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Moreno Valley College Herald

How the recent Sports Illustrated controversy damaged Sports Journalism
Sports Illustrated was found publishing fake AI-generated content and passing it off as human work. reported

When I was a kid and accompanied my mom to the grocery store, as we waited to pay my eyes would be drawn to the section filled with various newspapers and magazines. I always looked to see what sports star graced the recent issue of Sports Illustrated. So, when the March 21, 2018, baseball edition which featured my all-time favorite baseball player Mike Trout, and some new sensation who was being dubbed as “The Japanese Babe Ruth,” Shohei Ohtani was on the cover my eyes immediately lit up and I pleaded with my mom to let me buy it.

That cover page has remained on the wall in my room since the day I bought it. I’d like to think that numerous kids around the country were just like me; excited to see who was on the SI cover, flip through the pages and read the stories of their favorite players and teams. Therefore as you can imagine, when I heard about the recent Sports Illustrated Artificial Intelligence debacle, it was beyond disheartening.   

The magazine and sports media powerhouse published articles written by fake AI-generated writers accompanied by AI-generated photos of said writers which was first reported by The publication that has had amazing writers such as Tom Verducci, Ricky Reilly, and Frank Deford has seemingly stooped to levels unimaginable. I believe this transgression is a huge slap in the face of the amazing writers and  journalists who have written for them in the past.   

The Arena Group, the holding company for Sports Illustrated, via a spokesperson, released a response to the allegations. “Today an article was published alleging that Sports Illustrated published AI-generated articles. According to our initial investigation, this is not accurate. A number of AdVon’s e-commerce articles ran on certain Arena websites. We continually monitor our partners and were in the midst of a review when these allegations were raised. AdVon has assured us that all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans.”  

Nonetheless, The Arena Group removed all alleged articles, cut ties with AdVon, and fired two senior Executives, COO Andrew Kraft and President Rob Barret.          

March 26, 2018, baseball edition of Sports Illustrated featuring Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani

The Sports Illustrated Union responded in a statement posted to X (formerly Twitter) stating that they were “horrified” and “demanded answers and transparency from Arena Group management about what exactly has been published under the SI name.” Like many in the industry, the SI Union agreed that this had violated the basic journalism standards while also disrespecting its readers and writers.   

The cardinal rule of journalism which I learned on day one of my first journalism class is to be truthful. When this isn’t done the integrity and legitimacy of journalism is damaged. The recent controversy may just be indicative of what the once-great magazine has become. On the ESPN show Around the Horn, The Dallas Morning News’s Tim Cowlishaw said, “I don’t know if you can explain to young people what Sports Illustrated at one time meant to those of us who read it in the 60s and the 70s and the 80s, it meant something every week and that’s long gone.”  

Long-time baseball journalist of over 25 years and current writer of the Los Angeles Angels for Jeff Fletcher seemed to agree.

“I think it stopped being a major, reliable outlet for journalism a while ago, which is sad in itself. Most of the content there now is just aggregated from other sources,” Fletcher said. “I think it’s bad when anyone uses AI to write something and passes it off as written by a human.”  

Whatever your opinion on AI may be and how it can benefit the world, for me you can never replicate the authenticity and passion of a writer. You can never replicate the raw emotion an announcer has in his voice after a big play. And undoubtedly you can never undermine the hard work, long hours, and dedication every journalist puts into their craft. Sports Illustrated has damaged the integrity of journalism and has cast doubt on journalists pursuing a career in the field everywhere. And the wide-eyed kid who may have picked up that magazine off the shelf and fallen in love with each written word may shamefully look at it sitting there and pass it by.  


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About the Contributor
Eric Pacheco
Eric Pacheco, Staff Writer
Eric Pacheco is a first-year student at Moreno Valley College. Eric is majoring in Journalism in pursuit of a professional career in the world of Sports Journalism.
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  • D

    Denise TolandApr 16, 2024 at 7:25 pm

    Great opinion piece. I especially liked “you can never replicate the authenticity and passion of a writer . .” and “emotion an announcer has in his voice after a big play.” You nailed the ending.

  • M

    MadisonDec 16, 2023 at 2:59 pm

    Such an insightful article