments at SI have brought out some brutal remarks about its decline in recent years. Former SI star writer Rick Reilly, who left 16 years ago, said recently “It’s been a shell of itself.” Peter King offered even more damning commentary: “There isn’t a Sports Illustrated now. It doesn’t exist.”

Given all the bad publicity, the last thing SI needed was a veiled threat by major players’ unions.


About Arthur Weinstein

Arthur spends his free time traveling around the U.S. to sporting events, state and national parks, and in search of great restaurants off the beaten path.