One of the few vices I afford myself is Sports Illustrated magazine. When my weekly issue arrives, I often find a quiet spot, skim through it, and read the lead articles. Then throughout the week, I pick it up and delight myself in the great distraction of college and professional sports. I love the pictures, the personal stories, the statistics, the predictions and the team updates. I even read about the high school and college stars that will never make it big but who are featured in “Faces in the Crowd.” I love my SI!

Now I will admit that in the great scheme of things there is little that is redeeming in the magazine; it is pure diversion. When I was a preacher, I would convince myself that I could get great sermon illustrations from reading Sports Illustrated; I confess it was lie then and it is now. I just read it for the pure enjoyment of sport.

However, increasingly I have become concerned about the integrity of the magazine from a purely sports perspective. Several years ago they instituted the annual “swimsuit” addition, which is no more than a reason to show beautiful, thinly clad, women in exotic places. Recently, the label “swimsuit” has become suspect, as apparently the models now prefer skinny dipping. They have less covering on their bodies than the Playboy bunnies I used to gawk at when I was a teenager. Each year when the SI swimsuit issue comes, I have been embarrassed that my three young, impressionable daughters might think their father is a pervert (yes dear, all men are perverts!). So I always throw it away before they have a chance to notice.

Then several years ago, SI offerred an optional golf section. If you wanted you could have golf added to your particular magazine. As much as I had to admit that golf was indeed a sport, I was never any good at it. Furthermore, I had no desire to read about guys with names like Tiger, Shark, Vijay, and Sergio. So I turned down the offer. However, then they did away with the “optional” part, and simply made golf a regular section in the magazine. Since golf is almost played year round is some part of the world, there is golf almost every issue. My eyes glaze over, as I have to admit that some people like sports that I don’t like. I can live with that.

However, a few years ago, SI crossed the line – they added a NASCAR section. No questions, no warnings, no options – there it was being presented on a par with baseball, football, basketball, hockey, track, and even golf. As far as I am concerned car racing may be a competition, but it is not a sport. Yes, people make a lot of money driving cars, and I’m sure the Big Three automakers and the oil companies sponsor them big time, but a bunch of guys and a couple of women driving around a track for 500 miles is not a sport. Sports require sweat, blood, tears, and physical exertion. Okay, so you have to hold on tight to the steering wheel, and the torque is exhausting when you go around a curve at 120 miles an hour, and pit crews have to be pretty skilled to change tires that fast, but a sport – puleeez!!!

So imagine my horror when the most recent issue (November 24, 2008) featured NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson on the cover. First of all, what grown man goes around being called “Jimmie,” and secondly in the name of sport integrity, he’s not an athlete, he is a driver! I get hives just imaginining that this may be a sign of more sports degradation to come.

So here’s my solution. Given the fragile state of the environment and the need for a reduction in our carbon footprint, NASCAR must be banned. For cars to buzz around a tract at 120+ miles per hour, they have to burn up a lot of fuel. Unless NASCAR takes to racing Priuses and Honda Hybrids, they must be banned for the sake of the environment. Imagine how much cleaner the air will be in Daytona, Charlotte, and Woodstock, NY. Families will be reunited, trees will grow again, and sports will be saved as an institution. Yes, NASCAR races must go the way of chicken fights and gladiator matches. They are inhumane, uncouth, and bad for the air we breathe.

Not to mention, I won’t have to cancel my subscription to Sports Illustrated.