We Get Letters

March 19, 2001

You love us, you hate us, but what matters most is that you care
enough to write. Each week SI receives an average of 550 letters,
a number that has grown steadily since we debuted in 1954. Back
then readers sounded off about the art of baseball-card
collecting and our pitiful lack of archery coverage. More
recently, you have written us about Magic Johnson's quality of
life (Nov. 18, 1991: 534 letters) and Dennis Rodman's right to
his life (May 29, 1995: 574); the case for Pete Rose (Nov. 1,
1999: 18) and the case against Bobby Knight (Sept. 18, 2000:
116); missing names on our lists of the top 50 sports figures
from each state (Dec. 27, 1999-Jan. 3, 2000: 1,026) and missing
bikini tops on swimsuit models (Feb. 23, 2001: 14 and counting).

When we started accepting e-mails for publication in January
1995, a good portion of the 71 messages that trickled in that
first week wondered whether we were giving out T-shirts. Now, not
only are e-mails more timely than their postmarked counterparts,
but they are also just plain more: Most letters, including a
whopping 762 of our 961 messages last week, are downloadable.
"When Dale Earnhardt died, people went straight to their
computers to tell SI how they felt," says Linda Verigan, who has
headed our letters department for 16 years. "Because of e-mail,
we received about two dozen poems of tribute to Dale before our
issue even came out."

Whether they arrive in our mailbox or in-box, all reader
responses are given equal consideration by Verigan and her
colleagues, Liz Greco and Margaret Terry, who each week sift
through everything from electronic manifestos to cocktail-napkin
verse in search of the gems that are gently polished and
published in our magazine. Readers who aspire to see their names
in SI's Fenway font should take a cue from the Bard: Though the
struggles of your Red Sox might border on epic, brevity is the
soul of wit.

The letters department will reply to almost anything legible that
comes in. Letters addressed to specific writers are forwarded
accordingly. Columnist Rick Reilly, who inspires more mail than
any other writer, has set up a private letters department at his
house in Denver: His son Kellen, 16, earns money for gas by
opening and highlighting Dad's mail, while daughter Rae, 11,
handles envelopes and stamps. Like many of our other writers,
Reilly also responds directly to e-mail that comes to him via a
link on SI's website (www.cnnsi.com). Letters give him, and all
of us at SI, an idea of where we stand in the hearts and minds of
our readers. Says Reilly, "If it weren't for the letters, even
the ones dripping hemlock, this job would be like hollering down
a black, dry well."

Bill Colson, Managing Editor

TEN COLOR PHOTOS

SI's ten stories since 1996 that drew the most mail, and total
letters each got.

1 Best from each state 1,026
December 27, 1999-January 3, 2000

2 Bulls on the run 697
May 11, 1998

3 John Rocker 686
December 27, 1999-January 3, 2000

4 Tennis glamour girl 415
June 5, 2000

5 Black coach in an Amish town 408 and counting
March 5, 2001

6 The changed face of sports 401
December 8, 1997

7 Top sports colleges 388
April 28, 1997

8 Athletes' out-of-wedlock kids 372
May 4, 1998

9 Knight put on probation 326
May 22, 2000

10 Rick Reilly on cheerleading 326
October 18, 1999

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)